Marriage doesnt appeal to Alex, and she turned down a proposal from a rather dull man who was deemed a good catch; but that didnt mean she didnt worry about her familys situation. Alex loves her sister and adores her nieces and nephews, but she knows that she will have to find a way to keep the family afloat. Alex finds that she can earn a little money by reading to the Admiral Cassilis of Foxe Hall, the familys blind, aristocratic neighbour. Alex is in love with Robert Maitland, another neighbour who has rather more money and social standing than the hopes. The children were bright and entertaining, the family patriarch who would always by known as Old Hopeful was a welcoming host, and there were lots of lovely outings and much fun to be had. The Findlater sisters must have taken such care over the characters, the community and the stories that they created. Much of it feels wonderfully Victorian, but Alex is quite clearly a New Woman caught up in small town life, The influences were clear. There are definite echoes of a particular Jane Austen novel in the characters and the relationships, and there were something in the style and in the drawing of the community that told me that the sisters must have read and loved Trollope too.
Then Alexs older sister Matilda, now widowed returns to her fathers house with her five children.
The novel opens with introductions to the principal characters in the small Scottish village of Crossriggs, then the first chapter enticingly sets up the plot: These, then, were the principal characters in our little world of Crossriggs a world that jogged along very quietly as a rule, and where nothing ever happened, as the children say. Matilda Chalmers husband died in Canada, and we hear that she was coming home with all her children to live at Orchard House. (I always have trouble keeping Austens multitude of characters straight.) Because Crossriggs takes place in a small village, the characters are limited in number and more manageable for the reader. Alexandra Hope, our main character, practically sparkles off the pages full of happiness, love and with ambitions and ideas passed down from her vegetarian, head-in-the-clouds, idealist fathercalled Old Hopeful. A male admirer in the village describes her best: Alex, he said, you have a genius for living! When Alexs widowed sister Matilda comes home with her five children, the household is not only strained for space, but also for money. Alex adores her sister and children, and happily takes on running the now overflowing household and more than her fair share of caring for Matildas children. Unlike Alex, Matilda is beautiful but meek, lacking the bravery of her sister. Crossriggs is definitely a period piece and, like Trollope or Dickens, ones reading must slow to a careful pace. And who could not relate to her ability to escape into books: Alex sat by the fire, snatching half an hour of reading before the children all came tumbling in again. The plot takes some twists some expected and unexpected (theres an accidental death that shook me for hours), but its the village life, the characters and the observations that truly shine in this book. Its a slow, quiet read and spurred by my inter-library loan deadline, I stuck with it and am very happy to have made the effort.
The heroine, Alex Hope, reminds one of Jo March, with all the pluck but without the sentiment. Her father, nicknamed Old Hopeful, is lovable but entirely impractical, to the point of endangering his family, and so Alex takes on the job of supporting the household.