Friday, April 22, 2016
The Rose-Garden Husband by Margaret Widdemer
At the time I didn't particularly feel in need of a literary confection since I'm reading Anthony Trollope's Last Chronicle of Barset and it's pretty much making my year. All the same, the amiable Ness Kingsley had recommended it, and it seemed like a sweet read, so I dashed off and downloaded Margaret Widdemer's 1915 novel The Rose-Garden Husband from Project Gutenberg.
Meet Phyllis Braithwaite! Orphaned and alone in the world, Phyllis enjoys her job working with children at the city library--but despite her cheerful outlook, she can't help knowing that she's lonely, overworked, and just one serious illness away from losing her only source of livelihood. After a chance meeting with a girl from her hometown, Phyllis wishes impulsively to have a wealthy husband and a rose-garden. Little does she expect to see her wish come true in the shape of a very peculiar job offer.
Wealthy Mrs Harrington knows she is dying, but worries that her son--invalided years ago in a terrible motoring accident--won't be taken care of when she's gone. Accordingly, she asks Phyllis to marry him and nurse him after her death. Phyllis agrees because she knows she needs the rest and the money. But she never expects to fall right into a sweet old-fashioned romance with her new patient.
Naturally, this book is kind of low on realism, from the preposterous premise to the oh-so-perfect ending, and the plot and themes have the substance of fairy floss. It is a vintage romance, after all, and I knew what I was getting into. That said, I can't begin to tell you what a delightful time I had reading it. It was half-an-hour curled up in a patch of winter sunshine. It was a very small kitten having a nap on your lap. It was a nice hot cup of tea with a dash of honey.
It was a few brief moments of grace in the middle of a hard and frantic week.
Part of the book's appeal was its very wholesome tone. Margaret Widdemer's story is uncomplicated and light, but it had a right-way-up view of the world. I liked how honest the story was about how hard it is to have a life when you're working fulltime, and how unsatisfying that can be--for a domestically-inclined woman especially.
Then, part of the book's appeal was simply the romantic wish-fulfilment. And no matter how wholesome they might be, I've never been a big consumer of fluffy romance novels. I think of them as the confections of a literary diet, and try to balance them out with a steady diet of nutritious books, non-fiction as well as fiction. And if I'd read The Rose-Garden Husband any other week of the year, you probably wouldn't be hearing about it today. But here's the thing.
Hard work is an important part of the Christian life. But so is rest and celebration. You can work yourself too hard. You can heap too much on your plate. You can fail to take Sabbaths. You can develop a soul so ascetic and high-minded and austere that you lose all contact with the humility of grace.
To all things there is a season. Even, every now and then, a season for fluffy comfort reads.
Find The Rose-Garden Husband at Amazon, The Book Depository, Project Gutenberg or Librivox.