Historical Novel Review
I loved this novel. It reminded me of all those timeless classics by Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters – a nice, long, book that truly swallows you up and makes you oblivious to the world around you.
Imogen Everhard is a woman who is desperate to escape her dark past. Exploited sexually by her loan shark of an uncle/guardian to please his shady clientele, Imogen is shocked to learn she has inherited his wealth upon his untimely death.
Leaving everything behind, she flees to the country, and using the alias of Gina Shaw, seeks work as a servant in the mansion of Archer Hamilton, a man also ruled ruthlessly by his callous uncle, Sir Edmund Barry. Love blossoms between them, but it is fraught with trouble from the start as Archer tries desperately to coax her from her protective shell and help her trust again. But the secret of her true identity is found out and one of her aunts takes her back home to find her a husband.
Archer tries desperately to convince her to marry him, while behind the scenes Sir Edmund Barry is secretly trying to arrange a marriage between them to get his hands on Imogen’s money.
What was truly fascinating about this novel was how the author built suspense throughout. Secrets kept, misconstrued intentions, and a hero who was undaunted in his pursuit to convince the heroine to trust and love once again! Christensen takes the reader deep into the thoughts of the main characters. Her ability to paint a vivid story through strong descriptions and detail helps the reader sink deep into the story.
One cannot help feeling sympathy for a heroine who was forced to fall from grace by an unscrupulous uncle. It truly depicted the hardships women faced in history where they had no control over their lives, always subjected to the whims and desires of their male relatives.
Beautifully written, perfectly edited, and wonderfully descriptive, this novel is definitely one to read – especially for fans of Jane Austen. This is a very lengthy novel, one where every page made for excellent reading, yet the story kept me in suspense throughout and the characters drew me in and fascinated me. This is a definite keeper, one well worth the wonderfully reasonable price of $4.99 for the Kindle version. A beautiful novel!
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“A lovely, haunting story. The first paragraph drew me in and I could not
stop. The author’s writing is superb, like a river flowing through a beautiful
landscape that is sometimes light, sometimes dark and threatening. A
gorgeous book!” ~ Susanne O’Leary, author of A Woman’s Place
“V.R. Christensen’s work reminds one of literature from the turn of the
century, when masterful writers gave their characters emotional gestures
and restrained dialogue. A tremendous accomplishment for a contemporary
writer.” ~ Janie Bill, author
“What really makes this work is the author’s understanding of social
attitudes in the 19th century. An enjoyable read!” ~ N. Gemini Sasson,
author of Isabeau: A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer
“Poor Imogen, cursed with money. All the things that money does to
a family, the paradoxes of having and not having, of how money ruins
the best of intentions, and the author combines all this with writing
of the highest quality.” ~ Jeff Blackmer, author of Draegnstoen and
“What scandalous mystery, what delicately hinted corruption wrought
behind closed doors! The dialogue flows effortlessly, drawing the reader
into the times. Of Moths and Butterflies is masterful for its genre!”
~ Hawaii-based mystery author, Toby Neal
Of Moths and Butterflies, by V. R. Christensen, is set in the early days of Gladstone’s prime ministership: although he his not mentioned by name, this fact is absolutely crucial to the plot. The Married Women’s Property Act (1882) is on the horizon, but just too late to be of any use to the heroine, Imogen. These are the dying throes of the era when a woman’s property automatically became her husband’s upon marriage, and Imogen, who has just inherited her thoroughly unpleasant uncle’s property, foresees that her fortune is going to bring her nothing but trouble. In modern parlance, everyone wants a piece out of Imogen, so she runs away from her scheming family and goes into service in a country house. There are two conflicting love interests, mistaken identities, mysteries of birth and a thorough-going villain to boot. There are points at which one could almost think that this is an actual Victorian novel with its elaborate plot, coincidences and revelations.
There are, however, ways in which the author defies convention and poses some very uncomfortable questions. Without giving away too much of the plot, we begin in the usual way by sympathising with the heroine and her flight into the unknown: little by little, however, we see the flaws in her character emerging until we wonder whether she will ever be able to overcome them. There is a deep psychological truthfulness in Christensen’s portrayal of Imogen that relates the events of the girl’s unhappy past with her tendency to play mind-games, quite unconsciously, with her suitors.
The “big idea” of the book is suggested by the moths and butterflies of the title. What sort of life can a woman make for herself if she is regarded merely as a prize specimen in a collection? There is a certain relevance for our time: although we might not see women bought and sold in marriage (in Western society at any rate), we still talk of trophy wives, prenups and and massive settlements.
It would be interesting, if running a book club, to choose Of Moths and Butterflies in conjunction with Disraeli’s Sybil, or The Two Nations and Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. There is, I believe, the makings of a two or three-part television costume drama here: Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith and Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White has shown that there is still a great public appetite for recreations of the Victorian era.
Visit Ruth Raven’s blog! Or is that Hetty’s? (I get confused.)
From Hannah Warren’s ‘Platform for Writerly Ideas and Confessions’
The word that encompasses V.R. Christensen’s fiction is not hard to find: quality. This is not a writer in a hurry, trying to score readers by the dozens on page one with a quick, gruesome murder and some cheap stunts. Here is quality, layer of layer of quality, in the prose, in the slow building of a magnificent, complicated plot, in the disturbed psychological characters. Here is also a great reader at work, someone who has absorbed the very best from the founders of the modern novel: 19th century giants such as George Elliot and Charles Dickens.
For me Of Moths and Butterflies, situated in Victorian England, was a true gem to discover, almost a homecoming. Like V.R., I return to my 19th century heroes time and time again – did my dissertation on George Elliot once upon a time - so yes, folks, go and discover Of Moths and Butterflies, immerse yourself in exquisite prose and the type of gradual, delightful story-telling that’s a rare thing to be found nowaways. Allow yourself to stop time.
From B. Lloyd of AuthorsAnon
A period piece, with a sense of mystery pervading throughout is Of Moths and Butterflies. I started off with the feeling of a classic suspenseful novel along the lines of a Wilkie Collins, but it develops into much more than that. It opens on a mystery, but also runs into a serious analysis of human social behaviour, in the tradition of Gaskell and Eliot, with intelligent, believable characters who communicate effectively.
Prejudice is placed under the magnifying glass, social conventions explored (whatever the period, these two areas are ever present in some form or other, and are always recognisable) while the thread of mystery and secrecy continues – there are the classical elements : run-away heiress, illegitimate sons – but the why and the wherefore is gone into at greater depth; everyone has a secret to keep.
One of my favourite aspects of this novel is the brilliant analogy of moths and butterflies as collectible items, whether insect or human, and how deftly woven in these elements are, in addition to the Cupid and Psyche theme . . .the butterfly collection runs through all the way to the end, a constant reminder of captivity and beauty.
The house has its secrets too; these seep out delightfully as when a hidden mural is discovered, with all its inherent associations and clues to the past. Who are the people in the mural ? Why was it covered up ? Why does it have to be covered up again, literally ‘whitewashed’ ?
Another image conjured up when I think of this book is that of Imogen sitting on the floor in a great empty room, painting watercolours, lost to the outer world. This for me is emblematic of the novel itself: solitary characters, isolated not only by prejudice but by their own refusal to accept the alternative of hypocrisy, of being pinned like a moth or butterfly into a private collection, on public view, in private torture.
Moths and Butterflies genuinely evolves, because the writer has allowed it to do so at a natural pace, instead of racing to the end in fits and starts. Here is a feeling of being taken into another time, without being in a foreign country, rather to a place we feel entirely at home in, recognisable and welcoming in its detail and atmosphere.