Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Stealing Roses by Heather Cooper, a Victorian tale set on the Isle of Wight

Heather Cooper’s Stealing Roses is a warmly delightful debut novel set in the small seaside town of Cowes on the Isle of Wight in 1862. Aside from brief mentions of Queen Victoria’s summer home at nearby Osborne House, major historical events and figures don’t intrude. The focus is on a young woman’s growing into adulthood amid social change in her immediate world.

The writing style enhances the sense of period, employing the Victorian tendency toward long, winding sentences and a tone of elevated formality. It makes a nice contrast with the personality of its heroine, 19-year-old Eveline Stanhope, the adventurous youngest daughter in a well-to-do family. She has two older sisters who married well, a mother she loves despite her tendency to meddle and gossip, and a caring aunt. Living with them is Eveline’s former governess, Miss Angell, who would have had nowhere else to go if the Stanhopes hadn’t taken her in.

The building of a railway line between Cowes and Newport alarms Eveline at first, since she shares her late father’s love of natural landscapes and hates to think of the ground being torn up. Over time, she comes to realize the benefits that trains will bring for local fishermen, other businesses, and even their family. Two suitors present themselves in her life: Charles Sandham, nephew of Mrs Stanhope’s good friend and social rival, and chief railway engineer Thomas Armitage, a Yorkshireman.

Eveline is an engaging heroine, a product of her time who recognizes but sets aside the limitations imposed on young women of her class. Eveline’s mother despairs of her interest in photography and desire to go sea-bathing, but as with many things, Mrs. Stanhope can be persuaded to change her mind if she’s told such pursuits are fashionable or progressive. (While she can be flighty and marriage-obsessed on Eveline’s behalf, she’s no Mrs Bennet; over the course of the novel, her character shows significant depth.)

Jane Austen fans should enjoy this novel with its emphasis on family interactions, social responsibility, and the economic position of women. The era depicted in is firmly Victorian, though, and delves into the era’s proprieties and improprieties (with examples both saucy and serious). Some parts of the ending feel too abrupt, but overall, it’s enjoyable to spend time within these pages.

Stealing Roses was published by Allison & Busby last year; I read it from a NetGalley copy.


  1. Looks like a nice escape right about now...will add it to the Coll Dev file at work :)

  2. Great! It was a wonderful diversion from everything in the headlines today.