Friday, June 18, 2010

‘The Silent Governess’ by Julie Klassen – Book Review

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One of the more popular genres in the Christian fiction realm is historical fiction. ‘The Silent Governess’ by Julie Klassen fits very nicely into that category.

Here is the synopsis of this book:

          Olivia Keene is fleeing her own secret. She never intended to overhear his.
But now that she has, what is Lord Bradley to do with her? He cannot let her go, for were the truth to get out, he would lose everything – his reputation, his inheritance, his very home.
He gives Miss Keene little choice but to accept a post at Brightwell Court, where he can make certain she does not spread what she heard. Keeping an eye on the young woman as she cares for the children, he finds himself drawn to her, even as he struggles against the growing attraction. The clever Miss Keene is definitely hiding something.
Moving, mysterious, and romantic, The Silent Governess takes readers inside the intriguing life of a nineteenth-century governess in an English manor house where all is not as it appears.

Here is the biography of the author:

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane – Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. She is a fiction editor by day and a novelist by night. Her first book, Lady of Milkweed Manor, was a Christy Award finalist. Her second book is entitled The Apothecary’s Daughter. Julie and her husband have two sons and live near St. Paul, Minnesota.

And here is an interview with Mrs. Klassen talking about her book, her writing strategy, etc…:

In terms of Olivia’s faith, she was not necessarily following Christ at the beginning of the novel. But she was surrounded by believers, including one of the servants at Brightwell Court, Mrs. Hinckley. This particular passage shows both an example of Julie’s wonderful writing style – how she makes the story come to life - as well as how Jesus is interspersed throughout this story:

Olivia witnesses the transformation of Brightwell Court with awe and delight. Mrs. Hinckley, with help from the housemaids and hall boy, dressed the mantels, windows, and doorframes with entwined greens of rosemary, bay, ivy, and yew. The housekeeper then twisted a long garland of holly down to the stately staircase. “In remembrance of his crown of thorns,” she whispered reverently. Soon, the entire manor was imbued with the spicy scent of greenery. (p. 129)

Another person of faith who encouraged – and challenged - Olivia was Parson Tugwell:

“I hope it will not make you uncomfortable if I tell you I am still praying for you, Miss Keene.” He looked from her to the closed door and back again. “I sense there are things in your life that are not as they should be. I am asking God to ‘work all things together for good,’ as the Scripture says He will, for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Do you, Miss Keene?” he asked gently. Do you love Him? Trust and serve Him?”
She stared, flummoxed. A man she hardly knew, posing such personal questions? She did not know whether to be touched or offended. His softly line face blurred before her, and she was embarrassed to find tears once more filling her eyes and falling down her cheeks.
No… She shook her head. I do not trust and serve God, she thought. Love him? Sometimes. Is my life as it should be? Am I? No, and again, no.
He took her hand in his. “I shall pray for that as well.” (pp. 91-92)

Later on in the story, Parson Tugwell and Olivia have another talk about faith, this time in the Jesus Almshouse, which was founded by a yeoman farmer who perhaps thought this good deed would earn him favor with God. The vicar explains to Olivia that good deeds do not complete that task:

“My dear Miss Keene, what would the world be without them?”… “Are we not admonished to be doers and not merely hearers of His word? Yet not on a mountain of good deeds can we climb our way to heaven.”
She was confused by his words. Nothing she could do about her foul deeds? This was not what she wanted to hear. “You surprise me. If good deeds cannot move God to forgiveness, what will, then?”
“Not a thing. Which is why I find the name of this place so fitting. We cannot redeem our dark deeds, Miss Keene. Only the Lord can – and already has. All we can do is accept the merciful salvation He purchased for us on the cross long ago. “But” – he smiled and rubbed his palms together eagerly – “we can serve our fellow creatures and delight our heavenly Father’s heart in so doing.” (p. 286)

Toward the end of the book, the scales on Olivia’s eyes finally fell, as she realized what the vicar had been trying to show her all along. This occurred as she relayed to her father that charges that had been brought against him has been dropped:

        “You are free to go, Father,” she whispered. “We are all of us free.”
Olivia finally understood what Mr. Tugwell had tried to tell her. This was how it was for every fallen creature. Christ bore the penalty we each deserve, to purchase our freedom. (p. 428)

This book is full of interesting plots twists, lots of characters, and – of course – romance! Here is the last paragraph of the book:

When Edward looked across at me once more, there are tears in his dear blue eyes, and answering tears fill my own. I breathe another prayer of thanksgiving for all God has done in our lives.
Well done indeed. (pp. 437-438)

In the Author’s Note at the end of the book, Julie explains the inspiration for Brightwell Court:

Brightwell Court is not a real place, but it was loosely inspired by the very real, very picturesque Bibury Court in the Cotswold village of Bibury, which the artist William Morris called “the most beautiful village in England”… Not only did we enjoy the ivy-covered Tudor mansion, the lovely grounds bordered by the curvy River Coln, and the greedy ducks that nipped at our scones, but I also realized it would make an ideal setting for The Silent Governess. I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to set a novel in that idyllic place. If you ever have the opportunity, I hope you will visit Bibury yourself. (pp. 439-440)

I love that suggestion!

I also really loved this book! Admittedly, ‘The Silent Governess’ had been in my ‘to read’ list a little too long (its 440 pages were a little intimidating…), but I did enjoy it a great deal once I overcame the idea of reading such a thick book, and once I started hearing so many raves about it! It is a wonderfully written book! The Christy Awards committee must agree, as it is a finalist in the Historical Fiction Award category (you can see the list of finalists here - the awards will be given out on June 26, 2010 in St. Louis).  Congratulations to Julie on this great honor!

 You can order this book here.

This book was provided by Bethany House Publishers for review purposes.

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