Communications gurus emphasize, “It’s not what you say but how you say it.” Author Hazel Gaynor fulfills that adage to the nth degree in the historical novel “A Memory of Violets .”
She engages a reader’s compassion from the start, painting the picture of the desperately poor in 1876 London when little girls, many handicapped and orphaned, sold flowers on the street for “tuppence a bunch.” The story is based on people who actually lived and follows Flora (nicknamed Florrie) Flynn and her younger sister, Rosie, as they battle poverty to survive. Before she died, their mother entreats Flora, 8 years old when the story opens, to take care of the nearly blind Rosie, 4. Flora herself uses a crutch to walk because of her bout with polio.
When the two are separated through happenstance, humanitarian Albert Shaw brings Flora to Training Homes for Watercress and Flower Girls, a group of homes he has established for the poor, desperate girls who sell flowers. Flora vows to search relentlessly for Rosie and writes in a journal about the search and her years at the Training Homes. She has family memorabilia, which she keeps in a wooden box and stows in her bedroom closet.
At the same time, Marguerite Ingram rescues Rosie, who is so frightened she is unable to even say her name. Marguerite, whose own daughter had died, immediately loves Rosie and names her Violette. Coincidences, twists of fate and luck determine her ultimate destiny growing up separated from Flora.
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Gaynor parallels and interconnects the lives of the Flynn sisters with the lives of the Harper sisters, Tilly and Esther. In the village of Grasmere in England’s Lake District, Tilly’s mother had told her to watch over younger Esther, but an accident leaves Esther wheelchair-bound. Tilly is grateful to escape her mother’s accusing eyes when she is hired as assistant house mother in Violet House at Training Homes for Watercress and Flower Girls in London. In her bedroom there, Tilly discovers Flora’s wooden box.
The reader will choose favorite characters because Gaynor delineates all of them with care. Family members exhibit jealousy, conflicts, disappointments and resentments. They harbor secrets, which they eventually reveal. Minor characters such as Mrs. Harriet Pearce, Edward Shaw, Hilda and Queenie will elicit nods of understanding because they have traits readers recognize in others.
The novel is a study in contrasts: rich and poor, healthy and handicapped, privileged and unfortunate, resentful and forgiving. It is also a story of separation and unity. Love is identified on several levels: familial, humanitarian and romantic. Time switches back and forth from the past to the present.
The beauty and scent of flowers comes into play from the beginning of the book to its finish. Letters from Tilly, her father, Marguerite and Flora are a big part in communicating information. Every detail is important in the book. Irish ancestry, handkerchiefs and the weather are among the topics that play a part.
All of the loose ends come together in a satisfying, understandable ending. Gaynor has written a masterpiece of a story, one that will linger long in the memory of readers .
Jo Ann Mathews, For The Sun News
Moveable Feast in March
The Moveable Feast literary luncheons are held at area restaurants and feature various authors. The next events will be:
• March 13 | Tom Poland (”Classic Carolina Road Trips”) at Prestwick Country Club, Surfside Beach.
• March 20 | William “Billy” Baldwin & Lee Brockington (Genevieve “Sister” Peterkin’s “Heaven Is a Beautiful Place”) at Tara Ballroom, Litchfield Beach & Golf Resort.
• March 27 | Bill Noel (”First Light”) at Ocean One.
Most of the events are held Fridays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and they cost $25. For each feast, the chef prepares a menu, typically unavailable during the restaurant’s public hours, and the luncheons range in size from 30 to 300. The presentation precedes the meal, and each luncheon is followed by a book signing at Litchfield Books at 2 p.m. for those unable to participate in the feast (books are available at a 10 percent discount).
For reservations, call 235-9600 or www.classatpawleys.com.