Top positive review
on 23 May 2014
Having read the delightful 'Miss Marjoribanks', I was hungry for more of the Chronicles of Carlingford and downloaded this one. It is really good, with wonderfully imagined characters and a powerful story. I was completely involved, for a number of reasons.
I learnt from Wikipedia that Perpetual Curate was a class of parish priest, particularly in the first half of the nineteenth century, in the Church of England. Ancient rectories and vicarages had a right to income from compulsory tithes; perpetual curates led newly created parishes with no such ecclesiastical taxes, and weren't paid much. They were 'perpetual' in that they had security of tenure and they had a 'cure of souls' - hence, curate. Unless they could find a patron to make them the rector of a wealthier parish, they could not afford to marry. A bit technical, but it explains the basis of the plot.
Frank Wentworth is a perpetual curate in the slums of Carlingford. He appeared in the earlier books as a very young but able priest. In 'The Rector' ( a short novelette which I also read this week), Rector Proctor is deeply impressed by this handsome, dedicated priest.
Mr Proctor's successor in Carlingford, Mr Morgan, arrives. This new Rector is middle aged, only now finally able to marry his fiancée of ten years. He is inexperienced in parish work and insecure enough to be threatened by Frank Wentworth's success.Frank is helped by the two dedicated Wodehouse sisters and is secretly in love with the younger of them, Lucy, but can't acknowledge it to her because he can't afford to marry anyone. He must get a traditional parish - yet he is dedicated to his work in Carlingford. There are two parishes in the gift of his own aristocratic family. Frank's brother is the Rector of one of them, and the other is soon to become vacant. However, Frank is High Church while the aunts who control the living are evangelical. They arrive in Carlingford to investigate Frank and are unimpressed by his preaching and appalled by the fact that there are flowers on the altar at Easter. It all seems pretty small-minded, but actually Mrs Oliphant had her finger right on the pulse of the conflicts in the Anglican Church. I have pretty extensive experience of Anglicanism (both positive and negative) and I found myself remembering things that happened to me and the bitter painfulness of the dirty tricks and prejudices involved.
The book's plot is complex, involving Frank's many brothers and sisters, including his dissolute older brother,Jack, his second brother, Gerald (who is selfishly thinking of abandoning his wife and young family to become a Roman Catholic priest) his gloriously portrayed maiden aunts and his ageing father, as well as the even worse older brother of the Misses Wentworth and the poor people of the Carlingford slums. A flirtatious and foolish young girl, Rosa Elsworthy, is the catalyst for a series of events which plunge Frank and Lucy into immense difficulty, almost ending his ministry as a priest. Mrs Oliphant creates wonderful characters and has a profound understanding of how people tick. I could not remain detached but became completely involved in the story. She shows how easily, particularly in religious circles, gossip and judgementalism can destroy someone's life and ministry and cause intense suffering.
This series of books would make a marvellous television series along the lines of 'Cranford' or 'Lark Rise to Candleford.' The characters are equally memorable and the picture of a small society on the nineteenth century is beautifully detailed and delicate. I loved it!