" ...and in those southern parts of Devonshire the summer sun in July is very hot. There is no other part of England like it. The lanes are low and narrow, and not a breath of air stirs through them. The ground rises in hills on all sides, so that every spot is a sheltered nook. The rich red earth drinks in the heat and holds it, and no breezes come up from the southern torpid sea. Of all counties in England Devonshire is the fairest to the eye..."
Rachel Ray p16
The first three stops on my journey through the counties were in the North and although I have enjoyed everything I've read it's nice to now travel to a part of the country little touched by the Industrial Revolution. I haven't been to Devon but I have been to others close by - Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire and I imagine it is similar - they are all very beautiful.
Luke Rowan comes to Baslehurst when he inherits a part ownership in a brewery which is presently being run by Mr Tappit who makes ' vile beer', 'a muddy brew'. As most of the locals drink cider nobody cares about the quality of the beer but Luke is an ambitious young man with new ideas for improvements and it isn't long before he and Mr Tappit are at loggerheads. Mrs Tappit, however, has her eye on marrying him to one of her three daughters.
About a mile and a half outside Baslehurst is the tiny hamlet of Bragg's End.
In one such cottage live the widowed Mrs Ray and her two daughters. The elder, Dorothea, after a short-lived marriage to a curate is also a widow and a firm adherent to the Evangelical faith, a believer that ' cheerfulness is a sin.' As Mrs Ray is a sweet but weak and indecisive woman Dorothea has no trouble in ruling the roost at home. The younger daughter, Rachel, is in her late teens, a pretty country girl with a happy disposition and enough spirit to stand up to her sister.
When Luke and Rachel meet there is an immediate attraction which very soon becomes, with Mrs Ray's wavering approval, an engagement. Unfortunately, when Luke has to go to London for a period of time the combined forces of Dorothea's disapproval and the Tappits campaign to blacken Luke's name pressure Mrs Ray into withdrawing her consent to the marriage and Rachel is forced to comply.
Rachel Ray is not only a charming love story but a portrayal of middle class provincial life. The gossip and conflicts of a small community and their mistrust and suspicion of outsiders, the influence of the dour and gloomy Evangelical religion, commerce, class warfare and politics make for very entertaining reading when told with typical Anthony Trollope humour.
Very easy to read and at 400p not too long - I would recommend Rachel Ray to anyone who hasn't read Anthony Trollope and not sure where to start.
I loved it!
Anthony Trollope Bicentennial Celebration
Reading England 2015