As part of my degree, I often find myself reading books that I have never heard of and indeed which have largely fallen out of print. Cometh Up As A Flower falls into both of these categories, and also happens to be a very interesting and peculiar book.
The first thing that struck me was how modern it seemed despite being published in 1867; the story is narrated from the perspective of a teenage girl and relates incidents in her ordinary life à la Georgia Nicholson, complete with mortifying incidents of public embarrassment, annoying family members and a dream boyfriend (or rather husband, this is the 19th century after all). The tone is similarly light-hearted; our protagonist Nell nicknames her tall blonde love interest “the Viking”, and is often self-deprecating and unaware of her own charms in the manner of several contemporary YA protagonists- a particular scene comes to mind when she stands in front of a mirror in despair pulling faces and calling herself a “potato face”. Yes, really.
The other chief point of interest with the book is its ahead-of-its-time treatment of topical questions of the period, namely issues surrounding “the woman question”, a term used in the 19th century with regards to the question of women’s place in society. Nell’s secret meetings with her lover- alone, often late at night, and in a churchyard oddly enough- would have been seen as scandalous for an unmarried woman, as indeed her father attempts to discourage him from visiting to avoid the ruin of Nell’s reputation. Her candid narration of her desire bluntly announces the reality of active female sexuality, in defiance of the Victorian ideal of women as passive objects of male desire and social condemnation of sexually active women outside of marriage.
The book is also brutally stark in its depiction of marriage as an economic exchange of goods, with the woman being an object sold to the man, and refuses to depict the mitigating idea that ‘she grew to love him’ after marriage, as Nell still cannot forget her lover even after becoming the wife of another man, a wealthy landowner. The ruthlessly mercenary and callous nature of some women in the face of this marriage market is commented on through the character of Dolly, Nell’s biological sister but decidedly not her sister in feeling and action and a personification of the idea that the “blood of the covenant is thicker than water of the womb”.
This mixture of light-hearted humour and romance scenes, interspersed with serious commentary on the reality of life for women, creates an odd tone in the novel and makes for curious reading. However, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants an alternative and perhaps unexpected perspective of the Victorian age.
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