When I first saw the title of this novel by Elaine Lyons Bach, I was expecting something kind of dull. I was wrong. Very wrong.
Gentle Journey is set in England during the time of the Napoleonic Wars. It is filled with details to fit that time period and the culture of the day. This third-person narrative follows a young daughter of a vicar, Eden Barret, who is seeking employment that can help her large family (her father has died), give her fulfillment, and lead her to a place where she can help the unfortunate on a large scale. And England at the time is full of unfortunates. Orphans, widows and the poor weren’t taken care of very well as a whole, and tender-hearted Eden had seen a lot of misery as she assisted her father with the sick, the dying, and the poverty-stricken in his parish. Eden herself has a strong faith in God and high moral values.
When she applies for a job as a governess/tutor for 12-year-old Diana, only daughter of the Earl of Edmund, Eden doesn’t really know what she’s getting herself into. She finds an estate much greater than she ever imagined with comforts extended even to herself that make it a very cozy position. She enjoys teaching the bright young lady, but is constantly on the edge of trouble with the current Lord Edmund, Diana’s brother Colin. Colin has a great deal of resentment built up against God and forbids Eden from ‘preaching’ to Diana. Eden has a difficult time with her temper and her tongue, so the two of them end up in sparring matches quite often. They drive each other crazy, yet are strangely attracted to each other at the same time.
So far it doesn’t sound very exciting, but the turmoil is brewing in several quarters. From the beginning of her employment, Eden makes a bitter enemy with a chimney sweep when she insists that he stop abusing the two small children that he has bought to work for him. He festers over the loss of his crew and plans revenge that takes some very dark turns. She also needs to contend with the cavalier dandy who is an old acquaintance of Colin’s, brother to a lady that everyone expects Colin to marry. And then there’s Diana, who adores Eden but fears that she and Colin will become too interested in each other, leaving her out of the picture. Her scheming doesn’t involve the danger that some of the others did, but indirectly it causes a great deal of trouble.
Integral to the story is the whole situation of orphans and the poor at this time. Eden has plenty of opportunities to share her kindness and comfort others in ways she would have never imagined, but to say more gives away a good deal of the later events in the story. Some very real situations are dealt with, such as rape, murder, infidelity, death, poor medical conditions, sufferings of war, and abuse; these situations are presented honestly, but without gratuitous violence or grit.
I really loved the style of Gentle Journey, so reminiscent of Jane Austen, and intentionally so. A couple of Miss Austen’s books are even mentioned as being popular at the time. For anyone else who is a fan of Jane Austen, I can readily recommend Gentle Journey for you reading pleasure. I think it would be an excellent choice for summer reading .
Elaine Lyons Bach has a page at http://shoutlife.com/gentlejourney.
Information for Gentle Journey, including an audio excerpt, a written sample, and links for buying the book (including email download copy) are here.
Elaine Lyons Bach
Outskirts Press (February 9, 2007) 248 pgs