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04 February 2015

Malcolm MacDonald: Abigail

Victorian morality tale
This is the fourth and final novel in the classic Stevenson family saga by Malcolm Macdonald. While I loved the previous two books in the series I thought that Macdonald had run out of ideas about the family with this book which is very different to the others.

After SONS OF FORTUNE the three eldest Stevenson children have found their places in life, despite the plans of their rich and powerful parents. Winifred is running her own girl's school and will remain a spinster. John junior ("Boy") has found his niche in the Army fighting on the wild Indian frontier and Caspar ("Steamer") has successfully taken over half of the business, married well and built a huge family home to meet his lifestyle that would leave Downton Abbey in shade. The rift between their parents continues, but there is some hope of reconciliation.

Abigail has always been the difficult, sometimes tempestuous, younger daughter who John and Nora hope will take a more conventional line and marry well. This is not going to happen with a girl with such a indomitable spirit. Having been home tutored Abigail has been closeted from the real world. One day she tricks her maid Annie into telling her the facts of life which opens a new view of the world that starts her on a world of passion and exploration that will be the keynote of her life.

Abbie becomes a talented author, journalist and painter which leads her to the great capitals of Europe. She finds ways to live an independent life for herself away from her wealthy family at a time when single women from the upper classes are rarely ever able to become independent.

Abigail is more of a Victorian morality story than an extension of a family saga as Abbie experiences the vicissitudes of life and love and befriends both women and men of all classes and wealth who would not normally be part of her life. While she suffers a lot of pain as a result of her independence this helps her to build a life to help women everywhere.

I feel that Macdonald didn't really plan to write this story and had to find something different to continue the family saga and the story seemed to run out of steam towards the end. Despite this I enjoyed the book as Macdonald is a talented commentator on Victorian life. If you have read the earlier books you really should complete the series as it uncovers fascinating aspects of Victorian life through the eyes of a wealthy and intelligent woman seeking independence and equality for women everywhere.

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