Bear No Malice

by Clarissa Harwood


Reviewed by Margaret Tomlinson


Bear no Malice is a love story set in Edwardian England about a clergyman oppressed by guilty secrets, and a woman who lives in seclusion with her brother to escape the shame of having been seduced and abandoned by another clergyman. The story begins in 1907, when Tom, a cathedral canon, is beaten and left to die in a woods near Miranda and Simon's cottage. Kind-hearted Miranda finds him unconscious and insists on helping him, despite Simon's concern that it could jeopardize their safety.

It takes the length of the novel for Tom and Miranda to realize they're in love. Readers may sometimes feel exasperated by their obtuseness in keeping so many secrets from each other and for imagining their feelings are not shared. Edwardian England was a place of rigid outward propriety; the threat of a newspaper-fed scandal or of gossip spreading through a church kept lips sealed. A woman's reputation might be shattered, leaving her unable to marry, one of the few avenues of economic survival available to her. A man's career, especially in a religious profession, might be ruined. Modern readers used to a permissive culture and social media's casual revelations, may need a bit more help than the story offers to immerse themselves in the fears and habits of the very different culture of England more than a century ago.

That said, readers who enjoy a tender love story will want to keep turning pages to learn these characters' secrets and find out whether and how they come together. Kind, vulnerable Miranda is especially likeable. Tom, more complex and flawed, may win readers' interest more quickly and easily than he wins their sympathy. Readers of Clarissa Harwood's previous novel, Impossible Saints, will recognize him as a secondary character from that novel; a secondary character in this novel, Paul Harris, was a main character in the other. An interesting twist is the transformation of Tom from villain in that book to a character to root for in Bear No Malice. (2018; 357 pages, including an Author's Note on the history behind the novel)

More about Bear No Malice at Powell's Books or Amazon


Other historical love stories:

The Last Waltz by G.G. Vandagriff (2009), about a Viennese woman and her suitors, including a Polish physician working for a free, democratic Poland, before and during the two world wars. See review or more info.

Thorn in My Heart by Liz Curtis Higgs (2003), a retelling, in an 18th-century Scottish setting, of the Biblical story of Jacob, Leah and Rachel. See review or more info.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (1992); a literary novel about a tragic love affair during World War II. More info


Nonfiction about the roles of women in Edwardian England:

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden (1906). More info

Rebel Girls: How Votes for Women Changed Edwardian Life by Jill Liddington (2006). More info

Women, Art and Money in Late Victorian and Edwardian England by Maria Quirk (2019). More info


Online:

Women's Roles in Edwardian Era at Intriguing-History.com


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