The Green Knowe series of fantasy novels for young readers has been a favorite since I discovered them in my own teen years. Lucy Maria Boston had an unusual life, and did not become an author until in her sixies, you can read about her HERE. I reread the first and probably the best of the Green Knowe books in 2010 and wrote about it HERE. I’ve decided to reread the rest. One of the unique things about these books is that they are set in Boston’s home, an ancient British manor house dating to the 1100s, which I was able to visit and tour it in 1999, a memorable experience. The scratchboard illustrations by Boston’s son Peter are excellent too.
In the story, Green Knowe, near Cambridge, England, is owned and inhabited by elderly Grandmother Oldknow, and once again her great grandson Tolly has come to stay with her for the Easter holidays, an exciting prospect after the adventures of the previous Christmas holidays, where he met some of the ghost children that remain tied to the house. In these holidays, a different group of ghosts gradually make themselves known to Tolly, from a different time in the house’s history. They are from the time of Captain OldKnow, who owned the house in the late 1700s, though he was often away at sea. His daughter, Susan, was born blind, and she’s one of the spirits that Tolly meets, learning about her life and times through stories told by his great grandmother over the patchwork quilt she’s making in the evenings. The Captain’s wife and older son Sefton are in charge of the household when he is away on long sea voyages, and Susan’s life is often miserable, as she isn’t allowed to do or even touch anything, and considered a helpless cripple by her family, except for her father. When the Captain is home, he encourages Susan to learn as much as she can, and to help her, he brings back from the West Indies a young black boy to be her personal helper. Jacob is unlettered, but also eager to learn, and the two of them are given lessons by a family friend. Everyone but the Captain think this is a waste of time, especially the head servant Caxton. He is a man with great ambition, and he’s drawn Sefton into shady activities and debt which he hopes will someday make him the owner of the house.
The Captain’s trading voyages make him prosperous, and his wife is showered with rich gifts, including jewelry. Despite that, she and Sefton laugh at him behind his back as they keep busy attending society events and spending the Captain’s money frivolously. In time, though he is treated badly by everyone in the house but Susan and her tutor, Jacob learns much about the devious plans of Caxton, and does what he can to thwart them. Tolly is able to see and speak with Susan a few times, and even becomes a part of her own story. That story reaches a climax when the manor house catches fire and burns, while Susan is forgotten inside by everyone but Jacob.
A fine story and an exciting plot make this a great read. Boston’s characters spring to life, and her writing is excellent. Highly recommended.