The Lake District comes alive
- Book: Dances with Daffodils
- Location: Grasmere, Ullswater
- Author: Matthew Connolly
I took this novel to The Lake District and read it whilst gazing out across the Fells. Matthew Connolly captures the feel of the rugged countryside in a beautifully observed manner.
The story is set in the early part of the 1800s. Luke took himself away from the place of his birth in The Lake District to London at his Father’s behest, only to return a little while later, by which time both his parents had passed away. He happens upon Dorothy, living at Dove Cottage, and is smitten by her. She is, of course, the sister of Wordsworth, “the literary giant who turned the rest of the world Lilliputian…”
As Spring turns to Summer Luke finds himself a job on the fells and this is the story of life and love and everyday encounters.
It is evident that the author knows this area incredibly well, from Patterdale to Churnmilk Force, from Helvellyn to Great Rigg, the tarns and fells – populated by the Herdwick Sheep (“those wire-woollen vagabonds with Roman noses and eyes as ancient as the rocks they inhabited…”) – are all laid out with lyrical precision for the reader to absorb.
The book is set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars, a particularly tumultuous time for Britain, with industrialisation on the rise, and the economy on the cusp of a boom. On a more local level, stone walls were being erected on common land, as a result of Enclosures Acts – hence, we find Luke and his gang building dry-stone walls, which can still be seen today.
The speech of the day is brought to life in the dialogue, which I found to be a mixed experience, at times I was ‘there’ with the characters, at other times working hard to make sense of what was being said. Overall I enjoyed this book for the intense flavour of location, the period and the great writing style, but the meandering storyline felt a little too ponderous for me and lacked cohesion.