Her Heart for a Compass by Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York: An inspiring and romantic story of a rebellious woman – book review –
When a young, impulsive debutante refuses to marry the man singled out for her by her aristocratic parents, her life takes a course far beyond the walls and comforts of her palatial home in Scotland.
The journey of 18-year-old Lady Margaret Montagu Douglas Scott from the drawing rooms of Queen Victoria’s court to the grand country houses of Ireland and the bustling streets of New York City is a rollercoaster ride that will test her endurance, her courage… and her heart.
In her first novel for adults – co-written with Marguerite Kaye – Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, draws on her own family history after ancestry research revealed that her great-great-great-grandparents were the Scottish Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, one of the most influential and aristocratic families in the land.
Their second daughter was Margaret and although very little is known about her life, Ferguson felt ‘an immediate affinity’ with her – based on their red hair and almost identical birthdays – and she allowed her imagination to take flight to 1865 to construct an inspiring and romantic story of a rebellious woman finding herself and her true voice in an age of constraint, change and social unrest.
It’s set to be a grand occasion at the upmarket Montagu House in London in 1865. Two of the queen’s closest friends – the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch – are to officially announce the engagement of their second daughter, Margaret, to Lord Rufus Ponsonby, the Earl of Killin.
It is a relationship arranged by Margaret’s parents but it has a serious stumbling block… the impulsive, red-headed teenager loathes her husband-to-be with his unbearable vocal tic, haughty manner and obvious disapproval of her.
She had resolved to ‘do her duty’ but it now seems terrifyingly impossible and shortly before her betrothal is announced, Margaret flees the house, leaving her angry parents to explain her sudden absence to a ballroom packed with two hundred distinguished guests.
Banished from polite society, Margaret throws herself into charitable work and finds strength in a circle of like-minded and equally spirited female friends… a group of women who are intent on breaking the mould and which includes Queen Victoria’s rebellious daughter, Princess Louise.
As Margaret resolves to follow her heart and navigates the challenges ahead, her journey of self-discovery and her search for some sort of independence takes her to Ireland, America, and then back to Britain where she hopes to find the life she was always meant to lead.
With the real life story of Lady Margaret a virtual blank canvas, Ferguson fills in the gaps with a colourful and dramatic story, rich in fascinating characters – from all walks of life, and both real and imagined – and full of the trappings, sentiments and atmosphere of the mid-Victorian period.
It was an age when aristocratic women had limited expectations and were left with little choice but to enter into arranged marriages and face a lifetime of duty and childbearing in a society where female repression was the norm.
But Margaret proves to be a bold and determined rebel, kicking against the traces, growing in confidence, and daring to travel to faraway, up-and-coming America in search of a life free from the society rules that have limited her freedom of expression at home.
Using letters, court circulars and periodicals to punctuate the action, and with a gently simmering romance brewing beautifully from start to finish, Her Heart for a Compass is a classic costume drama full of research and intriguing insights into life at Queen Victoria’s court, and with a strong female voice to counter the intensely patriarchal 19th century society.
A treat for all saga fans!
(Mills & Boon, paperback, £8.99)