Friday, July 25, 2014

The Lady of Blossholme, by H. Rider Haggard

Junior B picked up The Lady of Blossholme at our annual homeschool convention in May. She read it, and wasn't quite sure what to think of it, so she handed off the copy to me and I hustled through my other books so I could read it as well.

Oh, fellow bibliophiles, it's a jolly good yarn.

If you've never read Haggard, I would highly recommend starting off with Pearl Maiden to give you a nice introduction to his style and characterizations. I've also reviewed The Brethren and Queen Sheba's Ring. But The Lady of Blossholme, once you've read some of his other books, is an excellent way to continue your acquaintance with him.

I'll start off with the disclaimer that I read the Christian Liberty Press edition, edited by Michael J. McHugh, and he might do a little updating and sanitizing here and there. Thus, I can't speak for the original, but this edition I highly recommend.

So, without further ado, I present The Lady of Blossholme.

The Story
During an age when Spaniards and English quarrel for power, and abbots extend almost as much authority over their little realms as the king himself, there lives a beautiful red-haired maiden named Cicely Foterell. She is the only child of old Sir John Foterell, owner of a great landed estate and a legendary collection of jewels, but unfortunately, not all is going well for her. For one, her father is at odds with the evil Spanish traitor, the Abbott of Blossholme. For another, he wants to make Cicely marry an old man whose estate would enrich his own, rather than her brave young suitor Christopher Harflete.

Things get worse when Sir John is murdered on his way to London. The Abbot threatens to exercise his right to claim wardship over her and make her take vows in a nunnery. Cecily flees to her young lover, and with her dead father's blessing, marries him.

When the Abbot discovers her wherabouts, he gathers his men in a fury and lays siege to Sir Christopher's house. After carrying off Sir Christopher when he receives a death wound at the hand of the abbot's men, and burning the castle to the ground, Cicely and her nurse, Emlyn, hide the famous jewels and surrender to the abbot's power.

The abbot imprisons them both in a nearby nunnery, and it isn't long before Cicely finds she is carrying Christopher's child. She resists the Abbot's declaration that her marriage is false and her child illegitimate, but the nuns are timid and she and Emlyn have only themselves to depend on. Emlyn makes a timid monk swear an oath to help them, and plagues the abbot with fire and fearful rumors of the devil walking abroad. But the abbot holds out, for if he can wait a little longer, he will gain enough time for a Spanish invasion to develop, and secure a prestigious cardinal's position for himself. Not to mention the fact that he wouldn't mind lining his nest with the famous Foterell pearls.

When Cicely and Emlyn show no sign of giving over the lands or revealing the hiding place of the jewels, the abbot condemns them to be burned as witches.

But Emlyn's worth two of that, and she's not about to let Cicely or her child suffer at the abbot's hands.

My Thoughts
First of all, the story encompasses all the delightful elements that we've come to know Haggard for. High tension, nail-biting escapes, near-death experiences, and intrepid nurses. Emlyn is another Nehusta, though perhaps softened down a touch or two (not much) and offers a great deal of the dry wit in the story. By far, Emlyn was my favorite character in the novel.

Another aspect I enjoyed was the history. While I haven't studied the era of Henry VIII in detail, except that he was not a very nice man, Haggard created excellent atmosphere. Some authors don't, (Alan French comes to mind) and merely throw in the name of the current sovereign at the last minute so the reader knows when the story takes place. But Haggard made the political tensions and religious superstitions of the age as much a part of the story as a beautiful young woman seeking to win back her family estate.

A lot has happened in the few weeks since I read it, so I can't remember how much of a language and profanity rating to give it; Junior B. remembers a few instances of profanity, but we don't recall any swearing.

The characters in this book are Catholic; this is before the Protestant reformation, and to all intents and purposes the Christian church and the Catholic church were synonymous at the time. I found it very interesting, however, that Haggard seems to hint at Protestant truths in spite of the nunnery setting that much of the story takes place in. Emlyn, bitter over past wrongs and unable to seek help from the nuns, kneels down in the chapel to pray for herself. She doesn't know how to talk to God, (they were used to the priests doing that) but she tries, and prays that He might hear her--and she knows that He does. The fact that each person can seek God for themselves is clearly taught, and though Emlyn's spiritual knowledge isn't always perfect, and some of her solutions are quite original, I liked her steadfast faith.

And those two ladies, when they are faced with the worst of decisions, fix their hope firmly on the Lord and refuse to compromise. Bravo.

Monks find hope. Bitterness finds healing. Right is stronger than wrong, and mercy triumphs over judgment. A beautiful tale, and a worthwhile read. If you enjoy Haggard's adventure novels, you're sure to enjoy The Lady of Blossholme.

Lady Bibliophile


  1. I'm SO glad we got this one! My favorite character was Thomas, the monk Emlyn got to help them. He was such a gruff kind-hearted person. Emlyn herself reminded me a bit of Nehushta, but, like you said, she wasn't totally the same.
    One of my favorite minor characters (very minor) was the yeoman when the two women are about to burned at the stake. And the blacksmith at that point.
    And I loved this Emlyn quote:
    "That remark does not make you a Solomon." ;)
    At first, I wasn't sure if Cecily would have much to her, but, thankfully, she surpassed my expectations. :) I'm glad we own it now! :)
    Thanks for reviewing this!

    1. I'm glad you got that, too! Mr. McHugh's gentle suggestions were very persuasive, weren't they? ;D I loved Thomas too, and the two men you mentioned--and the fact that the men were simple-hearted and loyal to their lord's daughter. I think Haggard really captured English society there.

      Cecily had more to her than Rosamund. So she was a good heroine. :)


  2. This sounds most interesting! I'll have to read it someday.

    Didn't you also review Lysbeth?

    ~The Philologist

    1. I did--right on the book reviews page, under Haggard. :) Lysbeth is one of the darkest of Haggard's works that I've read, but Michael McHugh told me it was his favorite because it showed what society is like when a nation doesn't have religious freedom.

  3. "Some of Emlyn's solutions are quite original."


    I've always said that Haggard's grim duennas are worth two of his shrinking heroines! I can just imagine what kind of "original" Emlyn's solutions might be!

    I've never heard of this book. I'll be reading the original if I ever get around to it, of course; will let you know how it goes.

    Oh! I've just remembered that I've always longed to read the book Haggard co-authored with Andrew Lang, THE WORLD'S DESIRE. It's based on the old twist on the Troy legends--that a false Helen went to Troy, and the true Helen was kept in Egypt. Alas! I'll never finish reading the version of that story which CS Lewis once started and abandoned (and it held so much promise, too!). But now I've an ereader, I should download Haggard and Lang's take, and read it!

    1. Love Haggard's grim duennas! They're generally always my favorite characters of his books. And you will laugh at Emlyn's originality. ;) I would love to hear what you think of the original. :)

      I've never really read any legends of Troy, but I'm looking forward to reading Roger Lancelyn Green's version sometime. :) Enjoy Haggard's take on it!


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