Sunday, 12 April 2015


Marguerite (Book I in The Merencourt Saga) by Carol Edgerley
Review by Paula Lofting

This review is written in conjunction with our Facebook event for the official release of Carol Edgerley's books Marguerite and Claire. Please click here to read a review for Claire.

Please note that the giveaway is no longer valid for Marguerite.

How often do women take for granted our relative equality and freedom to live as an independent citizens without a man to sustain us? Today there are still some who demand more liberty from society-- not that I would begrudge them, as I too often believe that as emancipated as we are we still have a long way to go; however, if we dare to look back across the span of more than a hundred years, we would be hard pushed to find many women able to stand on their own two feet, totally dependent on themselves. Times have changed and attitudes to women in the West have also. We no longer are beholden to men for our food, comfort and emotional needs. Women today are unbound from the constraints that women of the fifties had to endure, for whom advice was given such as this website proclaims, on how to be the perfect housewife. And if you think that was rich, imagine what it was like to be a woman of the Edwardian era.

Marguerite is a recipient of the
B.R.A.G. Medallion
But for the memories that live on in these women's  daughters and granddaughters, we may know very little about the emotions of women, how they truly felt, how they viewed life as it was for them then, and how they might have longed to be free, throw away their corsets and ride a great steed with their long hair blowing freely in the wind. And thanks to author Carol Edgerley, we learn of one such woman who did this very thing - Edgerley's very own great grandmother - whose remarkable journey across two continents we follow in Marguerite, the book she wrote for her. It is worth knowing that Marguerite and its sister book Claire were written many years after their tales had been told to Edgerley by  kindly old Aunt Christina. She kept them in her head for generations before she was encouraged to write them down in the form of a fictionalised account of their lives. Nonetheless, Edgerley informs us that she has portrayed the stories of both women as accurately as possible, although there are some details conjectured and fleshed out with the use of her own imagination.

Marguerite's story begins at the very beginning of her existence. We first meet her as a newborn in her noble family's beautiful chateau in the Dordogne, the very day she is birthed into the world. Her mother, the Marquise de Merencourt, takes an immediate dislike to her baby daughter and sadly from then on it is all downhill for the little girl whom her mother, Francine, refers to as 'it'.
"Take it away! I said take it away!" screeched the woman on the bed, shrinking away from the infant lying beside her. "Oh I cannot bear it! How can something so ... so hideous be mine? Oh, someone just take the horrid thing away!"
The reason for this intense dislike of a tiny human being who cannot possibly have done any ill to the woman is a mystery, though there are hints throughout the book as to the reason why Francine favours her boys over her little daughter. Perhaps one of them is that Marguerite, whom her father refers to as Minette, becomes the apple of her father's eye. Unloved by her mother, but favoured by her doting father, whom she resembles in far more ways than she does her mother, Minette grows into a wonderful but headstrong young lady despite the absence of a caring, loving maman. Sadly too, her elder brother Jerome also becomes her mother's accomplice and torments her day and night, playing a huge part in pushing her away from her family.

The beautiful Dordogne
This story is written as a semi-biography of the author, Carol Edgerley's great grandmother, who cleverly puts together for us a wonderfully engaging story about a rich young girl's journey into a world of love, hardship and abuse. From noble beginnings, she chooses a path that sees her become disinherited and banished from French high society, all for the love of a charming Irish doctor, a love that conversely becomes an anathema for Minette. But things don't go smoothly for our headstrong heroine and we see her grow from the naive young 17-year-old into a mother of five children who meets tragedy and loss with great courage and fortitude. As I followed Marguerite's story, I was gripped as I swam through the tides of time with her, experiencing her emotions of love, despair and loathing, and of excitement and adventure as she embarks on a life that she believes will save her from a fate worse than death. All in all, I was enamoured by our tres chic blue-eyed heroine, with her black tresses and olive-skinned beauty. I was aghast when she cast her eyes against taking the path that might have led her to a better life and infuriated by her refusal to marry the man who adored her. Such is Edgerley's gift to us, that we are  imbued with her spirit, and we desire to shout across the pages at her and warn her of danger, such is the emotion it invokes in us.

A French family on a day out in 1880s

Thank Heaven for little girls

Minette, as she is mostly referred to throughout the book, was born in 1875. At this time in France it was the wonderful era known later as La Belle Epoque - the beautiful era. A gay time, full of sanguinity and hopefulness, when the arts flourished and certain creations of literature and music were upheld as magnificent masterpieces. It was also a time when science and technology came into its own and for those women living in the heady decadent quarters of Paris, were most likely to have experienced a world of liberality - a stark contrast to the kind of world that Minette was to be brought up in. For her world, though indeed she was able to enjoy such liberties of riding astride a horse with her hair flowing free in the wind, was one of restriction and containment. But the free spirit that she possessed within her soul was to be horribly and unfairly mistaken for unruliness, harlotry and selfishness.

How Minette should have ridden
Sadly unbeknownst to her awful mother, who could see no good in her daughter whatsoever, no matter how hard the girl tried to please her, Minette's innocence was in her so-called 'wildness'. Her ability to treat people with respect, whatever their station in life, was seen by those rich enough to view life through the splendour of money and titles, as vulgar, improper mixing with those below her station as we see those spiteful snobs belittling her and her children both in India and Ireland. Minette's ability to rise above such treatment and denigration takes force within her from her innocence which  has been tainted by the cruelty of the world as she passes through it, surging from one disastrous encounter to another, none of which her fault. It is just the world as it is. The world that she longs to be no part of. The following passage shows us just the sort of attitude that Marguerite was expected to put up with from the other officers' wives in India:

"Mrs O'Hara, most reluctantly I am taking it upon myself to warn you about  over -familiarity with servants," the lady began with all due pomposity. "You are seen laughing and conversing with your ayah, just as though you considered her your equal. I'm afraid it simply will not do, Mrs O'Hara! Especially in your condition..."

Minette, who was heavily pregnant at the time, is not deterred and she gives the woman a very large piece of her mind. This is just one example of the type of harassment and snide remarks Minette has to put up with, not just in India, but from her husband's Irish relations also.

Marguerite is not just a victim of such disgraceful attitudes; she suffers many tragedies throughout her young life before she reaches thirty. But her spirit never fails her, although time and time, she will doubt herself and long to turn back the clock to a safer time when she was young and without the confines of adult life. Though she learns very harshly that going back to her home in France is not an option, she knows she must do what she can to give her children a chance in life that will enable them to be secure, loved and wanted. After encountering one final life changing tragedy, and having been badly let down by her husband, the man she threw all caution to the wind for, she knows that she must summon that indomitable inner strength of hers to take charge of her destiny and make hard decisions that will have a great impact on her relationship with her children.

How Marguerite and her family may have looked when they visited Scotland

The narrative has many elements to the story and the author has written a beautiful tale that breathtakingly sweeps you to many different destinations: from the hot summers of the sumptous Dordogne chateau in France, where Minette grew up, hated by her mother, but secure in her doting father's protection and her love for horses, to the stark contrasting confines of a Dublin convent school, where she was made to sleep in a cold cell with the door open and no light. Then we are breezed across the sea again to the quintessential English village of Wimbledon where she is forced to hide from her brother and father as they pursue her to bring her home before she can marry her 'kidnapper', the Irish doctor, Patrick O'Hara. The couple race to Gretna Green in Scotland where they may marry under Scottish law without the permission of another and later Marguerite will return to Scotland to study nursing and midwifery. From Scotland the young couple return, married and free, or so they think, to Wimbledon, where they decide to go to India, as far away from the revenge of Marguerite's family as they possibly can. There they settle in Lucknow, among the heat, the flies and the mosquitoes.  It might not be a paradise, but Marguerite eventually comes to see it as home.

Minette loved her horses and even rode in
point to point races in India. This Gymkhana is from
Karachi but could well be like the one in
Darjeeling where Minette rode.

Marguerite is a story of a young girl who was born into a life with values that were way ahead of her time. It is a tale that has will touch your life as irrevocably as it has mine, and will absorb you into the world as it was throughout the late 19th century and early 1900s. It will astonish you, amaze you, and you will be left wondering just how much can the human spirit take and still continue on in hope.

You cannot fail to be moved by this book which is so well written with wonderful prose and a rich narrative that flows effortlessly throughout. 

Marguerite can be found on Amazon in the UK and
and Claire and

About the Author

Born in India, educated in France and later in England, Carol has returned to live in France with her husband amid a multitude of much-loved animals. A wide circle of friends of varying nationalities provides plenty of spice to her life! 

Something of a connoisseur of the Far East, Carol ran a tutorial in Hong Kong teaching English and French to a great many children, some of whom remain in contact with her. Bilingual, she also retains a smattering of "kitchen" Hindi from years spent in Delhi and Calcutta. 

No longer riding these days due to her two beloved but ancient horses going to heaven, Carol is currently fully occupied writing Susanna, third in The Merencourt Saga series..

An avid reader herself, Carol's favourite authors are David Starkey, Margaret George, Alison Weir and Phillipa Gregory. She also loves cooking for friends in several "languages," and planning out her garden for the following year. (Weeding, however, is quite another story.)

Carol can be found at her website located here

If you would like to win a signed copy of Marguerite, please leave a comment on the blog post here or, if you prefer to use Facebook, comment on this review's thread located here.


  1. What a lovely review, Paula! I can attest, having read both of these books, to how lovely they are.

  2. She sounds like quite a woman, with a story to tell would love to win a copy of the book

  3. Sounds enthralling - good luck with the book!