The Governess of Highland Hall, by Carrie Turansky, is a heart-warming book, based on a no-fail, time-tested plot. Though not too obvious, it really is a twist on the classic tale of Cinderella, seasoned with Scripture and moral themes, and omitting the talking animals and fairy godmother.
The heroine, Julia Foster, was a young missionary with her parents in India, but just before the book opens, the small family has returned to England due to her father’s poor health. Nearly 30 years old, and teetering on the edge of spinsterhood, Julia nobly sets aside her own dreams in order to help support her parents and hopefully return to the mission field.
Sir William Ramsey hires the lovely Julia to be governess to his two young children. She is also to serve as a tutor for his two adolescent cousins, the orphans of the uncle from whom he inherited Highland Hall. He’s a kind, Christian man, but distracted from his family by financial burdens and the festering hurt of his late, unfaithful wife.
Within the virtual castle of Highland Hall, the Cinderella story unfolds. Julia plays the selfless, tender role of Cinderella. Mrs. Emmitt, the head housekeeper is a mirror of the evil stepmother, threatened by Julia’s winsome ways and her potential to upset the traditions of the house. Sir William’s young cousins might well be Drusilla and Anastasia, the cruel stepsisters. They view Julia with unjustified contempt.
Sir William’s children, his sister Sarah and a few other servants play relatively minor roles, but in essence could be Cinderella’s pet mice and birds personified. They flutter around Julia, encouraging her, benefitting from her wisdom and gentleness and giving her courage to face each new day despite the uncomfortable circumstances.
As might be expected, romance must bloom in such a fairytale. This happens on several fronts, adding depth to the story, but the central romance develops between Sir William and Julia. The primary conflict in the book is their reluctance to admit their growing affection for each other, break social barriers and publicly fall in love.
The Governess of Highland Hall is a sweet story, but lacks the significant conflict needed to really hold my attention. The conclusion is predictable. As the main character, Julia remains one dimensional, and I have difficultly relating to and admiring a heroine who seems to have no flaws.
For an easy read, or to invoke nostalgic, “Once upon a time”, emotions, this is an excellent book. It simply doesn’t provide the mental stimulation I prefer in historical fiction.