Townsend Warner's The true heart was kindly sent to me by Elaine from Random Jottings last month; I was looking forward to reading this, partly because I have enjoyed other of Townsend Warner's novels, but also because my experience of reading her books is that they are very diverse and I wasn't sure what to expect from this one.
The true heart tells the story of Sukey Bond - we meet her as she "graduates" from the orphanage where she has spent all of her life - she is obviously a model pupil, being presented with 5 prizes including one for good conduct. She is then sent off to a farm on the Essex Coast (in an introduction to the book Warner describes how she was motivated to write the book after finding a map of Essex in a shop which she used to inspire her writing of it) to work as a maid. She falls in love with Eric, a simple minded man, whose mother, Mrs Seabourne, keeps him hidden away on the farm. They decide to marry, but Mrs Seabourne is appalled, sacks Sukey, and whisks Eric away. What will Sukey do? Since no-one else will help she decides to seek assistance from the highest authority in the country and sets off to see Queen Victoria! The book reads like a fairy tale; its the sort of plot that would only really happen in such a setting, but it makes for a delightful read. Sukey is a wonderful character, naive, but full of charm and hilarity. My favourite episode occurs when having been sacked, she finds accommodation at a "disorderly" house (as described by the landlady). Not having come across this term before, and anxious to please the woman who may be able to give her a room, although she thinks that the house is untidy, she tells the woman that the house cannot possibly be disorderly when it has such a beautiful parrot. This sends the woman into fits of laughter, she realises that she will not be able to employ Sukey, but does decide to give her a bed for the night.
Warner's introduction also reveals that this book was loosely based on the rather obscure Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche - this is not a myth that I am familiar with, but not knowing about it did not detract from enjoying the book!
Although this was one of the earliest VMCs, it's only been published once, with an original green cover. Big thanks again to Elaine for passing this on to me.