English Ivy by Catherine Palmer is an entirely delightful book. It depicts the struggles of a young English woman who finds out she is an heiress to a large amount of money from a father she never knew existed. She is betrothed to two different men because of arrangements by both her fathers, but she finds that she can love neither of them.
“My own desires in a husband have little bearing on this matter. I must choose between the will of two fathers – one living and the other dead. And I must choose between two husbands – one filled with venom and bile, the other with wine and hot air.” (pg. 165, English Ivy)
Instead, the young man who has brought this chaos into her once complacent life with the last will and testament of her birth father has attracted her love and affection. A man who is rumored to be a rogue and a pirate, sailing the seas with cargos full of jewels. Ivy finds herself torn between the many people who depend upon her for financial support or financial gain from her sizable fortune. Through it all she determines to do what is God’s will and to surrender her own desires to those of God. What will Ivy decide to do? Whom will she marry and whom will she call family?
I loved this book!! After reading an excerpt from the sequel (Victorian Rose, due Fall, 2002), I am convinced I must get my hands on a copy of it when it is out!! The language of English Ivy is done beautifully and believably with a charming English accent. The characters are likable, visual, and memorable. Who can forget the sweet and impetuous baby of the family, Clemma who states the truth so plainly? Or dashing rogue Colin Richmond? Or John Frith “by reputation a libertine and a sot!” (pg. 118, English Ivy) One cannot forget Nigel Creeve, stern and sober.
The physical descriptions of the characters and their actions had me laughing out loud. For example, the following description of Nigel Creeve is particularly entertaining and very visual:
“From her seat near a small lamp, Ivy observed that her intended had somehow managed to wrinkle the tails of his frock coat by sitting on them improperly. No matter how solemnly he spoke or how severely he regarded those assembled, his gravity was impeded by the fact that he looked very much like a scrawny crow whose tail feathers had barely escaped the teeth of a fox. And the more he twittered about the room displaying his crumpled tails, the harder it was for Ivy to maintain her composure.” (pg. 127, English Ivy) The author has a particular knack for descriptions that paint the picture before the reader’s eyes in a way that makes you long for a stroll through the fells and dales with Ivy.
The gardening imagery is a strong metaphor for God’s tender care for our lives. I found the scenes with elderly gardener, Mr. Hedgley, to be particularly meaningful:
“‘I’ve always said to myself,” Mr. Hedgley was telling her, “God is t’ best gardener of all. T’ one we should shape ourselves after. Because ‘e loves us, God tends to us. Stays with us, don’t abandon us when troubled times come. God tears out our weeds and feeds us with t’ best sorts of nourishment.'” (pg. 44, English Ivy)
I also thought that Ivy’s own judgments against Colin Richmond were elements of foreshadowing of the very things that would challenge Ivy when she becomes aware of her own wealth and responsibility to others. An example of her judgment of Colin Richmond, a rogue and a pirate follows:
” Even if Colin Richmond were not a pirate or a slave owner – and of those things she had no assurance – he was still completely unworthy of either admiration or respect. True, he was wealthy. But what good would all his riches do if his heart was so truly black as to abandon his family home and all the people who looked to him for sustenance? He should not go back to India! He should stay in England and do his duty. Now that she knew the truth about the man, Ivy felt she could not leave his presence too soon.” (pg. 44, English Ivy)
It’s very ironic that she is judgmental of Colin Richmond for the very things she herself must face later. Perhaps, her struggle with her own decisions comes as a result of being just as tough on herself as she is of her expectations on others. That is what makes her struggle to do God’s will so important. She would ask no less of another than she does of herself. That is a noble standard for all to live up to. I believe that is why Ivy is so lovable.
At one point, near the end of the novel, I was almost fed up with Ivy’s saintly intent to give up her own desires and do only God’s will when it appeared so terribly obvious to me that neither of these men were God’s plan for her life! If only I was as clear minded as to see the answer to my own challenges and decisions!! I decided that she was human in her blindness afterall. Her quest to find God’s will is what all faithful Christians aspire to and this book is a wonderful example of the blessings and provisions God gives those who seek His will with a pure and contrite heart.
A definite thumbs up for this fantastic book!!