A Memory of Violets: A Novel of London’s Flower Sellers by Hazel Gaynor
Publisher: William Morrow, 2015
A Memory of Violets is a well researched book about flower sellers in Victorian London. I kept thinking of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion or, rather, the movie version My Fair Lady when reading this book. The book is set in 2 timelines, both during the Victorian era in London. The two stories tell the saga of two sets of sisters. The novel is written through many perspectives. We learn about Tilly in her devoted chapters. We learn about Florrie through the diary entries. This diary takes Tilly, and by default the reader, into Florrie’s world of 1873. We learn about Florrie’s family’s struggles with money, with an abusive father and finally about how she lost her mother to death and her beloved younger sister to an attempted kidnapping.
Then there is a third section where the author tells us about Florrie and what becomes of her sister Rosie. Although, Tilly is used mostly as a vehicle to reveal Florrie’s story. I think if the author spent some time talking about Tilly’s relationship with the girls she cares for, there would more to her side. There is very little to Tilly’s back story. We see virtually no interaction between Tilly and the girls she cares for (minus Queenie). Although I felt for Tilly and her troubled relationship with her family, her storyline just wasn’t as detailed as it could have been. There were too many missing details that could have made it so much more rich and engrossing. The love story that developed was expected, and the entire phantom ghost story of Florrie felt cliché and unnecessary.
I did like that each segment of the girl’s lives was introduced with a special flower and its meaning:
Part One – Purple Hyacinth “Please forgive me.”
Part Two – Pink Carnation “I will never forget you.”
Part Three – Primrose “I can’t live without you.”
Part Four – Pansy “You are in my thoughts.”
I still enjoyed the book immensely. I love books about Victorian London and this one did not disappoint. It is a fairly light read, but I do like the segment of history it highlights. All I knew about the flower sellers of London is from My Fair Lady. I never knew that there was an entire home dedicated to the disabled orphans of London who create beautiful fabric flowers with their limited resources. Although the disabled and poor in London remained mostly invisible at the time, one man, a christian preacher and philanthropist, John Grooms, (portrayed in the book as Albert Shaw) founded the Crippleage and Flower Girls Mission. His mission was to provide a safe shelter for these girls and provide them with the skills necessary to see them succeed in life after leaving the home. It’s a wonderful side of London’s history that is often neglected in historical fiction.
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