Patricia Dolling-Mann was born in Northampton, England and spent a large part of her working life as a registered nurse. Whilst nursing and bringing up a family she took various writing courses and then gained an honours degree in English Literature and History with the Open University Early retirement from the nursing profession has given her time to fulfil her lifelong ambition to write.
A passion for Victorian life and times and the writer Thomas Hardy prompted her and her husband to move to Dorset. “A Claim to Kin” is the first of a series called “The Wessex Chronicles” using the locations and names of Thomas Hardy. Although now living in a leafy suburb in the South East of England, a large library of Hardy-related works keeps her in touch with her beloved Wessex.
The author has two grown-up daughters and three grandsons. She loves visiting historic buildings and gardens and has a fascination for genealogy. Her love of music includes classical and folk. She is now writing a follow on to “Weatherbury Farm”, another Wessex Chronicle.
You can see my website on https://www.patriciadolling-mann.com
Book Buy Link: https://amzn.to/3BZBvdQ
It was on a dazzling bright, sunny afternoon, in the year of our Lord 1890, that the church bells rang out their message loud and clear across the lush vale of Blackmore, deep within the heart of the Wessex countryside. Not the slow ponderous sound of the funeral bell tolling its sad news for all who had the misfortune to be in its vicinity as it had on one awful July morn in the far away county town of Wintoncester almost three years ago to the day, but a joyous, melodic sound, lifting the spirit and heralding a happy occasion.
Eliza Durbeyfield inherits a husband. Beginning where Thomas Hardy’s famous book ‘Tess of the D’urbervilles’ leaves off, her sister, Eliza Louisa, follows her sister’s last request before her death, that of marrying her widowed husband, Angel Clare. And Angel goes right along with Tess’s request, as well, more so out of guilt for causing Tess so much misery during her days, and thinking himself responsible for the choices his wife made leading to her death. And they both agree to this despite the union being fraught with a bundle of baggage, as well as being illegal in England during this time period.
Eliza is a young woman wholly unspoiled by the world, and unsullied by the shadow of her sister’s demise, as she dreams of this new life with a much older man who sweeps her off her feet (and ends up in the hay) early on in their relationship. Much of what happens to Eliza in the narrative and during her relationship with Angel is reminiscent of Hardy’s story, with a few confusing caveats. While in Hardy’s novel we see the slow transformation of Tess from a brooding young girl followed by some sort of shadowy curse into a down-trodden and ravished young woman who thinks her only way to happiness is through murder; in this book, Eliza, who we assume is inheriting this curse, emerges in quite a different way. And her husband, Angel, the one we all loved to hate in Hardy’s novel with his moral high ground and unforgiving spirit, appears to be the one who ultimately inherits Tess’s curse and becomes the very person he once judged.
Very early on, the conflicts between the couple bloom into the realization that perhaps their decision was more out of duty than out of any true love on either of their parts. Angel’s temper and controlling nature comes back full force, especially as Eliza tries to find her own way in her life, to try to become woman with her own feelings, wants, desires, and mind. Angel, however, will have none of it from his wife, and they find themselves at odds and drifting apart.
Enter Jeremiah Brown, Angel’s cousin, who turns Eliza’s eye with his fine appearance and smooth words... and for a while, and another near encounter in the woods similar to what happened to Tess, you get the sense that Eliza is doomed to repeat the sorrowful life of her sister, especially when the encounter leads to a disastrous result for the young woman.
However, Ms Mann is not Thomas Hardy, meaning that her book traverses a different path for the main female lead character than the tragic Tess of the D’urbervilles. Hope lingers with Eliza, more so than her sister ever acquired, and she grows into an educated young woman in more ways than one. Also, while the writing style dares to climb to the lofty heights of Thomas Hardy, in some ways it soars and in others, the endless ordinary day-to-day events create a sort of lumbering effect for a large portion of the narrative.
I hate to continue the comparison to Hardy’s novel, but since this is called the ‘inheritance’, then putting these two side by side is necessary. In taking on a sequel to any classic novel is a huge undertaking and any author who does this needs to resolve themselves to the ensuing criticism, much the same way Alexandra Ripley dealt with the comparisons of her Scarlett to Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.
In both cases, Hardy and Mann offer two innocent and passive young women at the beginning of their novels, and the theme that really terrible things happen to really good people, as well as the time period being rife with hypocrisy and of women deemed as inferior beings. Both Tess and Eliza are good girls whose only desire is to find love, but while Tess’s path veers more into tragedy forced upon her, Eliza truly emerges as a strong woman rising from the tragedies of suffering similar losses and the revelation of Angel’s true character.
It is evident the author pressed the prose to reflect the similar haunting and golden style of Hardy, but fell just short of reaching those heavenly refrains and descriptions so often attributed with the classic master. As a reader, I also longed for more connection between Eliza and Tess, such as more reflection on Eliza’s part to her sister’s demise... more emotion, perhaps. And the same for Angel. Oftentimes, I wished for more depth to his well-known personality, of his loss and his guilt for what he put Tess through, and his own recognition of his own faults, not to mention his reasons behind marrying Tess’s sister so readily.
Not that any of this is a fault to the story, since the tale is interesting. If you take the book as is, a standalone read, without the comparison to Hardy, or as a sequel to Tess of the D’urbervilles, then the book is well worth a read. While Tess’s story incurred tears, Eliza’s story gives hope and even creates the changing world view which wasn’t available to her sister. Hardy’s book is literature to be savoured over weeks; Mann’s book is a clever and entertaining tale to enjoy over a weekend, and her efforts for taking on the sequel to this much-loved tragic story is to be commended.
“The D’urberville Inheritance” by Patricia Dolling-Mann receives four stars from The Historical Fiction Company