The Glovemaker’s Daughter by Leah Fleming – Review
By Sandra Callard
Leah Fleming’s latest historical novel is a fictional biographical account of the life of a Quaker-born woman, Rejoice Moorhouse. Rejoice was born in 1666 to Alice and Matthew Moorhouse, who have just been released from a four year prison sentence for religious disobedience. Alice dies in childbirth and Matthew follows shortly afterwards, leaving Rejoice an orphan to be brought up by the newly expanding religious group of Quakers, called in those early days ‘Seekers’.
This inauspicious beginning has resulted in one of the most fascinating and beautifully written novels of the decade, and Rejoice’s own journal, written over the years of a tumultuous and historically vibrant life, make for a compulsive and fascinating read.
Rejoice moves from the harsh confines of the Quaker Friends’ farm in Yorkshire, where she struggles with the strictures she is bound by, to the luxurious home of her paternal grandfather, where she is dazzled but afraid of the finery and sexual advances of the men she meets. Unable to deal with each extreme of living she abandons both.
Her story covers the horrors and fears of her younger life in Yorkshire, and eventually her adult life in Pennsylvania, as she joins the pilgrims taking the dangerous journey across the Atlantic to the New World.
“Sets the heart alight”
Her story is told in a journal written by herself, which she hides beneath the old Friends Meeting House of her youth, along with the beautiful gloves her mother left her. The Friends are not permitted to wear the gloves, but they and the journal are later found in the twenty-first century by Sam, a young man in Pennsylvania who becomes fascinated by the book and eventually tracks down a direct descendant of Rejoice, Rachel Moorhouse, in Yorkshire. Together they solidify the dramatic and hazardous life that Rejoice has endured.
Fleming’s Rejoice is a towering, trail-blazing but flawed heroine, a real woman who grabs the imagination with a power that sets the heart alight and brings the sights and smells of the seventeenth century storming into the twenty first. The historical detail is exemplary, as the grinding poverty of the age flaunts itself like a tattered banner, and Rejoice dares it to consume her.
Her story is a soaring chapter in the struggle for individual choice of faith, lifestyle and love, and the strands of familiarity from the seventeenth century are strong as they reach out over the centuries to another, and present, world in turmoil.
This is a book of fiction that reads like a full-blown factual autobiography. Hard to put down and a joy to read as the narrative flows with a compelling ease, or hits you between the eyes with a sudden earth-shattering crescendo. It is written with authority and love, and Leah Fleming is on my new to-do reading list.
‘The Glovemaker’s Daughter’ by Leah Fleming is published by Simon & Schuster, £6.99 paperback