Today’s post was written by Abby.
First, a reminder of the chapters and dates for the recaps:
Friday, March 6: Prologue and Chapters 1-7
Friday, March 13: Chapters 8-15
Friday, March 20: Chapters 16-23
Friday, March 27: Chapters 24-33
There are also other things I will be talking about throughout the month, and Miss Eliza will again be bringing us her casting ideas and if anyone wants to do a guest post, let Ashley know.
As we covered over the weekend, this book opens with the food of love- grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches. It’s February of 2004 and Eloise and Colin are just starting to settle into a relationship with each other. Eloise’s thoughts are turning towards India and matchmaking for Colin’s sister Serena and Colin’s friend Martin. A later Eloise chapter will take us back to Mrs. Selwick-Alderly’s ever helpful archival collections, though once again these will help Eloise both with her research on both the nineteenth-century and her growing understanding of Colin and his family.
In the meantime, the fall of 2004 takes us to a ship entering Calcutta harbor where Penelope Deveraux’s marriage to Lord Frederick Staines is proving challenging for both of them. Freddy has been assigned to “gather intelligence” on James Kirkpatrick, the English Resident in Hyderabad, whom Lord Wellesley fears has “gone soft. Too much time in India, you know.” Penelope, however, doubts that Freddy has much intelligence to offer anyone.
By the end of Chapter One, Penelope has met Colonel William Reid and, more importantly, met Alex Reid who will be escorting the Staines to Hyderabad and we continue to hear more about what both Alex and Penelope think about each other throughout the early chapters. Future chapters will find Penelope hunting among Alex’s papers for information on his activities, discussing human sacrifices, outriding Alex on Alex’s horse, Bathsheba, and diving into a river to rescue a groom, while Alex remains ever perplexed (and ever more intrigued) by her behavior.
Two major themes throughout this book are family and loyalty and, perhaps more importantly, where these elements intersect with each other. The Reid family offers Alex and his twin sister Kat, children to Colonel and Mrs. Reid, George and Lizzy, children to one Indian woman, and Jack, son to another Indian woman. However complex their relations, their affection for each other is apparent in Alex’s letter to Lizzy and George’s greeting of Alex and Colonel Reid’s discussion of all his children. Even in these early chapters, however, it is becoming clear that while relations among Colin’s family are equally complex, that same open affection may not be part of the equation. Pairing the period and contemporary and chapters is, of course, a common trope among time slip novels and the parallels here strike me as important ones. What do any of you think of the families we see in this book, even at this early point? What hints do we have about Penelope’s own family?
By the time the first seven chapters are completed, we have a thorough (re)introduction to Penelope and Freddy and an introduction to shifting Anglo-Indian relationships in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. If Alex, James Kirkpatrick and Colonel Reid are the eighteenth-century lace (to use my earlier analogy, Freddy and Lord Wellesley are decidedly the leather of the nineteenth-century in which the lives of English colonists and Indian natives are intended to be lived on separate tracks. While all of Lauren’s books provide us with historical figures among the fictional characters, this book is particularly filled with them and I will talk more about this in my next recap. What other books have you read in which the author did this? What do you make of this as a literary and a historical strategy?
And for anyone wanting to read more, Lauren provides suggestions of titles in the afterward and the “Two Nerdy History Girls” blog has, entirely coincidentally, also been addressing eighteenth and nineteenth century India in the past few weeks- here’s a link to a recent post for anyone who is interested: http://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.com/2015/03/cast-across-sea-18th-c-children-born-in.html