08 June, 2013

Tyringham Park

I recently read an interesting novel called Tyringham Park, written by Rosemary McLoughlin. As you will know if you read my blog regularly, I have an interest in history and particularly old buildings, spending quite a bit of my spare time visiting stately homes. Tyringham Park caught my attention because it gives an insight into the lives of the people who actually inhabited these magnificent homes.

The book is set largely in Ireland in the early years of the twentieth century. It follows the life of Charlotte Blackshaw, daughter of the incumbent lord, whose infant sister Victoria unaccountably went missing when Charlotte was just eight years old.

Despite the apparent luxury and comfort of Charlotte's life (no money worries, living in a vast and comfortable mansion, surrounded by toys, having the opportunity to ride and hunt), we learn that Charlotte's life is in fact anything but comfortable. Her father is never at home, preferring to remain in India on an army posting, rather than having anything to do with his family. Her mother, having no interest at all in her children, has abandoned them to a nanny who is utterly cruel and sadistic and regularly inflicts serious injury on her charges. Since the house is so large and the nursery confined to one of its enormous wings, no one is aware of the children's suffering. Charlotte's one joy is riding her horse, but even this is thwarted by her jealous and competitive mother.

As Charlotte grows older, her nanny is dismissed and her lot does eventually improve under the guidance of a kind and skilled private tutor. Yet as an adult, Charlotte remains scarred and haunted by her childhood, not least by the disappearance of her baby sister all those years ago.

Tyringham Park is certainly an epic novel. Its story involves a number of characters and skips between rural Ireland, the city of Dublin and new world Australia. What is particularly interesting about the story, though, is that behind such outward wealth and magnificence lie such twisted and cruel personalities. I suppose it's a historical confirmation of the old adage that no matter how much money you have, it won't necessarily buy you happiness.

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