Irish-born maid, Annie Phelan, arrives to work in the house of photographer Isabelle Dashell and her husband, Eldon. The house is unlike any other, with Annie called to model for the photographer, becoming her muse. The Dashell's marriage has become distant and Eldon sees this new maid as a way to find some comfort in his life. Annie has to find the truth of herself before the Dashells overwhelm her with their own needs, leading to tragedy...
|Mary Hillier (1865) Julia Margaret Cameron|
In Annals of My Glass House, Julia Margaret Cameron described Mary Hillier as 'one of the most beautiful and constant of my models, and in every manner of form has her face been reproduced yet never has it been felt that the grace of the fashion of it has perished'. Cameron had a habit of holding her model maids higher than contemporary society found acceptable, much as Isabelle Dashell presents Annie Phelan as a guest at her dinner party. The tension between how high the photographer holds her maid's beauty as an artist and the maid's place in the household is evident in the novel.
|The Day Spring (1865)|
|Call I Follow, I Follow, Let Me Die (1867)|
There is a gentleness to the story, a gradual building in tension, like a picture developing, until matters become serious. I loved the descriptions of how the photographs are staged, how unglamorous the moments are in order to produce something divine.
|Ophelia, Study No.2 (1867)|
|The Parting of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere (1874)|
There is an elegance to Humphreys' prose that carries you through the novel. The characters have terrible stories inside them from Isabelle's babies, Eldon's childhood, the road that claimed Annie's family and what exactly happened to the other maid at her last post, but all attempt to smother the past, leaving it hidden, waiting to be discovered. The story is gentle but compelling, beautiful and sad and as filled with quiet pathos as one of Isabelle Dashell's photographs of Annie Phelan.
I thorough recommend this to any lovers of historical fiction who are after something beautiful to fill your winter nights. To buy it, click here (Amazon UK) or here (USA).