Liz Trenow's The Hidden Thread is a historical fiction/romance novel about the silk weaving trade in 18th c London, inspired by Trenow's family history as silk weavers in Spitalfields, East London.
While researching her family history Trenow learned about Anna Maria Garthwaite, a silk designer who produced naturalistic, accurate designs of flowers for brocades and damasks which appear in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The novel centers around a vicar's daughter, Anna, who comes to live with her aunt and uncle in London. Anna is a very modern woman in her sensibility while conforming to the expectations of her time and class.
Anna's uncle is a prosperous, well-connected, silk mercer. It is hoped that Anna's prospects will be much better in London than in her small village. It is not only for her own sake that Anna must marry well; as pastor of a small church her aging father lives in a parsonage; he can never retire, as it means he would lose both home and income.
Life in upper crust London is bewildering and constricting for Anna. Like Belle in Beauty and the Beast, she both longs for more than her village offers but also rejects the city's societal values that constrict women's lives. She would like to marry for love but when a man with prospects shows interest in her, she knows that regardless of her personal feelings she should accept him.
Ideally, Anna would like to be an artist. London brings her into connection with several of the great artists of her time, including one who takes an interest in her work.
Upon arrival in London, Anna met an apprentice silk weaver, Henri, a French Protestant refugee who fled to England rather than convert to Catholicism. The Huguenots brought their skill in silk weaving, but like refugees across time, they are reviled.
Anna and Henri feel an attraction they both understand is 'impossible'. Henri learns of Anna's artistic skill and begs her to provide him with a design for the masterpiece he must weave for acceptance as a master weaver. Through their relationship, the reader learns about the design history, mechanics, and politics of silk weaving in the 18th c.
The importation of French silk was banned at this time but was in such demand that mercers pirated it into England--including Anna's cousin, putting his father's reputation at risk.
Meanwhile, the silk weavers are asking for fair wages and violence is erupting.
The novel will appeal to readers who enjoy a progressive heroine and a wish-fulfillment ending served with a slice of history.
I read Trenow's previous novel The Forgotten Seamstress, in which a woman seeks the history of a mysterious quilt. Read my review here.
I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
Liz Trenow is a former BBC and newspaper journalist, now working freelance. She is also the author of The Last Telegram. Learn more about the author and silk weaving at Website | Twitter | Facebook
From the publisher:
Liz Trenow's family have been silk weavers for nearly three hundred years, and the company is one of only three still operating in the UK today, weaving for top-end fashion houses and royal commissions.
It is this remarkable silk heritage that has inspired many of Liz's four novels, including the most recent The Silk Weaver (UK pub Jan 2017) It will be published in the US as The Hidden Thread in May 2017.
The Hidden ThreadLiz Trenow
$15.99 trade paperback
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