Review: The Barforth Trilogy by Brenda Jagger (some of my favourite reads of all time)

The Clouded Hills by Brenda Jagger has the honour of being one of the best books I have ever read. I fell in love with this book as a teenager and I have never quite recovered.

The Clouded Hills is the first book of the Barforth Trilogy by Brenda Jagger, all of which are based around strong female characters who are struggling to find a sense of self and independence in the 20th century.

The Clouded Hills is set in early 19th century England at the time of the industrial revolution. The protagonist, Verity Barforth, is the daughter of the most prominent cotton manufacturer in Cullingford, a manufacturing town in Yorkshire. Her life is turned upside down when she suddenly becomes heiress to a fortune when her father and elder brother are killed by the workers of their factories when they attempt to introduce labour saving machinery that will see the loss of many jobs for the workers and subsequent starvation. All control is taken out of Verity's hands, and she soon finds herself married to her elder and incredibly ambitious cousin Joel Barforth.

The Clouded Hills follows Verity Barforth as she attempts to carve out an identity of her own in the face of opposition from the society in which she was born. It is her journey of self discovery and an attempt to find true love in world that seems determined to make sure that it can't be found.

What can I say? You may never read a better book. Not because it is a wonderful piece of literary fiction. Not even because you will learn more about the industrial revolution in the early 19th century than you ever knew before.

It is because if you are anything like me, you will fall in love with the characters. Their challenges will become your challenges, their disappointments will become your disappointments and their triumphs will become your triumphs. You will feel as though you there with them for every step of their journey. You will live the life of the people in the slums, as well as the lives of those in the manufacturing classes. You will become part of the early 19th century itself; understand its social, political and economic complexities and how these really affected the lives of women at the time.

The following two books in the Barforth Trilogy, Flint and Roses and The Sleeping Sword are equally as enjoyable as The Clouded Hills. 

Like The Clouded Hills, both books centre on a strong female character who is hindered by her sex, each in the generation following the one before.

In Flint and Roses, it is Faith Aycliffe, the daughter of Verity Barforth's (the protagonist in The Clouded Hills) counsin Eleanor. Little has changed for women in the interceding years between the two books, and Faith finds her abilities and desires must come second to the economic and social choices she must make about her future.

In The Sleeping Sword, it is Grace Agbrigg, Faith Aycliffe's niece who is the central protagonist. Like Faith and Verity before her, Grace finds that her own desires must come second to the reasoning she must apply when making decisions about her future, which are more about economics and social positioning than anything else. There is, however, a discernable change in the role of women by the late 19th century. Grace is able to make decisions somewhat more independently than the women who have come before. In fact, when she finds herself in a miserable and bordering on emotionally abusive relationship, is able to make the ultmate sacrifice and seek divorce from her husband. Although the consequences of this decision haunt her for the rest of her life because the change in social status it brings upon her, it is at least a sign that times are beginning to change for women.

It isn't, however, just the changes for the role of women throughout the 19th century that this trilogy focuses on. Through the three books, we also see the changes bought by the industrial revolution and developments in technology, public amenities and greater human rights. 

For me though, what I learnt most from all three of the books in the Barforth Trilogy that what women were really fighting for in the past was for independence of thought and action. Choice. An ability to make decisions for themselves and about themselves. That decision might in the end be a decision to conform to societal standards and expectations or it might not. But what counts is autonomy of person and reason.

8 / 8
Each of these books, but most especially The Clouded Hills, are some of the best books I have ever read. Everyone should read the - they totally amazing. I am in love. Although the first book definitely had the greatest impact on me, I am giving them each 8 / 8 stars.

Have you ever felt as though you have become part of the book while you were reading it? Which book did that for you? If you have read this book, how did you feel about it?


I love getting comments, so please don't hesitate to leave me one!