A Memory of Violets
A Novel of London's Flower Sellers
From the author of the USA Today bestseller The Girl Who Came Home comes an unforgettable historical novel that tells the story of two long-lost sisters—orphaned flower sellers—and a young woman who is transformed by their experiences.
"For little sister. . . . I will never stop looking for you."
1876. Among the filth and depravity of Covent Garden's flower markets, orphaned Irish sisters Flora and Rosie Flynn sell posies of violets and watercress to survive. It is a pitiful existence, made bearable only by each other's presence. When they become separated, the decision of a desperate woman sets their lives on very different paths.
1912. Twenty-one-year-old Tilly Harper leaves the peace and beauty of her native Lake District for London to become assistant housemother at one of Mr. Shaw's Training Homes for Watercress and Flower Girls. For years, the homes have cared for London's orphaned and crippled flower girls, getting them off the streets. For Tilly, the appointment is a fresh start, a chance to leave her troubled past behind.
Soon after she arrives at the home, Tilly finds a notebook belonging to Flora Flynn. Hidden between the pages she finds dried flowers and a heartbreaking tale of loss and separation as Flora's entries reveal how she never stopped looking for her lost sister. Tilly sets out to discover what happened to Rosie—but the search will not be easy. Full of twists and surprises, it leads the caring and determined young woman into unexpected places, including the depths of her own heart.
Praise For A Memory of Violets: A Novel of London's Flower Sellers…
— Kate Beaufoy, author of LIBERTY SILK and ANOTHER HEARTBEAT IN THE HOUSE
“Gaynor once again brings history to life. With intriguing characters and a deeply absorbing story, her latest is a fascinating examination of one city’s rich history and the often forgotten people who lived in it.”
“Given the awards she has already received, we are sure to hear much more from Hazel Gaynor-and that is a good thing.”
— New York Journal of Books
“Gaynor’s talent for evoking a time and place, as well as her ability to write a beautifully heart-wrenching story with realistic characters, enables her to touch readers. The unexpected twists and turns of the plot and jumping of timelines holds readers’ attention to the satisfying climax.”
— RT Book Reviews (4 Stars)
“Historical details and the unique perspective of penniless, physically challenged young girls could make Gaynor’s second historical novel a good book club choice. A tidy ending and sweet romance will satisfy readers hoping to exhale a long, contented sigh as they finish the last page.”
— Library Journal
William Morrow Paperbacks, 9780062316899, 432pp.
Publication Date: February 3, 2015
About the Author
Hazel Gaynor is an award-winning New York Times, USA Today and international bestselling author. Her 2014 debut The Girl Who Came Home won the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award, A Memory of Violets was a 2015 WHSmith Fresh Talent pick, The Girl from The Savoy was shortlisted for the 2017 Irish Book Awards, and The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter was shortlisted for the 2019 HWA Gold Crown Award. Last Christmas in Paris (co-written with Heather Webb) won the 2018 Women's Fiction Writers Association Star Award. Their most recent collaboration is Meet Me in Monaco. Hazel's forthcoming historical novel, When We Were Young & Brave, set in China during WW2, will be published in North America in October 2020.
Hazel was selected by Library Journal as one of Ten Big Breakout Authors for 2015. Her work has been translated into fourteen languages to date. She is co-founder of creative writing events The Inspiration Project, and lives in Ireland with her husband and two children.
For more information, visit www.hazelgaynor.com
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
The role of the “little mother” was very common among London’s poor, with the eldest siblings (often no older than six or seven years themselves) taking responsibility for younger sisters and brothers. What was your response to reading about Flora’s life and her relationship with Rosie? What are your thoughts about the lives of child street sellers in Victorian England?
The unique relationship between sisters is explored throughout the novel. To what extent do the relationships between Tilly and Esther, and Florrie and Rosie differ? Are there any ways in which they are similar?
Marguerite Ingram is determined to raise Violette as her own child. Do you think she is justified in her conviction that this is the best thing for the child? Is she right to keep the truth from Violette for so many years?
While Tilly’s mother cannot find love for her in the same way she does for Esther, Marguerite loves Violette almost instantly. Why is this? How have their different experiences of motherhood influenced the two women’s emotions?
The novel is written in alternating periods, Tilly’s story in 1912 and that of Florrie, Rosie/Violette, and Marguerite from the late 1800s. In what ways do the two story lines reflect each other and in what ways do they differ?
One of the main themes of the novel is forgiveness. Do you think Violette should forgive Marguerite for hiding the truth about her past? Should Tilly be forgiven for her feelings toward Esther? Should Esther forgive Tilly for the accident? Should Tilly forgive her step- mother for her feelings toward her?
There are many other themes in the novel—second chances, hope, family bonds, overcoming adversity. Which themes resonated with you the most?
Disability was very much a hidden or ignored part of society in Victorian London. The Flower Homes and the orphanage were pioneering approaches to assisting those who were disadvantaged. Now that you have read the novel, what are your thoughts about attitudes toward disability in Victorian England? How have attitudes toward disability changed?
The language of flowers was well known among the Victorians, and the flowers hidden within Florrie’s journal convey very specific messages and emotions. What are your thoughts about the “language of flowers”?
Landscape plays a large part in the storytelling of the novel, with the settings moving from the cramped streets of London to the mountains of the Lake District and the open seascapes of Clacton. How do these landscapes reflect the emotions of the characters?
Through flower making, the girls and women of the Flower Homes were given away out of hardship and a way to become independent. Why did Albert Shaw insist on the girls working for a living, rather than simply providing them with charity?