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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fact Meets Fiction
Fact and fiction are very close in this account of Wilson, Lady's Maid to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. There is an `afterword' at the end of the novel which personally I wish I had read first rather than at the end. It is worth reading as it separates the fact from fiction and helps with the appreciation of this sensitively written love story.

Wilson did not...
Published on 4 Oct 2007 by LindyLouMac

versus
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lady's Maid, Forster
I enjoyed this book overall, but I thought it went on a bit long. Wilson began to annoy me more and more, through her complete devotion to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, even in the face of knowing that Elizabeth was tiring of her.
I would like to have heard how Wilson fared following her return to England. How her first child came to Florence and what exactly happened...
Published on 25 Feb 2011 by Delores


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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fact Meets Fiction, 4 Oct 2007
Fact and fiction are very close in this account of Wilson, Lady's Maid to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. There is an `afterword' at the end of the novel which personally I wish I had read first rather than at the end. It is worth reading as it separates the fact from fiction and helps with the appreciation of this sensitively written love story.

Wilson did not have an easy life as Lady's Maid, though at times over the years felt she was becoming closer to her mistress. The occasions however were always short lived and to quote from the novel. `Those who serve can never hope to breach the gap between themselves and those who are served'

Another enjoyable and eminently readable novel from Margaret Forster, whose work I have been reading since 1969!!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is it the Singer or the Song?, 27 Aug 2010
What makes a book compelling? The singer or the song?

Margaret Forster's Lady's Maid is one of those books which makes you want to get back to it as soon as you can, but at the same time gives you a feeling of swimming in cement and déjà vu!

It recounts the interacting lives of the Victorian Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her lady's maid Elizabeth Wilson. Although the women share the same first name they do not share the same sensibilities. In the 21st century they may have been great friends, but in class conscious Victorian England this was not possible. Wilson was part of an underclass who were called servants - a term which no one in this century would dare to use. Both Browning and Wilson had to adhere to the etiquette of the day, which required both employer and servant to follow a strict code of conduct. However intimate Wilson becomes (and we see her doing the most intimate things to look after Browning), she could never become what she would have liked to have been to her lady.

Browning comes across , on the one hand, as a selfish ,superior, powerful woman whose position allows her to affect the quality of Wilson's life. She is shocked when Wilson reveals she is pregnant out of wedlock and condemns her to a separate life from her child, which she has the means to prevent. Browning, on the other hand, is a woman who loves her husband and son deeply , is very sensitive to family losses and what is happening in the political arena. And,she is,of course,a great poet, but the book only has a short reference to some lines of her poetry. As readers we have to acknowledge that we only see Browning from Wilson's point of view. By use of letters written by Wilson to various people, we see Wilson's personal point of view . Interspersed as they are with the rest of the text, we continue to see events through Wilson's eyes, but we never see a full picture of Browning.

What makes this book compelling is the story of the relationship between two women from different backgrounds, who for about fifteen years in the middle of the 19th century, are more or less inseparable. The story is not outstanding because it involves a celebrity of the day. It is outstanding because we see the transformation of an insecure and reserved woman from a humble background become someone who earns the respect of both the Brownings.

What also shines through is Elizabeth Wilson's great love for Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Arguably, Wilson is intoxicated by Browning. She will do anything for her, but not it seems for her own flesh and blood. But does Wilson ever become her friend? That is debatable.

I was very touched by the love Wilson has for the Brownings' son, Pen. She seems to love him more than her own two children, Oreste and Pilade. I found it very interesting to note in the Afterword that Pen became Wilson's saviour and eventually the two of them lived together until Wilson died.

So is it the singer or the song? In Margaret Forster's case it is definitely the singer! Forster's ability to capture the mood of the period , use the right register for all her characters and keep you captivated by strategic narrative hooks is exemplary.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lady's Maid, Forster, 25 Feb 2011
By 
Delores "muses2" (Cheshire, England) - See all my reviews
I enjoyed this book overall, but I thought it went on a bit long. Wilson began to annoy me more and more, through her complete devotion to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, even in the face of knowing that Elizabeth was tiring of her.
I would like to have heard how Wilson fared following her return to England. How her first child came to Florence and what exactly happened with her boarding house in Scarborough. I have read so many of Margaret Forster and though I enjoyed so many aspects of this book, I did not enjoy it as much as I thought I would. It was just too long and repetitive towards the end and began to bore me.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating account of a Victorian servant and her employers, 11 Feb 2011
By 
Katie Stevens "Ygraine" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Lady's Maid (Hardcover)
Lady's Maid tells the story of Wilson, a girl from the northeast who becomes lady's maid to Elizabeth Barrett. At first she feels alone and awkward in her situation, but slowly she comes to love her mistress and grows in confidence. Wilson becomes increasingly important in Miss Barrett's life, facilitating her secret marriage to Robert Browning and flight to a new life in Italy. Throughout this, Wilson has her own life to contend with: her family, her suitors and her hopes for the future.

I really enjoyed this book. It struck an excellent balance between being the story of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's maid, encompassing her daily life, concerns, struggles and interactions with other people in service, and the story of Elizabeth Barrett Browning as told by her maid, who is the initial draw of this book for most people, I should imagine, myself included. Margaret Forster has written a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and so, feeling reasonably safe that it was as historically accurate as I was likely to get, I thoroughly enjoyed this glimpse into the lives of two of the great Victorian poets. In fact, this book has reminded me of how much I enjoy Robert Browning. His wife, however, is not someone I've read very much (the ubiquitous 'How Do I Love Thee?' excepted) and after reading Lady's Maid I'm so cross with her that I don't feel any inclination to do so any time soon. Elizabeth Barrett in this book is utterly selfish; she is kind and affectionate towards Wilson only when she needs her or has no better occupation, and as soon as Wilson asks her a favour or goes against her wishes then she is petulant, tetchy and sometimes downright cruel. I spent most of the book feeling righteous indignation of Wilson's behalf for her treatment at the hands of her mistress, and this is indicative of Forster's skillful storytelling.

The style of the novel is unusual but effective. It alternates between third person narration, although the perspective that this reports is always Wilson's and the reader never sees the thoughts of any other character except through her own interpretations of what they might be, and letters from Wilson to various other characters. The writing segues seamlessly between the two forms, often running sentences across the break between the two so that the narrator will begin saying something and Wilson herself will finish it. I thought that this semi-epistolary style worked very well, as it gives the impression that more of the book comes direct to the reader from Wilson than really does, while simultaneously allowing Forster a freedom of writing which would have been necessarily restricted by a novel comprised purely of letters. It is a clever technique and results in an engaging, emotionally involving read.

The letters are also a means of reflecting Wilson's growing confidence and learning, both personally and stylistically. Initially, her letters are timid and shy, desperate to please the recipient and so hiding a lot of the truth that is revealed to the reader in the narrative sections of the novel. As Wilson becomes increasingly sure of herself, she begins to be more open and honest. She express opinions and even makes demands. At the same time, her letters go from being full of unnecessary capitalisations and awkward phrasing to being written in a smooth, warm, elegant prose. I thought it was an interesting touch that the writing skills of both Wilson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning develop only as they begin to blossom personally.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A complicated but passionate love story!, 13 April 2001
The book captured my interest from the moment I found out it was a love story. Based on fact and some fiction, it was a moving story, full of passionate characters, from Elizabeth Barrett to Mr Browning, and to Elizabeth Wilson herself. It is an honest tale of class differences, and an unusual inspiring friendship that broke the usual trends, amongst a most heartfelt love story. If a book can make you experience a number of emotions, such as this one did, then it has suceeded in telling a good story. I was engrossed from the start and was sad to finish it. I would recommend this book to fans of the classics such as 'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Bronte, and 'Rebecca' by Daphne du Maurier. It has become one of my favourite books now and I will read it again.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly sensitive, beautiful writing, 13 Feb 2001
By A Customer
This book is a 'faction' account of the life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Lady's Maid. It's beautifully writte, and, as in many of her books, I cried. It has everything you could ask for for a book to curl up with in the evening, complex and sensitive character portrayals, a gripping plot and history so carefully mixed in it hardly seems to be there. Read it.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Heroine becomes annoying, 21 Aug 2002
Modern women's novels set in Victorian times are rare, and so I pounced on this novel when I heard about it. It was certainly a great read early on, offering a beautifully-constructed glimpse into this fabulous lost world.
As Wilson appeared to develop from a mouse into a much more confident person, my attention was hooked, and I was hungry for more. But her transformation is short-lived, and as the novel progressed I became more and more frustrated with her obsession with the self-centred, passive-aggressive Mrs Browning....I do not like my heroines to be pathetic. Or at least they can be pathetic at the start, but then develop. The novel just fizzled for me.
I think the problem stems from basing a novel on real circumstances. It works fine if the real circumstances are dramatic, and if they allow for a real development of plot and character. But the circumstances surrounding the Browings and their maid just result in a kind of stagnation. There is certainly a kind of satisfaction, as a reader, in getting a feel for the bleakness of that time for people in Wilson's social position, and getting to grips with the mindset of a servant. And I think Forster's central aim with A Lady's Maid is to describe Wilson's changing, and increasingly obsessed mindset. But, as far as I'm concerned, it's not a satisfying read. Many a time I just found myself mentally rolling my eyes at Wilson's seemingly stupid choices.
I also would have liked there to be a little more "immediacy" in the story-telling, in the manner of the old writers' adage "show, don't tell". At a couple of points Wilson is "walking out" with a man, but we we barely hear about her beaux. Still, I suppose that, at least, is a matter of taste, and maybe it is more in keeping with the traditional Victorian novel for things to be related in a less direct way. And at any rate, it would have meant a longer novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "You look wretched and I am the cause of it, I suppose.", 17 Jun 2012
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Lady's Maid (Paperback)
This densely written story about the woman who worked for Elizabeth Barrett Browning (EBB) as a Lady's Maid has the advantage that the majority of the details and events are taken from her real life. As for EBB, after she escaped from the clutches of her father and took to roving the European continent in search of an ideal climate with her husband Robert Browning, she became even more highly esteemed and it might well be thought they lived idyllic lives, mostly in France and Italy. But EBB was almost always in poor health which put a damper on their travels. After two miscarriages, however, she gave birth to a healthy son.

The lady's maid in question is one Elizabeth Wilson (almost always addressed as `Wilson') in her early twenties when she is taken on in the Barrett household. The nature of her relationship with EBB fluctuates quite a bit, as Wilson herself contemplates marriage. The shock of her mistresses reaction when Wilson becomes pregnant is only the first of the inequalities and the lowering of status that Wilson has to contend with. While Wilson must be subservient to all eventualities, EBB has an entirely free rein.

Something of the claustrophobic and venal attitudes concerning what servants are and are not permitted to do casts a darkness on the ensuing story. I must admit I found it ever more depressing. The death of EBB was almost a relief. But it may not be too late for Wilson to regain her natural happiness, though the best of her life is gone, spent in servitude that is unthinkable to the expectations of the ordinary woman today.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Lovely easy to read book, 18 Jun 2014
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This review is from: Lady's Maid (Kindle Edition)
A book to delight. A bit of social history giving a snapshot of the time through the ryes of gentry and servants alike.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A book for my collection, 12 Jun 2014
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I ordered this book as part of my collection of Margaret Forster novels. I was very pleased with the condition, it arrived in excellent condition, and was the penguin version, which I wanted. Would buy from this seller again.
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Lady's Maid
Lady's Maid by Margaret Forster (Paperback - 7 April 2005)
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