I’ve always enjoyed Joanna Trollope’s writing because she captures and portrays the nature of human relationships with accuracy. Writing as Caroline Harvey, the name she used for her historical romances, Trollope provides the reader with a triple dose of her writing style in her novel Legacy of Love.
The story begins with Charlotte, a beautiful, passionate young woman who is dissatisfied with the social conventions of what she perceives to be her uninspiring life. Marriage removes her from Victorian London to exotic Afghanistan where her adventures unfold. Scandal dogs her every step, but Charlotte is impervious and indifferent to the gossip.
Charlotte’s story is told from the POV of her beloved sister, Emily. Although Emily sees Charlotte’s faults, she is devoted to her older sister and can barely contemplate her displeasure let alone express it. Charlotte often takes advantage of Emily’s sweet nature, and in my opinion, her actions come across as bullying . . . in the sweetest of ways.
When Charlotte meets the love of her life, a man as dashing and wild as she, they present an unstoppable pair who surmount every crisis and are the ones to whom everyone else looks for strength and encouragement. Unfortunately, when nothing extraordinary is occurring, Charlotte and her man are rather useless people who are unable to make a home or farm their land.
While Charlotte could have been an example of a strong woman who met every challenge with dignity, she ended up reading like a selfish, self-made legend whose only purpose was to entertain herself and her husband. This is never more clear than when she tossed over her first husband, who naturally expected Charlotte to conduct herself like a Victorian lady, and did nothing to earn her lack of interest or commitment. He was conveniently killed in battle.
The legend of Charlotte continues to cause damage when her own daughter, Iskandara, is born with a twisted leg and average looks. Iskandara cannot live up to the myth of Charlotte, and she allows this to distort her spirit as badly as her leg. Her lifelong disappointment is taken out on her own daughter, Alexandra.
Alexandra holds center court for the middle portion of the novel. She, too, lives in awe of her grandmother, Charlotte, but instead of trying to imitate her, Alexandra flees her grandmother’s larger-than-life persona that continues to haunt the family estate long after her death.
Emily, now a great aunt without children of her own, provides refuge and guidance for Alexandra in what read like classic Jane Austen. A bit of reverse psychology executed by Emily crowbars the backward Alexandra out of her complacency and into the life she’s always dreamed of where she is the rudder of her own ship. Throw in an extremely talented, brooding, and slightly volatile artist whose career is revived when he falls in love with and paints Alexandra, and we have happily ever after à la Austen.
Cara, named after her great grandmother Charlotte, rounds out the last third of the novel. The youngest child of Alexandra, she is as enthusiastic, beautiful, and daring as her legendary great grandmother. Cara commands attention wherever she goes and is a natural born leader, but eventually, all this amounts to is that she is popular.
When World War II disrupts Cara’s plans, her self-centeredness rears its head much like Charlotte’s, however, Cara is also outrageously spoiled, so her obnoxious qualities rise to the surface to simmer most unbecomingly. It didn’t take me long to dislike Cara and realize that most of her problems are self-made.
There’s more predictability in the last third of the novel since the reader has Charlotte’s and Alexandra’s stories as a foundation for Cara, but Trollope infuses freshness and hope into the story by having Cara mature in a way that Charlotte never did. I suspected how things would turn out for Cara, which was extremely satisfying despite the obviousness of it, but counterbalancing this detail is the believability with which Trollope transitions Cara from brat to womanhood.
Cara undoes the harm Charlotte’s influence has over the lives of the women in her family by taking responsibility for herself and everyone around her not just when crises arises but during the drudge of daily life. She leads the life Charlotte wanted with far more grace, and in doing so, she grows in wisdom.
Legacy of Love is historical romance, but I found it to be so much more than simple love stories. Trollope does a wonderful job of grounding the reader in every era without bogging the narrative down by adding too much detail. Her peripheral characters are expertly woven into the lives of her protagonists thus making them essential to the tale, and her conclusions are pleasurable without being overly sentimental.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve read Legacy of Love or any Joanna Trollope novel. I’d love to compare reviews.