A Motif of Seasons, by Edward Glover

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Unaware of the care the Count had taken in the composition of his letter, which had been preceded by intense family debate, and not allowing for the fact that the Count was writing in a foreign language, Whitfield considered the letter pompous, lacking in warmth and disappointing. He had held out his hand in friendship. In return the Count sought to place in his own hands control over the pace of the reconciliation he sought. But on rereading the letter he considered there were perhaps two positive aspects. The remarks about the pursuit of peace in Europe and the defence of their respective interests being to the mutual advantage of both countries would surely please Lord Clarendon, anxious to keep Prussia neutral in the present conflict with Russia. Furthermore, the Count's announcement that he and his wife intended to appoint an English governess for their children not only signalled an inclination to follow a prevailing Victorian social fashion; it also might provide an opportunity for him to suggest a suitable woman of modest dress, good deportment and impeccable reputation, should such a person come to his or his wife's attention. If so, that in turn might provide him with an expedient means to observe the von Deppe family at closer quarters.

This was another birthday present, a signed copy given to me by the author's wife. It's the third in a series of novels about the relationship over centuries between two aristocratic families, one British, one German. The plot covers a pretty vast sweep of years, from 1853 to 1918, with a dramatis personæ of multiple generations on each side, occasionally with recurring or at least very similar names for different characters, which is entirely realistic but can be a bit confusing.

It's very humane and understanding of the human condition on both sides; the fact is that there was not much to choose between Germany and England in terms of social progress in the late nineteenth and very early twentieth centuries, and I think the treatment of the two families – both subject to their internal stresses – is fair. There is a pretty good plotline with a governess's daughter whose real parentage eventually comes to light. There are lots of nicely done romantic turning points for the intermingling generations.

The big problem with the book is that it covers 65 years in less than 300 pages, so we skip from turning point to turning point (each of which is vividly told) without much time to pause for breath. The author admits in the afterword that he wrote it in only seven months, I think it would have been a better book at 50% longer and twice the time taken. Also, it suffers from being the third book in the series, with unspoken events from the mid-eighteenth century shadowing a lot of the action – I am sure I would have enjoyed it more if I had read the first two. I did wonder how realistic it is that family secrets from decades before should remain a potential cause for concern about scandal a century or so later, but since I don't know what those family secrets are I suppose I can't really judge.

Anyway, it's an engaging read and I may indeed look out for the earlier books to satisfy my curiosity about the back-story.