Excerpt: Marilyn Pemberton, The Jewel Garden

The Jewel Garden
by Marilyn Pemberton

Publication Date: February 28, 2018
Williams & Whiting
eBook & Paperback; 388 Pages
ISBN-13: 978-1912582037

Genre: Historical Fiction



It was a time when women were starting to rebel against Victorian conventions and to strive for their independence. This is a story of Hannah Russell’s physical, emotional and artistic journey from the back streets of the East End of London to the noisy souks and sandy wastes of Egypt; from the labyrinthine canals of Venice to the lonely corridors of Russell Hall in Kent. Hannah thinks she has found love with Mary De Morgan, a writer of fairy tales and one of William Morris’s circle of friends. But where there is devotion there can also be deceit and where there is hope there also dwells despair.

Available on Amazon


Three weeks later Mary and I arrived at Kelmscott House, which was an imposing almost square building, five rooms wide and three storeys high, with a central front door flanked by two white fluted columns. The stark symmetry was somehow emphasised by the twisted trunk and stems of a still bare wisteria that climbed up the side and over the top of the entrance.

Mary had been there many times before, of course, but as a first time visitor I found it very difficult not to exclaim out loud as I saw Morris’s distinctive designs in the curtains, chair covers, carpets and wallpaper that decorated the rooms that we passed by. I was especially thrilled when I also recognised some of Mary’s brother’s tiles surrounding one of the fireplaces and I asked Mary if she was not proud, to which she merely shrugged.

Mary and I were led up to a small garret bedroom where we could finish our toilette. It was a charming room, probably originally a servant’s room, but now used for guests. This room too was papered with one of Morris’s intricate designs, with slender entwining stalks, pale green leaves and blooms of dusky pink.

It did not take long to remove our outer clothing, change our shoes and straighten our skirts and hair. Mary wore an emerald green velvet gown, quite unadorned with lace or frills and I thought she looked beautiful. She radiated such vitality and energy and I was so happy and proud to be there with her. Before we went downstairs I brushed a piece of fluff off her sleeve. I could feel the warmth of her skin through the smooth nap as my hand slid down her arm. My stomach inexplicably knotted and I had the urge to cry. Mary did not notice my agitation but took my hand and eagerly led me downstairs.

When we entered the drawing room I was overwhelmed by the number of people that were there, all standing in little groups, holding a glass and chattering away. Even though I was nearer thirty than twenty, I was still not accustomed to large social gatherings and I clung to Mary’s arm. We stood in the doorway for only a short while before a large hirsute gentleman came over to us, kissed Mary on each cheek and pumped my hand up and down in his bear-like paws. “You must be Miss Russell. Mary has spoken very highly of you. Welcome, welcome to my little celebration.”

This, then, was the great William Morris, larger and louder than I had expected, but a handsome man, who exuded bonhomie with no sense of superiority, although he was surely quite justified in doing so. Morris had a head of grey shaggy hair and a matching beard. He wore a resplendent waistcoat which, I could not help but notice, was not correctly buttoned. I liked him immediately.

Morris took me by the elbow and steered me around the room, introducing me to everyone as “Miss Hannah Russell, Mary De Morgan’s friend.” We went at such a pace that I barely had time to take in people’s names before we moved on. The Burne-Jones’s were there, and the ladies from the embroidery circle, and I recognised some people from different events that Mary had taken me to over the last few years. I was pleased to see Mary’s brother, William, along with his fiancée Evelyn Pickering, but our meeting was fleeting as Morris dragged me to the next group of people. The vast majority of guests were from Morris’s artistic or political circles, some falling into both camps.

At the end of my tour Morris left me with May, who was standing quietly watching over the proceedings. I looked around for Mary and I was surprised to see her in heated conversation with a young man. I recognised him as being the nervous speaker from the Fabian Society evening we had attended a year or so previously.

I stood chatting to May for a few minutes; she was relaxed, telling me about her sister Jenny, who couldn’t be there that night, when her eyes suddenly lit up, she straightened her posture and her cheeks took on a pink bloom. A dark haired gentleman, only a couple of years older than ourselves, approached us.

“May, my dear, you look ravishing.”

He bowed deeply, then took both her hands in his and kissed each of her fingers, far too slowly and sensuously. I felt very embarrassed and turned to move elsewhere, but he stopped me by saying, “And who is this charming lady? I don’t believe we have met, I would surely have remembered.”

I disliked him immensely, even though May was obviously quite infatuated by him. “My name is Miss Hannah Russell.”

“And I, my very dear lady, am Bernard Shaw. I cannot understand how our paths have never crossed.”

Before I could think of a worthy retort May told him not to be such a flirt and that I was a friend of Mary De Morgan. At that his expression changed from one of benevolence to one of malice.

“Ah, the Demogorgon. I was not aware that she had any friends.”

I felt my face redden in defiance.

“What on earth do you mean? What is a Demogorgon? It does not sound like a suitable name for the most caring and beautiful woman I have ever met!”

About the Author

Marilyn Pemberton has always worked in IT and is still a full-time project manager, but is hoping to retire very soon. At the age of 40 she decided she wanted to exercise the right side of her brain and so commenced a part-time BA in English literature. This progressed to an MA and then to a PhD on the utopian & dystopian aspects of Victorian fairy tales. During her research Marilyn “discovered” Mary De Morgan, a Victorian writer of fairy tales, amongst many other things. She became somewhat obsessed with De Morgan and as she wanted to share her research she wrote Out of the Shadows: The Life and Works of Mary De Morgan, which was published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing in 2012. Despite her intensive research there were still many gaps in her knowledge and because she just could not let De Morgan, or the act of writing, go she decided to write a fictional novel based on De Morgan’s life – the result being “The Jewel Garden.”

Marilyn is currently looking for representation for her second novel, “Song of the Nightingale,” which is set in 18th century Italy and tells of two young boys who are bought from their families, castrated and then trained to be singers. The fate of the boys as castrati is an integral part of the tale, of course, but it is also a story of adulterous passion, deceit, murderous revenge, guilt and enduring love. Marilyn is now working on a third novel called “Grandmothers’ Footsteps” that will tell of four generations of women and their attempts to tell their “herstories” to a world deaf to the female voice.

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Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, June 17
Excerpt at Broken Teepee

Tuesday, June 18
Review at Locks, Hooks and Books
Interview at Maiden of the Pages

Wednesday, June 19
Feature at Chicks, Rogues and Scandals

Thursday, June 20
Interview at Passages to the Past

Friday, June 21
Review at Book Reviews from Canada
Excerpt at Historical Fiction with Spirit

Saturday, June 22
Guest Post at Book Reviews from Canada

Sunday, June 23
Feature at CelticLady’s Reviews

Monday, June 24
Review at Coffee and Ink

Tuesday, June 25
Excerpt at The Book Junkie Reads


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