It is only fitting that I follow up my review of Jane Eyre with another longtime favourite, known to some as “Jane Eyre’s conservative Canadian cousin.”
The Nymph and the Lamp was written by Halifax writer T.H. Raddall and originally published in 1950, becoming one of Canada’s most popular novels in its day. The story begins in Halifax, but is set predominantly on Sable Island, known in the novel as Marina.
Isabel Jardine, the heroine of Raddall’s novel is an orphan, in her mid to late twenties, working as a secretary in the Marconi Depot in Halifax. She lives alone in a rundown boarding house at the end of Barrington Street. Not particularly pretty and already viewed as an old maid, Isabel has long ago stopped waiting for romance. She meets Matthew Carney, the Operator in Charge of the Marconi Station on Marina, when he makes a rare shore visit. Overcome with surprise when Carney asks her to dinner, Isabel says yes, despite not being particularly attracted to him, and his reputation as a bit of an oddball.
Through a bizarre series of events, including being accosted by a drunken neighbour, disgraced and thrown out of her boarding house, Isabel agrees to marry Carney after only three days, and travels with him to begin a new and lonely life on Marina. Enter radio operators Skane and Sergeant, and the other inhabitants of Sable Island in the 1920s: the live-saving station workers and their families. And of course, a love triangle. Two love triangles, to be precise.
Now, I have always been a sucker for historical fiction, and more particularly so when it is a local story. Behind the love story, the novel is full of interesting tidbits about the history of Sable Island, the shipwrecks, the horses, the Marconi wireless system, and Halifax during and just after World War I. There is even an excursion to the fishing outports of Newfoundland. I have read and reread this book many times, and love it more every time.
I don’t want to say much about the outcome of the story, except it does have a few remarkable similarities to the Bronte novel, despite being a very different story overall, and definitely not a feminist tale. But really, I want you to read this one for yourself. And to make that happen, I am making this post into my first giveaway on onebookperweek.ca. Leave a comment below telling me about your favourite historical fiction novel. One lucky reader will be randomly selected to win a copy of the 2006 edition of The Nymph and the Lamp, from Nimbus Publishing. Good luck.
* Contest open to readers in Canada and the USA only, and open until April 30, 2011 at 11:59:59 Atlantic Time.