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The Three Miss Kings by Ada Cambridge
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The Three Miss Kings (1891)

by Ada Cambridge

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Three newly-orphaned sisters, finding themselves left to their own devices", 27 April 2015

This review is from: The Three Miss Kings (Virago Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Highly enjoyable work from 1890; the author was an English emigrant to Australia, and this is set (mostly) in 1880 Melbourne.
The story opens with the three sisters all in their 20s and newly orphaned. Their strange, taciturn father has just died, (their mother - a charming and cultured woman passed away some years ago) and they are planning an exciting future.
Leaving their rural cottage they settle in Melbourne, where they are under the protection of the son of the family solicitor....
As they gradually move into 'society' and find themselves taken up by the childless Duff-Scotts, their lives are to change at a rate of knots, with romance, misunderstandings and a huge secret which is to alter things forever...
A little 'Mills and Boone' in places, notably when describing the adorable Mr Kingscote Yelverton, the author somehow manages to carry it off and produces an extremely enjoyable novel. ( )
  starbox | Apr 27, 2015 |
At time tedious, at others compelling and throughout of interest as a period piece, a 'snapshot' of Australian society in the 1880's, it was a worthy enough choice for the Virago imprint, particularly for the last aspect. As stated in the introduction too there is a certain amount of interesting tension between the little inklings of 'feminism' and the urge to keep things 'proper'. Three sisters from a mysterious but humble background, are on their own at last and they go to Melbourne..... they are lovely and talented and .... discover they are not who they thought they were..... ***1/2 ( )
  sibyx | Jun 24, 2014 |
The Three Miss Kings is set in Australia during the 1880’s – mainly taking place in Melbourne – although the novel opens in a rural area on the Southern ocean, where the three Miss Kings of the title have always lived in a certain amount of seclusion. Elizabeth, Patty and Eleanor having lost their mother some years earlier have now recently lost their father a reclusive man of difficult temperament. Contemplating their inheritance the young women consider themselves to be very well provided for – and as they sit on their beloved cliffs gazing out across the sea – they begin to plan their future. Patty and Eleanor are keen to travel, to go to Europe and see something of the world, however, Elizabeth the elder sister who is more measured and practical urges caution, suggesting that they go to Melbourne – for that is still a worldlier place than they have ever experienced – while they get used to living alone. So the sisters leave everything they know – their faithful old family retainer, their menagerie of animals and Mr Brion the fatherly old lawyer who advises them – and set out for Melbourne.

Once in Melbourne they are met by Paul Brion, the son of their family lawyer, who has been directed by his father to look out for the sisters and arrange lodgings for them. Almost immediately Paul and Patty start sparring – instantly misunderstanding one another – and the reader just knows how this is likely to play out. Patty; impulsive, and strong willed, Paul Brion a poor, proud newspaper writer, drawn to one another but destined it seems to be constantly at odds. Comfortably ensconced in pleasant lodgings, the sisters quickly realise they are living in the rooms previously occupied by Paul Brion – who gave up his rooms so that the sisters could be comfortably suited, Patty is particularly mortified, not wishing to be beholden to Paul Brion. Soon the sisters are living next door, and Paul Brion is back in his own rooms, where through a thin partition the sisters and Paul Brion are often very much aware of one another.

“In the stillness of the night, Paul Brion, leaning over his balustrade of the verandah, and whitening his coat against the partition that divided his portion of it from theirs, heard the opening bars of the funeral march, the gradually swelling sound and thrill of it impassioned harmonies, as of a procession tramping towards him along the street, and the sudden lapse into untimely silence. And then he heard, very faintly, a low cry and a few hurried sobs, and it was as if a lash had struck him.”

It is soon apparent that what the sisters had considered to be a considerable fortune is anything but. Their ambitions of adding to their simple wardrobes are thwarted by the cost of everything they want, which comes as an unwelcome surprise. Under the calm, guiding hand of Elizabeth, the sisters content themselves with using a few luxurious pieces of fabric, lace and some pearls from their mother’s possessions to accentuate the look their simple black gowns. The King sisters find they have much to learn, society is a complex place, where visits must be returned, lone gentlemen can’t be invited to tea and the nouveaux riche can never really be a lady as they simply do not come from the right section of society.
The Three Miss Kings is very much rooted in time and place. The novel opens in 1880, the time of the international Exhibition in Melbourne. There are refrences too, to the recednt capture of Ned Kelly and the Melbourne cup, and Melbourne itself is presented as a thriving modern city. It is during the procession, the day before the Exhibition opens that the true Cinderella nature of this story starts to take off. As Elizabeth stands in the street on the steps of a building, keeping a place for her sisters where they hope to be able to see the parade, she is almost crushed by the surging crowd, when she is saved by a stranger, a tall strong man, who immediately makes the gentle Elizabeth feel safe and protected. Mr Yelverton , a wealthy man from England, whose family history has a tragic mystery at the heart of it, has concerned himself with the plight of the poor of Whitechapel and later challenges Elizabeth’s conventional ideas on religion.

“Stand here, and I can shelter you a little” he said, in a quiet tone that contrasted refreshingly with the hoarse excitement around them. He drew her close to his side by the same grip of her waist that had listed her bodily when she was off her feet, and immediately releasing her, stretched a strong left arm between her exposed shoulder and the crush of the crowd. The arm was irresistibly pressed upon her own arm, and bent across her in a curve that was neither more nor less than a vehement embrace, and so she stood in a condition of delicious astonishment, one tingling blush from head to foot.”

while Elizabeth King and Mr Yelverton’s friendship develops, the sisters find themselves “taken up” by Mrs Duff-Scott and her husband, Mrs Duff-Scott is the pinnacle of Melbourne society, and when she decides to practically adopt the sisters, their success is assured. Mrs Duff-Scott is determined to get good marriages for her protégées and with Eleanor being courted by Mr Westmorland, and Patty pursued by the ridiculous Mr Smith, Elizabeth is allowed to get closer to Mr Yelverton, while Paul Brion, not someone of whom Mrs Duff-Scott really approves, feels more pushed out than ever.
As Elizabeth has to consider whether she will marry Mr Yelverton or not, during a visit back to their old home on the cliffs – an astonishing discovery turns everything on its head.

While Ada Cambridge’s best known novel is a romantic Cinderella story, it is also the story of Victorian Australian society; Ada Cambridge is realistic in her depictions of marriage and societal conventions and snobberies. Judging by the introduction to my VMC edition by Audrey Tate, Ada Cambridge herself was an interesting woman, who wrote an autobiography called Thirty Years in Australia – I rather fancy tracking that down I think. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Nov 13, 2013 |
The Three Miss Kings of the title are Elizabeth, Patty and Eleanor, three young women from provincial Victoria, Australia. After their parents die, the three sisters move to Melbourne, chaperoned by one of society’s matrons, who, having no children of her own, adopts the girls as her own. While in Melbourne, the sisters become acquainted with Paul Brion, a newspaperman towards whom Patty instantly develops antagonism. The novel follows the girls through a year in their lives as they deal with the ins and outs of Melbourne society—developing, as they do so, romantic interests.

It’s a novel based on the classic Victorian sensationalist format; these books invariably have a case of hidden identity, a thorny legal problem, and a “will they or won’t they get together?” romantic storyline. This novel has all three of them, including a family mystery. Ada Cambridge’s style is less refined than, say, Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s, but she’s a good storyteller, and even though I thought I knew in the back of my mind what was going to happen, I was still a bit surprised. Still, there was a bit of predictablility to the plot; anyone can see from a mile away that Paul and Patty will end up together. Also, everything is wrapped up nice and neatly at the end; almost too nicely and neatly. The ending is typically Victorian, too; not many women today would make the exact same choices that the King sisters do (or they would make them for different reasons).

Cambridge is skilled at drawing characters; there’s a strong delineation between the three sisters, although poor Eleanor gets short-changed in favor of her more interesting sisters. Amonst the love interests, I thought Kingscote Yelverton was a bit of a bore. Paul Brion is the real hero of the story, and his relationship with Patty is the most interesting of the three romances in this book. Another favorite character of mine was Mrs. Duff-Scott, the society matron who adopts the King sisters, a true mother even if she has no children of her own to lavish affection on. The novel was interesting to me also as an example of Australian literature, and how Melbourne society tried to hard to emulate European ideals and interests; sometimes while reading the book, I forgot that it was set in Australia! This is an enjoyable novel, but rather quaint. ( )
3 vote Kasthu | Jun 22, 2011 |
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Ada Cambridgeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Tate, AudreyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On the second of January, in the year 1880, three newly orphaned sisters, finding themselves left to their own devices, with an income of exactly one hundred pounds a year a-piece, sat down to consult together as to the use they should make of their independence.
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"When I saw those conceited people sweeping about in their splendid trains and looking as if all Melbourne belonged to them...I felt that I would give anything, anything, just to rise up and be very grand and magnificent for a while"

The three Miss Kings - Elizabeth, Eleanor and Patty - were brought up in a remote seaside settlement in Victoria, Australia, their father a mysterious man of "preposterous eccentricity", their late mother a dignified, accomplished women who instilled in the girls and appreciate of "spiritual and intellectual aspirations" which compensates for their lack of worldly experience. Such virtues serve the sisters well when, on the death of their father, they begin a new life in Melbourne. Under the watchful eye of one of society's more respectable patrons, they learn quickly about "life, and love, and trouble, and etiquette among city folks" - to emerge radiant in their succession to both marriage and gentility.
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