Margaret Barry is a 17 year old orphan at school in Wales. Her Aunt Gwen, who had paid her fees, has died, leaving a lot of debts & Margaret will have to leave Llanrhysydd at Christmas. Margaret is devastated to be leaving the progressive, co-educational school & all her friends & her future prospects look bleak. Another aunt, her mother’s sister, Ellen Pye, has written to offer Margaret a home. Aunt Ellen is the custodian of Great Melveney Hall in Norfolk, a stately home now run by the National Trust. Margaret knows little of her aunt & nothing of Norfolk & she is apprehensive as she leaves school for the last time to spend Christmas with a friend before the long journey to Norfolk.
Margaret’s aunt is a kind woman who is eager to help Margaret although her means are limited. Margaret finds Melveney strange at first. It’s lonely in the middle of winter & the house is vast & cold. Gradually, as she learns more about the house & its history, she begins to settle down. Her education at Llanrhysydd had been practical as well as academic & she can cook & help her aunt with the many tasks involved in running a stately home. She soon begins to meet the locals. Ludovic Thornton, the vicar’s son, is desperate to join the RAF & is impatiently waiting to be called up for National Service. Ludovic has a poor opinion of girls & Margaret realises that he has quite a bit of growing up to do.
Lucy Purdy, the daughter of the estate manager, loves the Hall & used to spend as much time as she could there devoting herself to her other great passion, drawing. After an accident that resulted in a painting being damaged, Lucy has been banned from the Hall by Mrs Pye & she drifts miserably around the grounds. Lucy is the eldest of a big family & her parents don’t see art as a viable profession. Her only encouragement comes from Andrea Barradine, a former artist who now lives in a nearby village perched precariously on crumbling cliffs overlooking the ocean. Margaret befriends Lucy & tries to find a way to convince her aunt to allow Lucy back into the Hall.
Margaret plans to continue studying languages & eventually take a stenography course & work as a secretary. She longs to travel but doesn’t see how her dreams could ever come true. She soon becomes reconciled to her new circumstances but there’s still sometimes a lingering regret for what might have been. Then, a meeting with a stranger opens new doors & Margaret’s future suddenly looks very different.
This is a charming book with lots of atmosphere & an absorbing story. Mabel Esther Allan wrote a prodigious number of books for girls over a long career. Margaret Finds a Future was published in 1954 & is one of several books about older girls that Allan wrote. Most of her books were school stories & her schools are often like Llanrhysydd, progressive schools based on the educational theories of A S Neill. Even the little glimpse we get of the school in the opening chapter is of a school where individual talents are encouraged, boys & girls work & play together & the students take responsibility for most of the running of the school.I’ve never been a great reader of school stories, although I did love Enid Blyton’s Naughtiest Girl books. However, I do enjoy books like this one, written by authors known for their children’s books & rediscovered by publishers such as Girls Gone By & Greyladies. The Introduction to this book is very informative about Allan’s career & her love of location & place when writing. I was amused to read her thoughts on the cover for this book,
The heroine looks as if she is soon to die of consumption. The book is set in Norfolk and my beautiful Tudor gatehouse, the entrance to an old manor house, was non existent. The house had become a Victorian villa, wildly Gothic, with sharp turrets, and the gate was a small iron one, with cannon balls on top of the posts. The colour was ghastly too.
What do you think? Girls Gone By have, as always, reproduced the original cover. Margaret does look ill but at least it conveys the wintry atmosphere quite well.
Mabel Esther Allan also wrote a few books for adults which have been reprinted by Greyladies. I’ve read Murder at the Flood, also set in Norfolk, & I have Death Goes to Italy & Return to the West on the tbr shelves. One of the strengths of both books I’ve read so far is the sense of place. I love books set in winter & Margaret’s bicycle rides through the chill Norfolk landscape are so evocative. She visits quiet villages & explores churches & I loved the descriptions of these journeys & Margaret’s thoughts as she rode, either alone or with a reluctant Ludovic. This is an absorbing read & Margaret is a sympathetic character who gets on with life even when circumstances are against her & the cast of characters around the Hall are always interesting. She even manages to sort out everyone else’s problems as well without being bossy or overbearing! A really lovely book.