“ Genre: Biography / Author: Charlotte Moore / ISBN:1846470803 / Publication Date: 2011 / Publisher: Catnip Books „
"My name is Milicent Bella Ludlow and I am an orphan."
So opens this account in diary form of a year in the life of a young Victorian girl whose father has just died. Luckily there are some kind and loving relatives willing to help her and Mabel, her older sister, and they are able to stay living in their family home, Yotes, for a while.
1883 is an eventful year for Milicent and her family, starting with her father's death, and her diary is an outlet for her to process her real thoughts and feelings about what has happened with extraordinary candour. She is a bright, perceptive girl, and this is a fascinating read.
Although this is in the form of a kind of novel, it is biographical. Milicent Ludlow was a real person - Moore lives in a house which once belonged to her and has drawn on Milicent's actual diaries. I don't know what proportion of this book was written by Milicent or Moore, but I found the narrative voice really convincing. I enjoyed her excitement at the good times and felt sad for her at other times. Charlotte Moore has also written a book, called Hancox, about the big house which Milicent later bought and where Moore now lives with her 3 sons, and Milicent's Book was a spinoff from this commissioned by independent children's publisher Catnip. (Milicent later married Moore's great grandfather, following the death of his first wife).
There are lots of relatives mentioned in the book, as Milicent remembers her father and describes various living aunts and uncles. There is kind Uncle Ben, who comes straight to Yotes to take his bereaved nieces on holiday, and then helps to pay for them to stay on in the house alone. He tells them great stories of his adventures at sea. I was also intrigued by Aunt Barbara, who founded Girton College for women to study at university level in Cambridge, although she remains a rather fierce figure.
I did find the number of people mentioned in this book a bit confusing, especially as Moore seems to have prioritised the style and authentic voice of Milicent over too many explanations, and when reading, I often found it necessary to flick back to find out who people were. Given that this is a diary, the story often jumps around and Milicent wanders off into frequent digressions.
It should be said that Milicent is not entirely typical of her time and class - her upper class family seem to have been quite unconventional and given Milicent a lot of freedom.
I appreciated the way in which the book drew out the threads of Milicent's story concerning a woman's place in society - her aunt Barbara whose views on women's rights Milicent takes on, many comments on why men should be allowed to do things that she isn't, and her concerns about her sister's plans to marry a man she doesn't really like much, among others.
At the end of the book, there are three pictures showing Milicent at 12, 15 and 21.
This charming book will appeal to teenage girls who enjoy historical writing, but there's plenty here to interst more mature readers too.
The book is available from Amazon for £4.12.
A version of this review first appeared at www.thebookbag.co.uk