THE HIDDEN HEART OF EMILY HUDSON
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Inspired by an episode in Henry James's life-the story of an independent young woman's flight from convention.
After the start of the Civil War, Emily Hudson-an orphan who lost her family to consumption and fever-finds herself the begrudged guest at the home of her relatives in Newport. Emily's longing to be an artist is dismissed by her puritanical uncle, who wants nothing more than to rid himself of her through marriage. Her only friend is her aesthete cousin, William, an ailing young writer. When a promising engagement to the eligible Captain Lindsay is broken, William rescues Emily from an uncertain future by taking her to England. Lonely and desperate to escape her cousin-once her confidante, now her obsessively controlling patron-Emily sets out alone to meet her destiny in the eternal city of Rome.
Reminiscent of the novels of Edith Wharton, Emily Hudson is an exquisitely told tale about a heroine struggling to be true to herself, and also find love in a society where only marriage or an independent income guaranteed a woman the freedom to do as she pleased.
Sinister events conspire to defeat spirited 19-year-old Emily Hudson in Jones's (Cold in Earth) successful historical. Orphaned and kicked out of boarding school in Rochester, N.Y., for dubious behavior, Emily is sent to her joyless uncle and his equally somber family; only the solicitous attentions of her cousin William, an aspiring novelist, salvage her spirit. While the Civil War rages, Emily hopes for a marriage to wealthy Capt. James Lindsay, but must settle for William's offer to take her to London, where he plans to become a man of letters. The intricacies of navigating English social mores leave the carefree Emily at a loss. Her American ways attract the attention of the charismatic but married Lord Firle, whose reputation is likely to ruin Emily's and William's standing in society. Forbidden to see Lord Firle, Emily withers under William's increasing disapproval and soon becomes seriously ill with consumption. Emily's interactions with William are creepy fun as they toe the line between familial and incestuous affection. Jones skillfully moves her heroine from freewheeling and childlike to cautious and deceptive and back again, and when the happy ending comes, it feels organic and hard-won.
from Publishers Weekly
“An elegant, persuasive and engrossing novel.”
Fay Weldon, author of The Life and Loves of a She-Devil
“My favorite book in a long while: a spellbinding tale that manages to be both literary and romantic. The heroine marvelously alive and full of hope and heartbreak. I didn't want it to end.”
Julia Gregson, author of East of the Sun
“Melissa Jones has created a passionate and beguiling story.... wonderfully rich and elegantly written. A touching portrait of insecurities and misunderstandings that brings a vanished period to life.”
Kate Furnivall, author of The Russian Concubine
“A wonderful book.”
The Independent (UK)
“This partially epistolary novel (Emily corresponds with her school friend Augusta, Caroline and William’s dour but deep sister Mary, among others) renders Emily and her mostly harmless foibles believable, but William remains a cipher.”
“A beguiling erotic read …written in the vein of a classic novel and inspired by the life and writing of Henry James.”
"The psychological tension subtly takes hold of the reader and does not let go. This is a wonderful book and it will not disappoint"
"Absorbing, thoughtful, romantic"
"A beguiling erotic read . . . it follows the bright life of orphan Emily Hudson, whose unconventional spirit sits uneasily with society"
"Historical pleasure . . . a rich, romantic novel"
Woman and Home
"Literary and romantic by turns . . . a fine read for fans of well-written historical fiction"
Waterstone's Books Quarterly
"No ordinary piece of Victoriana . . . Jones (sister of the equally talented Sadie) has taken a novelist's liberties with the life of [Henry] James's cousin Minny Temple, who died at 24 . . . She was passionate and ambitious . . . In this novel she is given the life she deserved"
"This is a beguilingly erotic read from the sister of Sadie Jones, acclaimed author of The Outcast. Written in the vein of a classic novel and inspired by the life and writing of Henry James, it follows the brief but bright life of orphan Emily Hudson, whose unconventional, independent spirit sits uneasily with society."
The Tuesday Book
Portrait of a lady behind a great man
The prologue of this novel tells of a mysterious man trying and failing to submerge a wman’s clothes in a river. In the real event behind the scene, the man was the novelist Henry James, whose relationship with his cousin Minny Temple inspired this story. It is an imaginitve exploration – James burned his correspondence with Minny when she died of tuberculosis in 1870, aged 24.
In London, in 1861, Emily Hudson hs been expelled from boarding school for “an abundant, defiant life” which includes day-dreaming, speaking her thoughts and a close friendship with another student. Her parents having died of consumption, she is sent to New England to live with an uncle. Moving from one cold and claustrophobic institution to another, Emily finds herself an unwelcome reminder of her similarly wild mother. Admiring her “gift of pure unadulterated life”, only her sickly, literary cousin, William, treats her with any kindness. William’s limited professional success doesn’t affect his belief that he will be a writer as “great as Mrs Eliot, or Flaubert or this Trollope. He boasts that his writing is to be “a gilded web to catch people in”.
After she is abandoned by her uncle, William takes Emily (as James refused to take the dying Minny) to London. The tone darkens and the structure tightens as William’s alternate obsession and neglect test Emily at every turn. He, coldly aesthetic, uses her natural vitality to create tragic heroines. Where Emily differs from these characters, and the real Minny, is in her growing sense of independence and her own creative ability. She refuses to be shackled or “submerged” by masculine forces.
Comparisons will be made with “The Outcast”, the acclaimed debut of the novelist’s sister, Sadie Jones. The narrative prose here is more dense and the use of the epistolary form provides a multi-layered perspective. The psychological tension subtly takes hold of the reader and does not let go. This is a wonderful book and it will not disappoint.’
Freya McClelland, The Independent
"A rich, romantic novel spanning nineteenth century Boston, London and Rome."
Woman and Home
From the surreal prologue – a man throwing a heap of beautiful gowns into the Thames – it’s clear that this is no ordinary piece of Victoriana. Emily Hudson is expelled from her boarding school and sent to the house of her stern uncle. Emily’s wild spirit is admired by her cousin William, but his friendship turns out to be a mixed blessing. He is jealous, controlling and more than a little sinister – and he is loosely based on Henry James, who has already appeared in novels by David Lodge and Colm Toibin. Jones (sister of the equally talented Sadie) has taken a novelist’s liberties with the life of James’s cousin Minny Temple, who died at 24 of tuberculosis. She was passionate and ambitious, and one of the windy old genius’s greatest inspirations. In this novel she is given the life she deserved.’
Kate Saunders, The Times
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Sphere (7 Jan 2010)