One afternoon after reading Glamour magazine a friend called to tell me about a book that was being recommended and that she felt I simply must buy. That book was September and it was my introduction to Rosamunde Pilcher. My friend was right to recommend the book—I absolutely loved it and subsequently glommed all of Pilcher’s previous works. As a writer she has the unique ability to infuse her novels with a warmth and wit you will rarely come across on the printed page. She creates absolutely memorable characters and fascinating romances and offers interesting insight into the female heart. Needless to say I was very excited when I learned that her work was being re-released and a whole new generation of readers would get a chance to read it.
While Pilcher writes what is generally termed women’s fiction, most of her books contain at least one HEA. Her romances tend to be sweeping, heartfelt and take many, many pages to reach a conclusion. They contain all the ups and downs of a real life relationship. And they often have a helping hand.
The author loves to do multi-generational stories which show the beauty of different age groups interacting together and learning from each other. The backbone of this circle of family and friends tends to be one of Pilcher’s signature characters- the grand old lady. In the author’s novels the grand old lady serves as a matriarchal figure that dispenses wisdom and makes sure true love finds its way in the lives of the younger folk. The grand old lady is a staple of romance novels such as Phoebe from Jeffe Kennedy’s Mark of the Tala, Drucilla Fleetwood from Amanda Quick’s Dangerous, or Aunt Mari from Slightly Married by Mary Balogh. She is a strong woman and full of character. A great example of this character, captured in just a few lines is Elfrida, from Winter Solstice:
Before Elfrida Phipps left London for good and moved to the country, she made a trip to Battersea Dogs' Home, and returned with a canine companion. It took a good, and heart-rending, half hour of searching, but as soon as she saw him, sitting very close to the bars of his kennel and gazing up at her with dark and melting eyes, she knew he was the one. She did not want a large animal, nor did she relish the idea of a yapping lap dog. This one was exactly the right size. Dog size.
That moment tells us so much about Elfrida via her practical approach to finding a pet and the prosaic way in which she wants one that is neither large and intimidating or silly and ornamental but an average member of the species. As we continue we learn that she is someone who believes that “The only way to make disasters bearable is to laugh about them.” Her old age has firmed her character:
She had never allowed herself to be bullied, and was not about to start.
Elfrida is a tribute to how a woman can age gracefully, generously, and with great wisdom.
One of the best loved of Pilcher’s grand old ladies is Penelope from The Shell Seekers. Here is how Penelope describes herself at the start of the novel:
I am sixty-four and I have suffered, if those idiot doctors are to be believed, a heart attack. Whatever. I have survived it, and I shall put it behind me, and not talk nor think about it, ever again. Because I am alive. I can feel, touch, see, hear, smell; look after myself; discharge myself from the hospital; find a taxi, and get myself home. There are snowdrops coming out in the garden, and spring is on the way. I shall see it. Watch the yearly miracle, and feel the sun grow warmer as the weeks slip by. And because I am alive, I shall watch it all happen and be part of the miracle.
Penelope is of the firm belief that:
The greatest gift a parent can leave a child is that parent's own independence
She is also aware that old age has brought her many gifts:
Time had lost its importance. That was one of the good things about getting old: you weren't perpetually in a hurry. All her life, Penelope had looked after other people, but now she had no one to think about but herself. There was time to stop and look, and, looking, to remember. Visions widened, like views seen from the slopes of a painfully climbed mountain, and having come so far, it seemed ridiculous not to pause and enjoy them.
It’s wonderful to watch Penelope offer advice and help a young couple on to the right path.
September, which is a loose continuation of The Shell Seekers, shows Penelope’s wisdom coming to fruition many years after she has given it in the character of her son Noel. This growth is helped along by another of the author’s venerable old ladies, Violet.
Every morning of her life, rain or shine, Violet Aird walked to the village to collect , from Mrs. Ishak’s supermarket, two pints of milk, The Times, and any other small groceries and supplies needed for the sustenance of one elderly lady living on her own. . . . It was not an easy walk.
Violet, like Penelope, takes comfort in her age:
At seventy-seven, what did a few wrinkles matter? A small price to pay for an energetic and active old age.
She also active in the lives of those around her. Watching her daughter’s boyfriend Noel struggle with some issues she sits with him and tells him something of her own life. When Noel sits at a crossroads of his life he thinks:
That was old Vi, sitting on the hill above the lochs and opening her heart to him.
Her advice leads to his HEA, which is the culmination of a very sweet and touching love story.
Phoebe from The Carousel is another eccentric old lady:
Looking at Phoebe is always a pleasure. Unpredictable, but always a pleasure. She was at that time well into her sixties but it has always been impossible to equate Phoebe to the passing years.
I saw the thick stockings, the stout boots, the worn and faded blue-jean skirt. Over these she wore a man’s shirt and cardigan; there were gold chains about her neck, and a tartan scarf and on her head, and inevitably, a hat.
Phoebe’s eccentric taste in clothes is a reflection of her free spirit:
As a young woman Phoebe had based herself in London, but in her middle years she wiped the dust of the city from her shoes and went to live in
Cornwall, where she cohabited happily with a charming man, a sculptor, called Chips Armitage. They never married.
She gives her niece the following advice about love, which changes the outcome of Prue’s current romance.
We all need different things from life. Your mother needs security. That’s why she married your father, and a fat lot of good that did her because she never took the time to get to know him before she made that spectacular entrance up the aisle. But you’re a special person. You need more than a man to bring you flowers and pay the bills. You’re intelligent and you’re talented. And when you do settle down with a man it is absolutely vital that he makes you laugh.
Good advice for lovelorn girls.
The ladies of these novels all helped young women find true love after having done so themselves. They prove the adage that with age comes wisdom. They also show that having gray hair doesn’t mean you have to take a back seat in life. I love seeing that you can be the heroine in your own life well into your old age.
Do you love the venerable old lady of romance and women’s fiction? Which are your favorites?
Read one of Rosamunde Pilcher's books mentioned:
|September by Rosamunde Pilcher|
|Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher|
|The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher|
|The Carousel by Rosamunde Pilcher|
Maggie Boyd, blogger, reviewer, avid reader