Vivienne Kearns debut novel THE EMERALD DRESS is set in the Dublin at the time of Jonathan Swift. The Irish capital is second only to London in terms of prosperity and progress. Like its larger metropolitan cousin, social norms and class roles are clearly drawn – and the upper classes are keen to be as fashionable as possible, for the sake of appearance and for status. At the novel’s heart is Abigail Harton, a physician’s daughter who is obliged to discreetly seek work while her father’s philanthropic focus on setting up a pauper’s hospital stretches her family’s resources. Abigail accepts a commission to design and embroider an emerald silk cloth for master-weaver Hugh Gavin, setting off a chain of events that will change her life forever. The fabric is destined for a gown for Miss Elizabeth Goulding who is invited to the upcoming Ball at Boden Castle – a gala evening which circumstances see Abigail In attendance also. The fateful events of that evening stay hidden away for years. Centuries later, Lucy Young travels to present-day Dublin to search for her ancestor Hugh Gavin. She contacts Professor Patrick Ralley of Trinity College and together they uncover the terrible secret of that night and The Emerald Dress.
Lucy Young travels to Dublin to research her Irish ancestor, Hugh Gavin. She brings with her a 300-year-old diary, written by the Duchess of Alden who, Boden Castle, Dublin. Lucy contacts Professor Patrick Ralley of Trinity College Dublin to donate the diary to the university and ask his help to research Hugh Gavin s life and her family’s possible connection to the castle. In their search, they will uncover a secret that has lain hidden for three hundred years.
Abigail Harton is a troubled young lady. Along with helping to care for her poorly younger brother, Benjamin, she is deeply concerned about her family’s finances. Her father is a medical doctor who has poured his savings into a charitable hospital in Dublin. Dr Harton hopes that the Duke of Alden will provide him with an annuity to support his work, as he saved the lives of his wife and child.
Meanwhile, Abigail and her mother take on embroidery work to add to keep the household going. Taking inspiration from a fairytale book she reads to Benjamin, Abigail designs an emerald silk cloth for the weaver, Hugh Gavin. This, in turn, leads to her accepting work from Hugh’s sister Mary, working on a dress made from the cloth for a young girl, Elizabeth Goulding to wear to the Ball at Boden Castle.
Meanwhile, Abigail’s mother is keen to see Abigail married to a good man, who can keep her safe and look after her financially. She sets her sights on Dr William Monroe. Abigail likes the doctor and he is certainly keen on her. It is apparent that her instinct isn’t fully invested in the match and with good reason.
I thoroughly enjoyed the historical side of this book. The period seems to have been well researched and the authors’ knowledge of the Gavins’ work was outstanding.
Being totally honest, the present-day parts of the story didn’t do anything for me. From the start, I was so caught up in the events of 1719, by the time a Present Day chapter came around again, I had forgotten about that part. The book, in my opinion, was strong enough to hold its own in the 1700s.
In saying that, I would like to read more historical fiction from Vivienne Kearns, her knowledge, descriptions and use of language from that time period were remarkable. I cared for Abigail, worried for and felt for her when she needed it.
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Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of The Emerald Dress in exchange for this review, which is my own honest opinion.