Thank you to Rachel from Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for Testing of Rose Alleyn by Vivien Freeman and thank you to Vivien for her guest post today.
Guest Post by Vivien Freeman
No one is ‘ordinary’…
In 1921, when Marie Stopes opened her Mothers’ Clinic for Constructive Birth Control, offering contraceptive advice to married women, she said that it was not uncommon for her to meet women there who had been through twenty pregnancies.
I learned this fact from a Woman’s Hour feature just when I was starting to write about Rose Alleyn. The thought of what life must have been like for those women horrified and angered me. It also made me want to explore it, in a work of fiction, through the eyes of a daughter of one such mother as she approaches adult life.
At the age of sixteen, Rose has lived through the deaths of a much-loved little brother and sister, a new-born, a still-born, and the loss of a baby late in term, as well as what she has come to understand were five miscarriages. Late in her twentieth pregnancy her mother suffered a fatal heart attack. This traumatic event has fuelled Rose’s resolution never to marry. The tension between this resolve and a developing relationship with her employer, Leonard Pritchard, is one of the strands of conflict in The Testing of Rose Alleyn.
If you look hard enough, you can always find exceptions to the general rule that women’s lives in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were prescribed by gender and social status. But they are rare examples, usually helped by the women in question being titled or wealthy or both, and not being opposed by a father or other male relative. Marie Stopes herself is a good example. She came from an enlightened family who encouraged her thirst for knowledge. Even so, when her father died in 1902 and her family faced financial ruin, she was only able to continue her ground-breaking studies due to the patronage of her professor. The illustrious (as she became) Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, upon completing her initial education, had to spend the next nine years undertaking domestic duties, continuing her studies in her spare time, since at first her father was opposed to his daughter becoming a physician. These are some of the women you hear about because they managed to surmount everything that was thrown at them. They were, indeed, the exceptions.
In The Testing of Rose Alleyn, I wanted to explore what life would be like for an ‘ordinary’ woman who, because of her humble background, had no lofty aspirations, was not under the patronage of some male, nor of independent means and who, therefore, had to earn her own keep. I wanted to do this also, indeed, especially, because I believe that no one is ‘ordinary’. We all have our own dramas. Every life has incalculable depth. There is no such thing as ‘ordinary’.
The fact that Rose has defied expectations and, unlike her three sisters and two of her brothers, has not gone into service at the local Big House, Sawdons, astonishes the rest of her family. It is, as one of her brothers acknowledges, courageous when she chooses the path she does, since she has never worked in a shop, let alone a bookshop. She has, though, as her most loyal family supporter remarks, always been a great reader devouring the very limited library within her reach.
For a female as young as Rose to strike out and try to forge an independent life in the busy market town of Widdock is a bold venture in Victorian times. Her struggle to maintain that life, with all that it offers in terms of new cultural horizons and female friendships – not to mention love – against the demands of family loyalty back in her old home village, Markly, is another strand of conflict which runs through the novel.
If there is no such things as ‘ordinary’, there are, on the other hand, archetypal experiences, and these need to be celebrated. Giving birth, dying and being witness to these events, celebration and grief, together with activities as everyday as preparing and sharing a meal – these things are perennial and universal.
I would like to think that someone from another age could recognise the scenes and experiences I describe in my novel, and that someone from another culture could do so, too. We are all human beings. I choose to celebrate the positive in our human nature and, in my writing, hold it up to the light.
About the book:
The Testing of Rose Alleyn
England in the year 1900. A vibrant young woman must take control of her destiny.
Vivien Freeman’s atmospheric novel brings late Victorian England hauntingly to life in the mind of the reader. In this beautifully written romance, we explore the choices facing an independent-minded woman at a time when women struggled for self-determination.
Amazon / Waterstones / Amazon
Vivien Freeman grew up in North London and graduated in Art History from the University of East Anglia before settling in Ware, Hertfordshire. A published poet as well as a novelist, she taught Creative Writing for many years and has an M.A. in Scriptwriting from Salford University. She now lives in rural Wales in the Vale of Glamorgan with her husband, the poet, John Freeman.
Thank you to Vivien Freeman for her guest post today!
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