Miss Mole by E H Young

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Reviewed by Elaine Simpson-Long

I seem to have spent most of my life rummaging around in second hand bookshops and in so doing have come across treasures and titles about which I knew nothing but which caught my attention. Books most likely to catch my eye were the wonderful Virago “Green” editions with their superb covers and if I spotted any I made a beeline straight for them.

And so it came about that I found Miss Mole by E H Young and took it home with me. I did not read it for some months, probably even years. Real book lovers will understand that sometimes it is simply enough to have a book there waiting.

Now Virago have reissued this title and it is easily available. I will still be keeping my old Green edition, which I love, but this will sit next to it very nicely.

Miss Hannah Mole, a farmer’s daughter, has for twenty years earned her living as a nursery governess or companion to a succession of difficult old women. She is now forty and has returned to the city of Radstowe where she lived as a child. She faces an uncertain future and has nothing to look forward to but a lonely and poverty stricken old age, and at the start of the book is well on the way to losing her latest post. Miss Mole has a sense of the ridiculous and a quick wit which she has to keep well under wraps as employers don’t care for this, but it breaks out and has lost her countless jobs.

Who would suspect her for a sense of fun and irony, of passionate love for beauty and the power to drag it from its hidden places? Who could imagine that Miss Mole had pictured herself, at different times, as an explorer in strange lands, as a lady wrapped in luxury and delicate garments…?

Hannah has a rich cousin living in Radstowe who prefers not to acknowledge her as she mistrusts this mischievous streak and is wary of getting involved in case she has to pull her out of a scrape or, worse still, financially support her. On her recommendation Miss Mole becomes housekeeper to a non-conformist minister, Reverend Corder, a widower full of pomposity and self-satisfaction, whose motherless daughters are sorely in need of care and good food. Also living with the family is the Reverend’s nephew, Wilfred, who has no truck with his uncle and goes his own sweet way. He unerringly spots that Miss Mole is concealing her real character and it is with him that sometimes she relaxes and lets her true nature peep through, much to his delight. On the odd occasion when she forgets and strikes a note of levity with Reverend Corder she runs perilously close to being asked to leave but manages to keep herself under control, though he views her with a vague mistrust and a feeling that all is not as it should be.

When I first read this title I found it light hearted and amusing but a recent re-read has made me realise how much I had missed in its pathos and desperation. Miss Mole makes light of trials and tribulations and has a wicked sense of humour, but underneath that veneer there lurks a feeling of desperation. 

her mind went on to imagine what a real love might have been. But such loves do not come in the way of the Miss Moles of this world and now she was nearly forty. And thinking thus, she allowed the threatening wave of her loneliness, avoided for so long, sweep over her and she stood still in the street, helpless while it engulfed her.

But do not fear, Miss Mole finds her happy ending which filled me with joy, as she is a character who I grew to love with each repeated reading.

E H Young is going through a rediscovery now as another edition of Miss Mole was published this summer by Dean Street Press and Chatterton Square (reviewed here by Harriet) by the British Library.

This is a matter for rejoicing….

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Elaine blogs at Random Jottings.

E H Young, Miss Mole (Virago, 2020). 978-0349014135, 304pp., paperback.

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