The House of Women is a poignant portrayal of Victorian life as it was for women in 1870 Leeds, England. Trapped by the social restrictions and norms of the time, Grace Woodruff is forced to assume responsibility for her five sisters and a vast estate because of the failings of both her parents. With a harsh, tyrannical father who is on the verge of impoverishment because of risky investments, and a mother who is depressed by her husband’s infidelities and coldness, Grace must assume duties far beyond what is expected of most women in the Victorian era.
The story enthrals the reader from its inception, keeping the pages turning as one seemingly insurmountable problem after another is forced upon Grace to resolve - each dilemma worse than the one previous. The members of Grace’s family are colourfully depicted with both credible faults and good qualities. Their various troubles force Grace into taking actions that are not only morally upright, but that are difficult and challenge societal expectations of the time.
Beautifully written, the prose is fluid and invisible, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the story’s beauty. I rejoiced and sorrowed at the never-ending troubles plaguing the Woodruff’s. More importantly, however, is the underlying theme that runs throughout the tale – to stand firm in the face of adversity and to conduct oneself with honour and integrity at all times. It is an accurate depiction of women’s plights in an era not so long ago.
This family saga is a superb tale of an intensely strong heroine who stops at nothing to resolve issues that threaten the livelihood of her family within England’s stringent class system. This is women’s fiction at its most finest and a must read!
An interview with historical fiction author, Anne Whitfield
1. Welcome Anne. I'm so thrilled to have you visit us today. I'm very excited about your newest book. Can you tell us a little about your novel?
I loved the idea of a large family all pulling different ways. With a selfish mother, a tyrannical father and seven daughters, the family was complex, but add to that a lost love, a heroic butler and a handsome stranger, well, the real fun began then! The House of Women was a great book to write.
2. What inspired you to write a novel about a woman in this period of history?
I love the Victorian era. It was a time for immense change. Populations were growing rapidly and people were no longer content to stay in their own village. Of course, there were circumstances which forced many people to leave their homes and search for new lives, and this only highlights the way people adapted to new changes. The Victoria era gave women freedom to travel and explore and in many ways educated them beyond their role as mere mothers and wives. A fascinating time.
3. What hardships did women face in this particular century and what lessons can today's woman learn from it?
Well, the poor women were faced with many hardships from keeping their babies alive and healthy, while living in the slums of over-crowded cities. Struggling to keep a roof over their heads on low wages, etc. The wealthy women had it easier, of course, but they still faced the social boundaries of their class and sex. A lot married for the sake of family and wealth, and not for love.
I think modern women can be very grateful for the Victorian and Edwardian women who started calling for Women’s Rights, which eventually gave us the freedom we have today. There was that, and then also the world wars, which again showed that women were capable of doing any job the men did.
4. What inspired you about your heroine? Why did you choose her?
She chose me really, like all my heroines do. I found Grace to such a complex person. She lives this half-existence, looking after her sisters and the family home, all jobs her mother and father should be doing and they don’t. So she doesn’t do much to make herself happy. Thenn suddenly her whole world is turned upside down and she struggles to make sense of it. She gets a little lost along the way, but such is her strength and courage that she soon see what she needs to be happy and fulfilled.
5. Can you describe a typical writing day?
I try to write between 9am and 3pm. After that it’s dinner and family time. I work weekends, which leaves me free to write during the week. I prefer writing in the morning, and can count on one hand how many times I’ve written at night. But I do need coffee to keep me going and if possible chocolate!
6. Can you tell us briefly about your other novels and any new novels in the works?
Yes, I’ve just started writing my next historical. As yet it doesn’t have a title, but the main characters, Charlotte and Harry, are there, demanding to be heard. It’s set in Yorkshire England again, about 1874.
Aside from June release of The House of Women, I have an Australian historical, A Noble Place, being re-released next year. I also have plenty of finished books waiting to be published. Stay tuned!
For information about my published novels, readers can visit my website http://www.annewhitfield.com