A Proper Education for Girls.
The Talbot twins, Alice and Lillian, are raised by their domineering, but easily distracted father. The girls are educated by reading and writing (at their father's insistence) about items in his bizarre and varied Collection which includes suits of armor, modern farming equipment, synchronized grandfather clocks, fossilized sea creatures, a stuffed grizzly bear, Napoleonic swords, mechanical inventions, butterfly collections, bronze statues, a machine that peels 60 apples simultaneously, Greek pottery, and much, more more.
The huge estate is overcrowded with items of archaeological, natural history, geologic, botanic, artistic, or cultural interest. Not a simple Cabinet of Curiosities (which was really a room), but an entire huge house has turned into an uncategorized museum, and this museum provides the basic education of Alice and Lillian.
When the books opens, however, a disgraced Lillian has been forced to marry a missionary and accompany him to India. Alice misses her sister terribly, but her father refuses to let Alice's letters leave the house and allows little mail from Lillian to enter (and only after he has read it). He also begins to question the girls' education, and prodded by the advice of the loathsome Dr. Cattermole, ponders an unthinkable solution that would change Alice's independent personality into a more submissive one.
Lillian, who is grateful to have escaped in spite of the circumstances, loves India and begins to thrive. When Alice finally manages to interpret a coded message from Lillian, she, too, begins to hope for escape.
Set in 1857, the chapters alternate between Alice's adventures in England and Lillian's adventures in India. The book provides some interesting takes on the life of women in Victorian England, scientific advances, Colonial life in India, and the Indian rebellion.
I enjoyed the book, eagerly returning to it, but found the conclusion hurried and not fully satisfying.
(I particularly enjoyed the Aunts!)
Fiction. Adventure/Women's Rights/Historical. 2009. 354 pages.