A witty and ebullient account of a young woman in the seventeenth century, The Illumination of Ursula Flight tells the tale of her childhood, early marriage and development in this historical novel.
Ursula grows up in a country manor house, her imagination and intelligence encouraged by her father (unusually for the day) and rather frowned upon by her mother. She’s outgoing and friendly and doted on by the servants and her younger sister. However, (and not so unusually for the day), she is soon betrothed to a fusty, but wealthy, associate of her father.
Her early marriage is stifling and she does not manage to escape physically or emotionally until she is taken to London. Here, her eyes are opened to the wonders of the Restoration theatre and she is dazzled by the wit and excitement of the stage. As her fate beckons, she becomes less naïve and able to fulfil her dreams of writing – with plenty of mishaps along the way.
This is a quirky novel with a distinctive heroine who doesn’t let life’s wrong turns grind her down. Like Ursula, the writing is imaginative with different narrative style pushing the story forward. Several scenes written in the form of plays reflect, in a clever pseudo-fictional device, what has recently happened in Ursula’s life.
On one hand, this is an easy and funny read, zipping along at breakneck speed. Underneath, however, is an account of the very real dangers which befell women at this time. Mostly they weren’t architects of their own dreams. They were chattels to be married off to the highest bidder and certainly weren’t thought to have independent and intelligent desires of their own. Ursula’s irrepressible personality helps her forge her way in the society she wants, but it does come at a price.
With thanks to Netgalley for an advance proof of this book