I’ve seen this book, The O’Shaughnessy Girls, so often in such bookstores that I knew it must once have been very popular. So finally I bought and read it. It was indeed a good read. It’s about four sisters growing up in Castle Dermot, Ireland (their mother an English earl’s daughter, their father an Irish nobleman, “connected of old with the O’Sullivan Bere”– my own relatives, so of course I like him). The story is charming and must have seemed a bit daring for the times– one of the girls runs away to be an actress, and one of the boys, a “gentleman’s son,” works
as a farm laborer, disguising himself as “Jim from Connaught,” to escape from a tragedy. A young lady whose father has lost all his money opens a tea shop, even though “ladies” don’t do such things. An irredeemably vulgar, but kind and lovable, woman of the neighborhood is raising her own children to be ladies and gentlemen by sending them to good schools with her new money.
It’s amusing to read, when Lady Sybil and her youngest daughter return from a long journey, that “the servants were gathered to welcome back those who had been sadly missed when absent. Mrs. Flynn, the housekeeper; Keefe, the butler; Peter Walsh, the gardener, all old retainers, were there, with a younger staff of Norahs, and Bridgets, and Dans, of indoors and out-of-doors. Lady Sybil’s household was a modest one….”
The most poignant thing, though, the thing that sent a shiver down my spine when I read it, was this passage. One of the sisters has just become engaged to a wonderful young man.
“There was Indian summer on the land, and the mother and daughters spent hours together in the garden, walking in the lanes of late hollyhocks and dahlias, or sitting on the green terrace looking down on the river… their future shining before them with the glory of the rising sun.”
It was 1911.