My 19th century book group has been responsible for introducing me to several new authors & Allen Raine (picture from here) is the latest of these new discoveries. I had never heard of her & I don’t think I have ever read a 19th century novel set in Wales (except for the scenes set there in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth). Allen Raine was the pseudonym of Anne Adalisa Puddicombe, author of several novels including Garthowen, which I’ve just read.
Garthowen is the story of the Owens family. Ebben Owens is a farmer, living on the family farm, Garthowen, with his daughter, Ann, son Will & a family friend, Methodist preacher Gwilym Morris. Another son, Gethin, had left in some disgrace years before & is now a sailor. Among the servants & farm workers is Morva, a young girl who lives with her adopted mother, Sara. Morva was rescued from a shipwreck as a baby & Sara, who had just lost a child of her own, adopted her. Sara is a wise woman, who often has visions & trances & is equally feared & respected by her neighbours. Morva has grown up into a lovely girl with a little of Sara’s fey wildness about her. She is very close & loyal to the Owens family & has secretly promised Will that she will marry him.
Will is studying to enter the Church of Wales. It was usual for the chapel going Welsh families to also have a son in the established Church, to have a foot in both camps as it were. Will, however, is eager & ambitious & his ambitions will take him far from his family. Ebben Owens’s own brother has entered the Church of Wales & now moves in far more exalted social circles. Will’s desire for advancement leads him to lose his Welsh accent & drop the plebeian s from his surname. He rescues a young lady, Gwenda Vaughan, from a runaway bull & suddenly his ambitions become personal as well as material. He is introduced to his uncle, Dr Owen, & the Dr likes what he sees. He decides to help Will in his career & introduces him into his social circle which includes Miss Vaughan & her family. However, Will is in love with Morva & refuses to let her out of the promise of marriage she made years before. Morva is more clear sighted than Will. She can see that as he rises in the world, he would soon grow to be ashamed of a wife who had little education & worked as a milkmaid. Will stubbornly refuses to listen & holds Morva to her promise even while he begins courting Gwenda Vaughan.
Gethin returns from his travels & is greeted as the prodigal son. He is his father’s favourite & soon makes himself useful about the farm. Gethin has come home thinking of Morva & already more than half in love with her. Will’s suspicions of this only make him cling to her more stubbornly than ever. Morva’s feelings for the brothers are complicated by the promise she made to Will. She is attracted to Gethin but feels guilty about Will. At a party to celebrate the corn grinding, Morva’s feelings for Gethin become overwhelming as she watches him dance,
The company looked on in breathless admiration, Neddy with nods of critical approval; but Morva’s delight was indescribable. With eagerness like a child’s she followed every dash, every scrape and every fling of the dance, and when it was ended, and Gethin returned, laughing and panting, to his seat on the barrow, alas! alas! he had danced into her very heart.
Gwilym Morris comes home with a bag of gold coins, payment of a debt he thought would never be repaid. That night, the money is stolen & Gethin disappears. Morva had been sleeping at the farm that night &, hearing a noise, she wakes to see Gethin creeping from Gwilym’s room with a look of horror on his face. She doesn’t believe he stole the money but there seems no other solution & the family hush it up for fear of scandal. Only Sara, with her strange visions & Morva, who loves Gethin, believe him innocent. As time goes by, Gwilym & Ann marry, Will neglects his family as he is adopted by his uncle & made his heir & it seems that Gethin will never return. Old Ebben’s heart is breaking for his two sons, both of whom are lost to him.
Garthowen is a novel about family. The eternal conflict between brothers is played out between Will & Gethin but also reflected in the relationship between Ebben & his brother, long estranged by their different circumstances. Ebben’s harshness towards Gethin leads to him leaving the family for the first time & his indulgence of Will has just as bad an effect on his character. Ebben fears he will die without either son at his side. Sara & Morva represent the traditional, Celtic, spiritual side of rural life. Morva’s rescue from the waves is like a myth or fairy tale & Sara’s powers are very matter of fact. When she feels a trance coming on, she puts a bunch of rue over the door as a signal to Morva not to be alarmed by her state of unconsciousness. Her visions are just a part of life & ultimately it is Sara who brings resolution & peace to the family at Garthowen. Morva is a simple girl, uneducated but not stupid. She revels in the countryside & is never happier than outdoors. She sees her relationship with Will very clearly & sees through his selfish grasping of her as a reflection of his jealousy of his brother rather than real love for her. She resents being held to her promise but her loyalty to the Owens family prevents her breaking that promise.
Garthowen is a wonderful book. I enjoyed the picture of rural Welsh life very much. The writing is lyrical & the bits of dialect give the dialogue life & a musical quality that’s so evident in Welsh speech. The characters are beautifully drawn. Old Ebben, mourning his losses & coming to realise that he has caused his own misery; Will, ambitious, selfish & ashamed of his family; Gethin, bold & free & honest; Sara & Morva, loving & loyal. It’s an absorbing story, well told.