Do you remember being seventeen?
Were you one of those seventeen-year-olds who felt as if everyone knew more about life than you did? That’s certainly the case for Jessica Mayne in Lily’s Daughter. And as this is the 1930s, Jessica is probably more naive than most young women of a similar age today.
As we grow up, we meet certain people who have an important impact on us. They might teach us a major lesson about life, or even help us to get to know ourselves better. For Jessica, there are a number of people ‒ men and women, young and old ‒ who will teach her valuable life lessons.
But perhaps the person who has the biggest effect on Jessica is someone she will never meet. Her father died before she was born, killed in the fighting of World War I. Lily, Jessica’s mother, never talks about him, so he remains a mystery to her. It’s this sense of loss, as well as loneliness, that causes Jessica to look for love and acceptance in the wrong place.
To make matters worse, Lily has a mental illness, and is committed to a hospital, so the young and inexperienced Jessica is left all alone. She can’t even afford to pay the rent on their rooms in London. But then, a chance discovery leads Jessica to encounter long-lost family members. When Jessica goes to Huntersmeade, the family’s home in Kent, she meets a varied group of characters, and her life will never be the same again.
Aunt Imogen knows the answers to the many questions Jessica has about her parents. She also guards some surprising family secrets. Imogen’s son, Guy, plays an even bigger role in Jessica’s life. With no experience of men, she can’t see what a mistake it is to fall madly in love with him. We readers ‒ older and wiser ‒ can only shake our heads and cry out at Jessica to see him for what he really is! Self-centred, immature, untrustworthy…
Jessica is also introduced to two women who seem much more sophisticated than she is. Deirdre is a young socialite who has her own heart set on Guy. Meanwhile, Veronica, Guy’s boss, is a chic woman of the world. Jessica is involved in dramatic turns of events with both women.
Luckily, Jessica also gets to know some people who have a positive influence on her life. At typing school she meets Brenda, who is much more worldly-wise; she takes Jessica under her wing and teaches her the facts of life. Meanwhile, Aaron, a Polish young man who is a regular house-guest at Huntersmeade, sees something in Jessica that perhaps she can’t see in herself.
As we witness Jessica grow from a girl into a woman, it’s clear that being Lily’s Daughter can be pretty complicated at times. Maybe it’s because we were once seventeen too, that we want to warn Jessica about the wrong decisions she makes. But, sometimes it’s from our mistakes that we learn the most. Will that be the case for Jessica? All is revealed as we follow her coming of age in Lily’s Daughter.
Lily’s Daughter by Diana Raymond is published by Corazon Books
Jessica arrives at Huntersmeade and meets Imogen for the first time. It will be a life-changing moment for Jessica…
From the garden I could see the house. It was not beautiful ‒ large, red-brick, Victorian, with a turret on which the ivy grew. Behind the trees I could see French windows open to the afternoon.
I don’t know how long I stood there. Just for a while, very strongly, I had the sense of treading familiar ground: all at once the place was full of echoes. I stood very still, as if they imposed silence. That old childhood memory which had impressed on me the sensation of anger returned, and I thought, Why, this was the place! Names were on the air, and I could almost grasp them. Almost, not quite; they slid from me like the dissolving of an elusive dream. Only one came clear, as if someone had spoken it: Imogen.
That was a name full of force and power. I walked up the garden towards the house.
As I came close to it, for the first time I saw movement. I saw the figure of a woman in a blue summer dress just stepping into the garden from the French windows. Her figure was slim, she might have been any age between thirty and fifty, but drawing closer I saw a streak of white in her dark hair.
She didn’t see me at first, merely looking out towards the river; but then I took another step forward and she stood suddenly still. ‘Who are you?’
‘Jessica,’ I said. ‘Jessica Mayne. I was told to come.’
She stood looking at me with an expression I couldn’t read at all. It was a handsome face with large grey eyes, just missing beauty, the cheeks perhaps cut too sharply below the high cheek bones.
‘Jessica. Yes, of course. I didn’t expect you to come from the garden.’ She still stood there, looking at me. She stood in shadow but I thought I saw, surprisingly, the glint of tears in her eyes. But her voice was firm when she said, ‘I wonder what I should say to you? Welcome to Huntersmeade, perhaps.’ She said this as if there were something both sad and absurd in the idea.
I said, ‘I don’t think I know who you are.’ But the echoes were still sounding.
She gave a wry smile and a shrug. ‘That seemed to me the best way to do it. For you to come with no previous ideas. For the explanations ‒ all the explanations ‒ to come from me. Was that unfair to you? I hope not.’
She took my case from me and led me into the house, her movements quick and decisive. Already, though she had spoken kindly to me, I was a little afraid of her.
Once in the room with the garden beyond she waved me to a chair, then lit a cigarette. Through the smoke she said, ‘I think this is more difficult than I expected.’
‘It’s difficult for me too.’
I had not meant to discomfort her, but she braced herself as if the words had found a bruise. ‘I’ll tell you all I can. My name is Imogen Chase. Does that mean anything to you?’
I felt the small kick of memory, of recognition. My skin tingled. ‘As I came up the garden,’ I said, ‘I remembered the name Imogen.’
She looked at me differently then. ‘I suppose you might have done. But I thought if you were told just a little of the truth, you might decide not to come. Do you understand that?’
‘But you remember something?’
Puzzled, I looked about me. ‘Yes … I don’t quite know why or how, but yes, it’s not a strange place. And you ‒’
Still puzzled, I stared at her. ‘I don’t know. I think I’ve seen you before.’