Monday, September 17, 2018

The Mistress of Pennington's, by Rachel Brimble

Aria, July 2018

It's 1910, the women's suffrage movement is in full swing in the UK, and Elizabeth Pennington, daughter of Edward Pennington, owner of the finest shop for men's and women's clothing and accessories in Bath, is determined to succeed her father as the store's head. Unfortunately, Edward Pennington doesn't believe women, including his daughter, are capable of being competent business people. He has grudgingly made her head of the women's department, and she's doing well, but what does that prove?

Joseph Carter is a glove maker in Bath. He and his father run Carter & Son, making and selling gloves and hats for women. Yet the time of the small, independent shop is passing, the elder Carter is approaching an age where he should be retiring, and Joseph has a vision of making his gloves known, admired, and wanted on a much larger scale. Pennington's is, potentially, the key to that.

Elizabeth has been slowly modernizing and revitalizing the parts of Pennington's that she has control of. When Joseph arrives to pitch his gloves to her, she sees a possible path to her vision, and a potential partner in Joseph. He feels both grief and guilt over the death of his wife, but also misses the partnership he had working with her. The possibility of being more than just another supplier for Pennington's, of working with Elizabeth to achieve both their visions, is enticing, indeed irresistible.

What neither of them knows at first is that there's an old family feud and a terrible tragedy between their families.

The two ambitious and idealistic offspring set out to make real change--even after they learn the terrible past lying between their parents.

This is a really interesting look at the early 20th century, and working women at a time when equality and even the right to vote were radical ideas. Elizabeth and Joseph are both intelligent, interesting characters with impressive but potentially realistic ambitions. Retail shopping is about to change dramatically, and the founding of the current version of Pennington's was merely the first ripple of that. The characters don't know it yet, but World War One is in their future, just a few years away, and in the course of it and in its aftermath, the role of women in British society changed significantly. Joseph may be a little early in wanting a partner in a modern sense, but he's not an anachronism by any means.

It's equally interesting to watch Edward Pennington struggle with both his own rigidity and intolerance, and his real, if confused, feelings for his, from his viewpoint, all too capable and driven daughter. On the other side, Joseph's father, Robert Carter, has to struggle with his own feelings regarding what happened between their two families, both when Joseph and Elizabeth were young children, and before that, before Robert Carter and Edward Pennington where born, when their fathers were first friends, and then business rivals.

It's a rich, interesting, rewarding novel of just over a hundred years ago, and well worth your time.

Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher, and am reviewing it voluntarily.