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Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson

Jonathan Cape, 1937

Persephone, 2006

Interview with Susan Hudson


kb: Sue, I loved reading this unique book you recommended. Summarize it for our readers.


Sue: Alas, Poor Lady is about a group of people you never think about: High-bred Victorian era women caught in the period between the World Wars, with dwindling incomes, no useful education, and no husbands to provide for them as they were brought up to expect. The main character Grace Scrimgeour is born in 1869, the last of seven sisters. Her younger brother Charlie, the long awaited boy, is the only child who really counts and who is taught any useful skills. When their father passes away unexpectedly, leaving little fortune, then Charlie dies in the war, the unmarried sisters of the family are left in a dangerous position with no income, no marriage prospects, and no skills.

kb: How were you impacted by the novel?


S: When you're watching romantic period films from the Victorian era, everything seems settled and it is assumed that everyone will be materially comfortable and have a place in the world. It's so distressing to think about this group of people going through such hardship, because they weren't brought up to expect it. Grace Scrimgeour sees the catastrophe hurtling towards her. She tries to find some kind of work, as a governess, but she isn't good at the tasks demanded of her. She's a pathetic character, and even her family sees her that way. To make it worse, they don't really help her. I found that hard to bear.


kb: Her sisters make a half-hearted effort to take her in at first.


S: But they don't seem to love her or seem at all interested in her. They just follow the rules to be respectable. They don't even see her. Her mother is the same way all along, not seeing her daughter or thinking about her future.


kb: What do you make of the heroine, Grace?


S: You don't often get to read about a heroine who is less than average. Grace isn't really good at anything, even finding her own path. She's weak and doesn't have imagination. She can't go full speed ahead because she believes in the rules and the system.


kb: She doesn't seem to be able to find her place in the new order; she seems to be sinking to the bottom.


S: I found it unsettling that no one anticipates the permanent changes underway in society. And someone like Grace is especially vulnerable. There's a real reason to feel sorry for her instead of judging her and saying what a loser.


kb: On another note, I was impressed to learn that the author Rachel Ferguson became a suffragette at age 16.


S: Yes, she must have been an interesting woman. Her criticism of the society that came right before her time is loud and clear in Alas, Poor Lady.

Alas, Poor Lady readers, Sue and Kellie


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