In rural Wiltshire in 1860, two sisters, Anna and Beatrice Pentecost, alone since the death of their repeatedly widowed father, struggle with faith in a changing religious and scientific landscape and with their own limited opportunities. As Beatrice hesitates between her attraction to the Welsh minister, Will Anwyl, and her perceived duty to marry German evangelist Christian Ritter, Anna, haunted by her love for her dead stepmother, seeks to evade the question of marriage. With small but telling details acclaimed novelist Stevie Davies draws the reader into this vividly realised mid-nineteenth century microcosm to explore the practical implications of contemporary ideas. As Darwin’s recently published Origin of Species and emerging radical and feminist ideas penetrate even their small village, the sisters must struggle with desire, duty and conscience. Soon they discover that both non-conformity and the unquestioning acceptance of social norms may come at high cost to themselves.
The sisters’ dilemmas and the growing tensions between them are played out against the background of impending religious revival, where competing theologies and socio-political agendas combine with explosive results. In this powerful, intelligent novel, Davies once again creates a moving narrative of human struggle at a historical crossroads, whilst raising important modern issues of power in politics, faith and the reception of scientific ideas.
'One of our most consistent and undervalued writers whose unsentimental, quietly revelatory novels have [continually] cropped up on the Booker and Orange shortlists.'
'Davies writes with an intensity which is simultaneously disturbing and exhilarating; her prose has a marvellous lyricism.'
Times Literary Supplement