I knew I was going to enjoy Lois Cayley and her adventures from the opening line: "On the day when I found myself with twopence in my pocket, I naturally made up my mind to go around the world." (From a reference to the Queen's Jubilee, these stories seem to be set in 1896-1897). As she explains, her widowed mother married a scoundrel who wasted her small fortune, leaving just enough to educate Miss Cayley at Girton. Now even that is gone, and she is alone in the world, except for an aunt "who lurked in ladylike indigence in Blackheath." Her friend Elsie Petheridge suggests the usual career of educated women, teaching, but Lois shocks her by stating that she will instead set out in search of adventure (preferably paid, of course):
"What adventure may come, I have not at this moment the slightest conception. The fun lies in the search, the uncertainty, the toss-up of it. What is the good of being penniless - with the trifling exception of twopence - unless you are prepared to accept your position in the spirit of a masked ball at Covent Garden?"Strolling through Kensington Gardens, Miss Cayley overhears a conversation, which leads to her first position, and the first step of her journey around the world. Each adventure funds the next, and each leads her further east, to Italy, Egypt, India, and then Japan. I was amused to realize that her travels follow something of the same route as General Grant's (though in one year rather than two). Along the way Miss Cayley encounters a con man, much less successful than Colonel Clay in Grant Allen's The African Millionaire - or rather she is more successful in foiling him than Sir Charles and Seymour. The detective skills she develops in dealing with him come in handy when she is drawn into a mystery involving a missing will and accusations of forgery. In the course of her adventures she also meets an attractive and very eligible young man, but she feels it is her duty to reject him, because she cannot bring alliance with an adventuress to his noble family.
Like Colonel Clay's, Miss Cayley's adventures were originally published in The Strand Magazine, in 1898 and 1899. According to the introduction to this book, the reviewers were not kind. Perhaps the heroine was a little too much ahead of her time, a little too modern for them. They may also have objected to what the editor calls "Allen's liberal views on race" and his characterization of British colonial attitudes, particularly clear in the chapters set in India.
I enjoyed this book very much, for the picaresque adventures, but even more for Miss Cayley herself. She is smart, focused, ambitious, open to adventure and possibility, a loyal friend. She insists that Elsie Petheridge join her on her travels, to escape from her London school and the threat of tuberculosis. At the same time it is convenient to have Miss Petheridge as a companion; as a lady and an officer's daughter, Miss Cayley can't completely ignore social conventions. All in all, she is a wonderful character, whose rather sardonic narrative voice reminds me of both Amelia Peabody Emerson and Mary Russell Holmes. In fact, I think she and Amelia Emerson would get on very well, despite Miss Cayley's lack of enthusiasm for Egypt!
I'm so pleased you enjoyed this. I also loved the character of Lady Georgina, who was a right old piece of work, but so perfectly captured as a grand dame of the old school.ReplyDelete
And she's such a brick, under that gruff exterior, especially when she's holding Marmy's house against invaders. I did enjoy the adroit way Lois managed her!ReplyDelete
Completed unknown, I have to say. At first I thought it was non-fiction but I take it that I'm wrong in that respect. It sounds as though it might be the right sort of book to have at the bedside - one adventure a night - or would that lead to bad dreams?ReplyDelete
I'm putting this on my TBR list. Thanks for recommending it!ReplyDelete
I too love Miss Cayley. Think my favourite adventure may have been the bicycle selling one. She's perfect bedtime reading, and now I'm curious about 'The Woman Who Did'.ReplyDelete
Miss Cayley is my new role model. I love her self-confidence and adventurous spirit! And you are so right about Amelia Emerson -- I thought of her often while reading Miss Cayley's Adventures, especially any time camels were mentioned.ReplyDelete
Sorry, Alex - it's definitely fiction. I think it would be perfect bed-time reading, except for wanting to read just a few more pages (some of the adventures stretch over more than one chapter).ReplyDelete
Lori, there's a Dowager who would fit perfectly into a Heyer novel - as well as a foppish heir.
Hayley, I'm so grateful for the introduction to Grant Allen! Project Gutenberg has The Woman Who Did, but also Hilda Wade, A Woman with Tenacity of Purpose - that's the one I want to read next!
elizabeth, we can ask ourselves, What Would Miss Cayley Do? Unlike Amelia, though, she doesn't see any need to wash the camels!
This sounds really fun! I always love spunky female characters.ReplyDelete
Anbolyn, I am sure you would love Miss Cayley & her adventures. She is spunk personified!ReplyDelete
Oh Lisa, I just love the way you write about books. Now this would never have been on my radar screen normally but you make me want to run right out and find a copy. Thanks.ReplyDelete
Sally, I do love introducing books and readers - and being introduced in turn, by blogs like yours! I hope you do find a copy of this, it's just such a good read.ReplyDelete