Monday, July 15, 2002

The Maiden of Mayfair: An Orphan's Story in Victorian England

Lawana Blackwell’s novel, The Maiden of Mayfair (first in the Tales of London series), tells a heartwarming story about a young girl living in an orphanage in the slums of London in 1870. Thirteen-year-old Sarah Matthews is suddenly sent away to live with a wealthy elderly woman in the Mayfair district.

Mrs. Blake is hardly the Daddy Warbucks type, and Sarah a far cry from Orphan Annie. Sarah is a rather shy girl, quite content to live in the St. Matthews’ Methodist Home – the only home she has ever known – and can’t understand why she has been sent away. Other girls she knows would much more enjoy living in a real home. However, Mrs. Blake wishes to make amends for past mistakes, and believes Sarah to be her granddaughter. Only problem is, the real grandchild died in infancy, so the Orphanage director provides Sarah as a substitute.

Both Mrs. Blake and Sarah face of scorn – of Sarah’s presumed illegitimacy – from Mrs. Blake’s friends. Sarah has much to lose as well, if her true identity is discovered. Through the years Sarah comes to enjoy a wonderful life, including friendship with Mrs. Blake’s household servants, including Naomi, the cook and a close confidant of Dorothea Blake.

The historical setting includes a favorable view of household servants and their day-to-day lives and relationships. Many of the characters enjoy reading Charles Dickens’ novels, and mourn the passing of the great author that summer of 1870. Through one of the characters we also learn of the many ways in which businesses preyed on consumers: bad food, ordinary liquids touted as miracle cures, and so on. Naomi, her nephew William, and Sarah also tour the cultural sites of 1870s London.

Throughout the story is a theme of compassion, forgiveness, and the joy that comes from loving and helping another. Mrs. Blake especially conveys the hope of one, once miserable over past failures, who finds this truth working its way in her life. The Maiden of Mayfair is a truly touching story, conveying compassion along with interesting characters. Though the first in the series, it reads and concludes as a single book with no loose ends. After a great first book, though, Lawana Blackwell fans can eagerly look forward to the next book, Catherine's Heart, scheduled for publication this fall (2002).

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