When young Jasper Mortimer journeys out of Shropshire to Hayseech seeking his fortune, he takes possession of the first Arabella Tinsley and her family’s land. With ruthless determination he goes on to create a great industrial concern, the profits of which come to his granddaughter, Arabella III. Arabella also inherits his steely, obstinate will. We follow Bella through a variety of formative phases and encounters which culminate in her obsession with “White Ladies”, a beautiful Elizabethan manor house. Her efforts to obtain the house and, later, to maintain it for her son, Jasper, end in disaster. The story is played out against a skilfully told background of the fluctuations in fortune of the great Black Country iron industries of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The book contains some of Francis Brett Young’s most powerful evocations of the region, contrasting with the deep, rural beauty of the Worcestershire countryside.
This is a big old book, at just under 700 pages. Typically for Brett Young, he doesn’t use 30 words where 300 will do just as well, so it took a few pages at least to settle in again to his rather wordy, flowery style of writing. However this is a marvelous novel, a huge family drama and a history of Black Country industries during the later part of the nineteenth, and early twentieth, century. The story of Arabella Tinsley lll is one of what comes to be an unreasonable obsession. An obsession over a house. This obsession drives everything she does, affecting her relationships, as others begin to doubt her reason. So the reader never really expects a happy resolution. Bella as she is known is not always very likable, yet at the same time it is possible to sympathise with her. As ever Brett Young’s descriptions of the Midlands countryside, and the grim industrial Black Country landscape of these days -is evocative and deeply affectionate. As with other FBY novel’s I have read, this is enormously readable and quite a page turner. I have found myself reading very late indeed the last two evenings in particular.
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Devastated by the death of his wife, Sir Jocelyn Hewish neglects his tomboy daughter, Gabrielle, who grows up in the evocative Connemara landscape, cared for by the superstitious Biddy Joyce and educated by Rev. Marmaduke Considine, ‘a gentleman of small domestic experience’. Outgrowing her wild years, Gabrielle is taken by her father on a trip to Dublin where she is attracted to a young naval Second Lieutenant, an encounter which is shattered by tragedy and ensuing mystery. Persuaded into a loveless marriage with Considine, twenty years her senior, Gabrielle moves to Devon where her husband establishes a boys’ school. Here she takes an interest in one of his pupils, a boy with no sense of right or wrong. The possibility of scandal is averted by a determined midnight battle of wills between Gabrielle and the boy’s mother…
First Published in 1921, this Francis Brett Young novel can still be bought in paperback off Amazon, one of a few FBY novels that House of stratus re-published a few years ago.There is something quite definitely Hardyesque about the character of Gabrielle, a wild and beautiful girl who marries a much older man at the behest of her father. I enjoyed FBY’s writing, the landscape always seems to raise up off the pages and surround the reader. This time though instead of the Brett Young’s familiar landscape of the Midlands we have the first part of the book set in rural Ireland. Later we move to Devon, a place Brett Young lived and worked for a time and so knew well, and yet for me the most evocotive section of the book was that set in Ireland. Gabrielle is not a happy character, her life not an easy one, but I found her very likeable although rather passive at times. There is, though, I thought a clever little twist at the end – something to get the reader wondering. The Tragic Bride is much shorter novel than many FBY novel’s, but Brett Young was a gifted story teller, and this was a very good story and well written.
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Synopsis from the FBY society
Nail maker John Oakley was born in the town of Dulston, but his mother remembered happier origins in the rural village of Grafton Lovett. After her death John sets out to find his maternal grandfather. In 1836 the Enclosure Bill is about to be implemented in Grafton Lovett and John, returning, on foot, from a fruitless visit to Parliament meets some poachers, is arrested and sentenced to transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. John jumps ship off the coast of South Africa where he is befriended by the Prinsloos, a family of Dutch origin, who are about to leave their homestead to escape from English rule. Oakley, now known as Grafton, accompanies them. Throughout the story there is conflict: between nations, between families and within families, and yet a love affair develops between John Grafton and Lisbet Prinsloo.
I have enjoyed several FBY novels before – all of which have been set in the familiar landscape of FBY’s mildlands. Having read a biography of FBY I knew he had connections with Africa having served there, and lived there for a time. Several of his novels are set either partly or wholly in Africa and as another bookcrosser gave me a copy of the sequel to They seek a country – I thought I had better read this one so I could later read the sequel. This novel style was easily recognisable – working men, changes bringing unrest and conflict, love affairs running less than smoothly. However once the story moved to Africa – I found I soon bitterly missed FBY’s familair landscape – and began to feel bizarrely homesick. However the characters are wonderfully drawn – real people as always. The plot is fast paced and the novel, as so often with FBY becomes hard to put down. Although I have to admit it is my least favourite so far – I will read the sequel – but only after reacquainting myself with FBY’s wonderful midlands.
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This is a bit late – seeing as we went on Saturday. But here is a quick precis of events for anyone interested.
Thouroughly enjoyed this day run by the Francis Brett Young society, for their 30th anniversary. It was an early start, I left the house about 7.30 Liz and I had to catch the bus to Quinton, which was a trip down memory lane for me, as I lived there for 9 years from 1978 when I was 10. We went and had a look at the house we lived in back then, it looked different. We then got a lift from someone I have known for years whose husband is chairman of the society, and probably the country’s leading expert on FBY. The event itself was held in a methodist church hall in Bluntington, a sweet little black country village. It was all lovely, some fascinating talks, and lots of nice people. We opted to go for the walk around nearby village, Chaddesley Corbett – rather than have a recital of organ and piano music associated with FBY- where This Little world a wonderful FBY book is set. The village is gorgeous and I want to live there. We had sandwiches and fruit for lunch, and then a catered hot meal at 5.30. After which we watched a 1949 film of My Brother Jonathan one of FBY’s books, which was hilariously not like the book at all – as "all the wrong people died" as Liz put it : ) We both joined the society and paid our £7 a year, and were told we had halfed the average age by 40 years, well we had kept being referred to as the young ones (Liz is 37 and I am 41) all day. It all finished about 8.45 We were then given a lift in Birmingham city centre by a lady whose name neither of us knew – and i got home tired about 10.20.
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From the FBY society
Deep Sea is set in a West Country fishing port and revolves around four people whose lives are inextricably intertwined: invalid Jeffery Kenar; fiery, frustrated wife, Nesta; fisherman lodger, Reuben Henshall; and little maid of all work, Ruth Parnall. While Jeffery and Ruth enjoy innocent, childlike companionship Nesta harbours an unrequited passion for Reuben. When he marries Ruth, Nesta hates all three. Though Reuben’s mother had early warned him of the terrible power of the sea and Ruth fears it, by borrowing unwisely Reuben buys his own smack, “The Pilgrim”. When profits prove unpredictable distress and tragedy follow, until an unexpected visit replaces hatred with love and there is calm after storm.
First published in 1924 this FBY novel is set in the fishing port of Brixham, where FBY himself began his medical career after qualifying in Birmingham. The story mainly concerns Jeffery and Nesta Kenar and their lodger Reuban Henshall and the girl he marries Ruth Parnall. The reader can’t help but fear that Reuban’s fate is sealed when he borrows money to buy his boat. At the same time he decides to marry, and begins to get furniture on HP and find a house. The money goes out faster than it comes in, and what does come in is generally owed. Ruth is young and inexpierenced in house keeping matters, and gets into bad habits aided and abetted by some of her neighbours. The tragedy that comes is inevitable. As with other FBY books, this novel paints a vivid and fairly awful picture of life for hard working folk, who never have much and for whom life is dreadfully hard.
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John Bradley, aged seventy-five in 1937, reflects on fifty years as a general practitioner in Sedgebury [Sedgley] in the Black Country, after being trained at North Bromwich [Birmingham] Medical School. He recalls his marriage to Clara Medhurst, their son Matthew, and the hopes and disappointments that go with family life. He remembers the characters he met in North Bromwich and Sedgebury, and the life-long friendships he began, especially with Martin Lacey. In the days before the National Health Service, he reveals how precarious the rewards of a practice could be and the parts played by chance and determination. John Bradley remembers sympathetically his range of patients and the importance of medical advancements, particularly the use of antiseptics in saving lives. The novel is surprisingly modern in the medical issues it deals with such as childbirth and the misuse of drugs.
This is the 6th novel by Francis Brett Young I have read. I can’t recommend his novels enough – especially (though not exclusively) to fellow Midlanders, although the fact that his novels have fallen out of print does pose a problem. The later ones particularly are not too hard to find, and a few were republished in paperback a few years ago and they can sometimes be picked up too.
Dr Bradley Remembers is one of the longer books, my copy a hefty 1938 hardback edition running to some 740 odd pages. This again is a gloriously old fashioned novel. Flowery language – which I don’t mind at all -FBY never uses ten words where fifty will do just as well : ) proper human dramas and tension. Real people inhabit the pages of Francis Brett Young’s novels, in this case real Black country folk of the late 18th and early 19th Century. In the company of the wonderful John Bradley the reader is taken from a humble village in Shropshire of the 1870’s through medical training at North Bromwich (Birmingham) in the 1880’s, and through 50 turbulent years in general practice in Sedgebury (Sedgley in the Black Country) from the late 1880’s untill the 1930’s. When John Bradley moves to Sedgebury in 1888 with his new young wife, the landscape is very different to the landscape that exists 50 years later. Industrialisation comes to Sedgebury during those years, and like Thomas Hardy – who I have likened him to before – FBY depicts brilliantly the effects of progress and modernisation on the ordinary people of the area. Overall though this is just a hugely readable and hard to put down book.
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From the FBY society
Cold Harbour represents a new departure for Brett Young – unashamedly a ghost story that introduced one of his principal villains, Humphrey Furnival. A puncture-delayed motor trip brings Evelyn and Ronald Wake to a sinister enclave of a rural settlement: the country inn, manor house, parsonage and church of Cold Harbour (in reality Wassell Grove) some five miles from the author’s native Halesby (Hales Owen). The book tells of supernatural happenings at the manor house and the dreadful sufferings of Furnival’s wife.
This is certainly very different from the other FBY books I have read. But I was anxious to read it for that reason. It reads like so many old fashioned gothic type stories of the past – and is therfore hard to put down, and very readable. Like other stories of this type, however you need to read it for what it is – and not take it too seriously. The novel opens with Evelyn and Ronald Wake sitting down on a terrace in Italy one evening, in the company of an unnamed author and clergyman. From here they tell their incredible story. Their listeners chip in from time to time with various theories of a theological or acedemic nature in a bid to understand exactly what did happen in Cold Harbour. A good read all in all, but it makes me wonder why FBY suddenly wrote such a different type of book. I may need to look back at the book I recently read about FBY to see if their are any clues – but I don’t remember anything being mentioned about this departure from the norm.
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