A film of sweat broke across my back – I was not gravely ill with a lethal bleeding; I would not burst out in pulsing buboes and end the day consigned, by my elbow, to a plague-cart. Nay, it was much, much worse: I was become a woman and could now bear children! [loc. 901]
Though Ursula is of moderately noble birth -- her father, a keen astronomer, is lord of the manor -- she has little time as a child for the life of a gently-born female, preferring instead to read (and write) plays, and direct the local children (some of them peasants) in acting them out. She develops a fancy for a friend's cousin, the charming Samuel Sherewin -- but her father arranges her marriage with odious Lord Tyringham, who is old and ugly and has little time for Ursula's interests.
However, Ursula's husband does take her to London, and there Ursula discovers the theatre, which is a magic beyond her wildest dreams. She meets an actress; discovers a secret; and embarks upon a new career.
There are very occasional lapses in language ('like' rather than 'as if' or 'as though'; 'godly' rather than 'goodly') and in historical fact (eating pineapple in England in the 17th century); and I can't be altogether impressed by Ursula's father's astronomy when he claims that Polaris is the 'biggest, brightest star of all', or that Jupiter (not the moons of Jupiter, but the planet itself) was discovered by 'an Italian and his telescope'. I am also not familiar with the musical instrument 'the linnet' ...
But these are nitpicks. In general the bawdy, dirty, dramatic Restoration period is evoked very nicely, and Ursula -- though she sometimes seems remarkably modern in her behaviour and outlook -- is a likeable heroine, easy to sympathise with and relate to. The Illumination of Ursula Flight feels at times like a feminist response to The Adventures of Moll Flanders: a woman making her own way in the world, without a male protector, living on her wits, surviving and succeeding.
I received a free advance copy of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for this honest review.