Royal Academy, London 1919: Lily has put her student days in St. Ives, Cornwall, behind her―a time when her substitute mother, Mrs. Ramsay, seemingly disliked Lily’s portrait of her and Louis Grier, her tutor, never seduced her as she hoped he would. In the years since, she’s been a suffragette and a nurse in WWI, and now she’s a successful artist with a painting displayed at the Royal Academy. Then Louis appears at the exhibition with the news that Mrs. Ramsay has died under suspicious circumstances. Talking to Louis, Lily realizes two things: 1) she must find out more about her beloved Mrs. Ramsay’s death (and her sometimes-violent husband, Mr. Ramsay), and 2) She still loves Louis.
Set between 1900 and 1919 in picturesque Cornwall and war-blasted London, Talland House takes Lily Briscoe from the pages of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and tells her story outside the confines of Woolf’s novel―as a student in 1900, as a young woman becoming a professional artist, her loves and friendships, mourning her dead mother, and solving the mystery of her friend Mrs. Ramsay’s sudden death. Talland House is both a story for our present time, exploring the tensions women experience between their public careers and private loves, and a story of a specific moment in our past―a time when women first began to be truly independent.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.
The author’s attention to historical detail and knowledge of the world of art and literature makes this story vivid and vibrant despite its gentle pacing. I know little about Virginia Woolf or the story that inspires this book, but that didn’t dim my enjoyment.
The plot is a medley of historical, literary characters, events and settings. It explores the early twentieth century, a time in England of great change, especially for women. The heroine Lily Briscoe experiences loss, love, nursing in wartime, life as a suffragette whilst still following an artist path. The society in St Ives, known for its artistic community and London is brought to life and give this story a great sense of time and place.
There is also a mystery to solve with the mysterious death of Ms Ramsay. This is a coming of age novel and shows all aspects of Lily’s life against a turbulent historical period of English twentieth-century history.
This is an intricately detailed, fascinating story that captures the social history and the personal development of a young woman in the early twentieth century.
MAGGIE HUMM is an Emeritus Professor of Cultural Studies University of East London. Her books include Border Traffic, The Dictionary of Feminist Theory (the first edition of which was named ‘outstanding academic book’ by Choice), the best-selling Modern Feminisms; Feminism and Film;Modernist Women and Visual Cultures: Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Photography and Cinema; Snapshots of Bloomsbury: the Private Lives of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, Rutgers University Press and the Tate; and The Edinburgh Companion to Virginia Woolf and the Arts, Edinburgh and Columbia University Presses, (the focus of an Edinburgh International Book Festival talk).
She was an editor of the Routledge Encyclopaedia of Women and has been a Distinguished Visiting Scholar and Professor at many universities including Massachusetts, San Diego State, Stanford,Rutgers, Queen’s Belfast, and Karachi. She gave an Annual Virginia Woolf Birthday Lecture and keynote and plenary papers in Brazil, Bulgaria, Egypt, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, the US and elsewhere.
Media include consultant and participant in the BBC Schools prize winning Nice Girls Don’t Swear and BBC Women’s Hour, World Service, BBC 4 Today and Front Row, overseas – Turkey TRT World television ‘Showcase’, France Culture La Grande Traversee: Virginia Woolf, French TV Arte ‘Cornwall Through the Eyes of Virginia Woolf. Find out more at http://www.maggiehumm.net