“Forgive us our trespasses As we forgive them That trespass against us.” – Barbara Ewing, The Trespass
A historical tale of bravery and righteousness during the cholera epidemic in London is captured in this novel by Barbara Ewing. Harriet Cooper and her elder sister Mary Cooper have always had a guarded relationship with their father, the MP, Sir Charles Cooper; who after the death of his wife became a hard-hearted, authoritarian figure in the house. Unable to think of the cholera affecting his beloved Harriet, he sends her away to Rusholme where she stays with her cousins. Separated from the one person (her sister) who understood her, Harriet spends her time teaching little Asobel Cooper what she learnt from her sister; thereby passing on knowledge, not considered important for a proper Lady to know.
It is in Rusholme that she finds reprieve, away from the scrutiny of her father. There she learns of Edward Cooper’s plans to emigrate to New Zealand to build a life for himself. Mary and Harriet, unlike the rest of the family, are in awe of his determination and wish they too could get away from London to fly as free birds. But soon after Alice Cooper’s wedding, her father decides to bring her back to London. Certain unthinkable events and incidents aspire a fight for freedom deep within Harriet’s heart. Gathering all courage, she attempts to run away and begin anew. She plans every step, with particular care for the details, in such a manner as to not leave any traces. And so starts a game of hide & seek wherein there’s more than one person aiming to unearth the secrets of Harriet’s disappearance and forcefully bring her back to London if it must be.
In The Trespass, we are familiarized to the mannerisms and difference of opinions shared within a society that grew increasingly conflicted about morals and social status. Even though Harriet, Mary, Edward, Alice and Richard were cousins belonging to the same Cooper family line – each of them had an opposing view about the fast spreading cholera. From the very beginning of the book, the author’s immense creativity and knowledge was reflected through phrases and references about great works of literature and artists. I usually don’t like paras and paras of description because I feel that its sensory overload but this book splurged on pages and pages of detail for a particular scene and I didn’t mind it one bit. Its unfortunate to read of the deaths and disease that ensued in London and how people regardless of class were dropping like flies. Victimized as they were not only by the cholera but also by the overbearing egotisms of the upper class, it was only the sacrifices of people like Mary Cooper who put aside their inhibitions to help out those in need that stood out like a beacon of hope. The book was a constant reminder of how little importance one’s position and power has in life and if God so wishes, there is no evading death. Isolated and deeply disturbed as Harriet was, her courage and self respect set a firm example of how a woman should care for herself and not let others take control.
This book has a vast multitude of characters – all of whom essentially fitted into the bigger picture. They are so well crafted; the storyline so beautiful and wondrous, I’m surprised I haven’t heard anything about the author or the book before. I think it is extremely underrated and should be a lot more popular than is. London and New Zealand are two places used as setting for the book and it has made me want to visit both places so eagerly. There is definitely many romance angles added to the plot which adds a sweet touch to the book. And unlike what I thought, the ending was perfect. Kudos to Barbara Ewing for this treat. I loved it so much!
Ratings – 5 stars on 5.