02 Jul The Light Within Us by Charlotte Betts
Can life ever be picture-perfect for this group of artistic friends?
This is the first novel I’ve read by Charlotte Betts – and I am so glad that I was invited on this blog tour, otherwise I would have missed a wonderful exploration of the lives and loves of a group of friends brought up in a very different era to us.
As a female today, it’s hard to imagine being dependent on your parents or husband in almost every aspect of your life, yet that’s the situation facing Edith, Charlotte and Dora, graduates of Slade Art School just before the turn of the nineteenth century, when women were still expected to obey strict Victorian values.
And so Charlotte must fight against the strictures of her rich but selfish parents who want her to return to live at home, while Dora’s working class parents think she should forget about a career as an illustrator and go into service like her sisters.
But Edith’s case is perhaps the most pitiable – she thinks she’s found love with fellow artist Benedict, but her husband turns out to be shallow, self-centered and philandering, chaffing against the constraints of supporting the wife who is more talented than he is.
Yet “she’s made her bed” as her mother says, and must stay with him, even though he seems determined to kill her love for him.
The story begins in Cornwall, where Benedict’s aunt Hester lives at Spindrift House, left to her by her married lover Iago Penrose, to the disgust of Iago’s son Hugh who feels the house should be his. Sadly, Aunt Hester doesn’t survive her sweetheart long, and it’s to his inheritance, Spindrift, that Benedict brings his new wife, along with Charlotte, Dora, and their French friend and fellow artist Pascal.
The group settle into a summer of painting, but though Cornwall is picture perfect, their lives certainly aren’t. Benedict is indolent and uncaring, Charlotte can’t settle to anything and Dora worries about her future. Meanwhile, a pregnant Edith’s talent for painting falters under the burden of a heavy secret she carries – something she can’t even confide to her friends. To top it all off, the younger Penroses are out to cause trouble for the artistic commune.
Will their friendship survive the summer?
I love the sense of time and place in this story – whether we’re lazing in the French sunshine, watching gathering Cornish storms through Spindrift’s many windows or taking tea in a stuffy London drawing-room, we’re instantly transported into the moment. The descriptions are atmospheric and rich in detail – a work of art in words to complement the artistic theme of the story.
The three central characters are very appealing. Edith is the heroine, and you can’t help but feel for her as she sees her rosy future disappear in a welter of disappointment and disgrace. But she’s got the strength and courage to fight back against whatever fate throws her – and while she can never be considered a modern woman, given the times she lives in, she is feisty and fierce and loving in defence of her family and friends.
Clarissa is a complex character – something has made her bitter and twisted, and yet we know she is capable of loyalty and love, if only she can let the past go.
Dora is a delight. A talented artist, she nevertheless appreciates, more than perhaps even Edith, the importance of a settled home, and is a constant, dependable presence in the background of all the ups and downs that the friends’ unconventional lives bring.
Other characters flit in and out – the awful Penroses, Edith’s snobby mother, kindly housekeeper Mrs Gloyne, fellow artists who come and go, and they all add to the vibrancy of the story and the interest of the plot. But it’s Edith who is most engrossing, and I was sad to say goodbye to her by the end of the story.
The good news, though, is that this is the first of a planned trilogy, so we should be seeing more of Edith, Clarissa, Dora et al … I, for one, can’t wait!
Published by Piatkus
Thanks to Francesca Banks at LittleBrown for the advance reading copy, and for inviting me to take part in this tour.
You can catch more news and reviews of The Light Within Us by following the links below.
About the author
Charlotte Betts is a multi-award-winning author of romantic historical novels and draws inspiration from the stories of strong women at turning points in history. For more about her books and to subscribe to her mailing list visit www.charlottebetts.co.uk.