Rutherford Park: A Novel. Elizabeth Cooke. Random House Publishing Group. July 2, 2013. 336 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780425262580.
Harry Cavendish is a lady’s man, thinking nothing of seducing the maids in his parents’ home – that is, if one can think of a residence where the father, William, rules both wife and children without any warmth and guidance beyond rules. But Harry’s gone too far this time, leaving Emily, the housemaid, pregnant and so distraught that she acts in a devastating way; Harry at first doesn’t seem to care but it seems Emily’s demise has actually filled him with guilt and remorse. However, there are rules for the upper class, very much like the ones so many have viewed on Downton Abbey, the extraordinary popular British TV series. One can’t marry below one’s class and concentrates on cleaning up the messes that occur as humans basically are flawed, no matter what class their origin!
Harry’s mother, Octavia, seems a cold woman but it’s really not so at all. She secretly arranges for Emily’s child to be cared for and then begins to contemplate how she herself should react (or not) to her suspicions about her husband’s infidelity. Servants can’t be told anything directly or even have hints dropped, although they always know more about the comings and goings of the family than the family itself.
Harry wants desperately to fly, especially with WWI looming. It would also be a fortuitous escape route for him, guaranteeing that lack of presence would mean lack of responsibility for the suffering he’s left behind him. Octavia, on the other hand, wants Harry to deal with it all. But for a very understandable way, she knows where he learned his “privileged” status, the same way her husband did, despite the fact that he married into her wealth and not vice versa. She'll have to make a choice soon or change their entire lives.
But now a young man approaches William Cavendish with a claim that William causes preposterous. Yet that claim assumes threatening status when William’s daughter, Louisa, disappears, what will be the response of these parents? And what of the woman who hates Octavia because she secretly loves William – for years!
Rutherford Park: A Novel is a sweeping story involving changes happening to both upper and lower classes of pre-World War I England as well as industrial changes throughout the country. The novel races along with increasingly different relationships and changes that mandate a different way of living. How these challenges are met and the maturing of all characters creates gripping reading that neither lags nor is reduced to simplistic responses and answers.
Excellent historical fiction that stands up to its comparison and contrast with the beloved Downton Abbey and even exceeds it in some ways.