The Maid of Fairbourne Hall
By Julie Klassen
Baker Publishing Group, 2012
To avoid being forced into a disagreeable marriage, spoiled society miss Margaret Macy runs away from home disguised as a maid. If she can remain unmarried for a just a few more months she will receive an inheritance on her twenty-fifth birthday that will enable her to live a life of freedom. But in the meantime, she must acquire a job. Fate places her as a housemaid in the home of Nathaniel and Lewis Upchurch, both former suiters, the first of whom she rejected in hopes of gaining the second. Learning to do manual labor while maintaining a disguise would be hard enough in the home of a stranger, but will she be able to keep her identity concealed from two men who know her?
Following a disagreement with his father, Nathaniel Upchurch has just been sent home to Maidstone from their Barbados plantation. He arrives to find the Fairbourne Hall estate in shambles, due to Lewis’s negligence. The staff has not been paid, tenants rent has not been collected, necessary repairs have been left undone, and the state of their finances is alarming. And no matter where he goes or what he does, Nathaniel cannot forget Margaret Macy and her painful rejection two years earlier. It doesn’t help that the new housemaid bears a striking resemblance to Margaret – a resemblance that leads to suspicion when news reaches him that Miss Macy has mysteriously disappeared. Why is she hiding? Should he expose her or does her drastic change in circumstance indicate that she is in a desperate situation?
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Another engrossing novel by Julie Klassen. This story delves into class differences in regency England. Moving from a privileged young lady to an under housemaid position, Margaret gets a new perspective on the differences (and similarities) between the two, and gains an intense appreciation for things that she has taken for granted before. Having your maid draw you a bath every other day takes on a whole new meaning once you are the one carrying bucket after bucket of hot water up the stairs. Margaret comes to realize that household staff are people too, and the way she treats people changes, although we see that she has a kind heart from the beginning despite being a little on the spoiled side. She isn’t so spoiled that it takes her very long to recognize it, and that is to her credit.
Nathaniel is very much like most of Julie Klassen’s other male protagonists. He is responsible and has a strong sense of duty. While his dandy brother flits from ball to ball, Nathaniel strives to right the affairs of Fairbourne Hall, and treats everyone fairly and justly. He was appalled by the things he saw done to slaves on the plantation in Barbados, precipitating the argument with his father that gets him shipped back home.
There is an entire cast of interesting supporting characters both above and below stairs. One is Nathaniel and Lewis’s dowdy but perceptive sister, Helen, who becomes an unexpected ally. She serves as a balance between Nathaniel’s seriousness and Lewis’ devil-may-care attitude. Several side romances develop, some unexpected, some not so hard to predict. All the flawed, but likable characters and a few nefarious adversaries, plus a wealth of historical perspective to be gained from the descriptions of how many household tasks were historically performed and the customs surrounding the running of an old English estate make The Maid of Fairbourne Hall a well-rounded, engaging story.