Book review: The Mistress of Windfell Manor byÂ Diane Allen
The green valleys and rugged limestone outcrops of the Yorkshire Dales form the stunning backdrop to a beautiful tale of family ties, love, hope and hardship from popular storyteller Diane Allen.
Allen, whose inspiration comes from the gorgeous countryside surrounding her home at Long Preston near the historic market town of Settle, has her finger firmly on the pulse of northern saga writing and the hardy Yorkshire folk who have for centuries made their home amongst the hills and dales.
In The Mistress of Windfell Manor, she sweeps us back to the Victorian period and the gritty reality of being a woman in a man’s world, a place where being independent was almost unheard of and where life could bring destitution and despair in the blink of an eye.
It’s 1860 and Charlotte Booth has led a charmed and privileged life, raised by her loving father Wesley and their housekeeper on their beloved Crummock Farm set high up in the limestone escarpments of the Yorkshire Dales. But after the death of her grandfather, Wesley is keen to see Charlotte married to a respectable gentleman ‘with fresh ideas and plenty of brass.’
Newly-arrived businessman Joseph Dawson from Accrington seems perfect… he is handsome, rich and the owner of beautiful Windfell Manor. Charlotte quickly falls in love with the dashing cotton mill owner and within six months the two of them are married.
But life as a lady of the manor is not what Charlotte expected. Joseph’s dangerous undercurrent of arrogance has become more apparent and he is a different man to the one she married. Meanwhile, his scheming and unfriendly housekeeper Dora Dodgson takes every opportunity to undermine her.
Charlotte tries to turn a blind eye to Joseph’s short temper and long absences but when a young mill worker is found murdered in the swollen River Ribble and Joseph disappears, she must face the fact that her husband is not the man he pretends to be.
Heavily pregnant, penniless and heartbroken, and with a bankrupt mill on her hands, Charlotte is forced to face the reality that life may never be the same again…
Allen, an observant and insightful writer, fields a fascinating cast of gritty and authentic Yorkshire characters in an enthralling tale packed with emotion, drama, cowardice and courage, and the harsh struggles of everyday life in 19th century northern England.
But there is romance here too amidst the grit and grime, the shining light of hope, and proof of the enduring power of love, family and friendship to transform even the darkest days.
Curl up and enjoy!
(Pan, paperback, £6.99)