In the novel Like a Flower in Bloom by Siri Mitchell, Charlotte Withersby’s father is a botanist in Chesire, England, in the 1850s. Her mother was a botanist as well, and Charlotte loves to study and illustrate plants. Since her mother died, Charlotte has been her father’s assistant, secretary, and all around right-hand person.
But Charlotte is now 22, and her uncle, the Admiral, thinks it’s high time for her to go into society and find a husband. Charlotte has no interest in either society or matrimony. She loves her work, and she doesn’t think her father can possibly do without her.
But then a long-time correspondent, a Mr. Edward Trimble from New Zealand, shows up on the Withersby’s doorstep. He seems the ideal solution: he can assist Charlotte’s father so the Admiral can introduce Charlotte to society.
Besides Charlotte’s lack of interest, being presented to society is fraught with another major problem. Charlotte’s father has never had any interest in society. He has always been the somewhat eccentric absent-minded professor type. With only her father as her main companion for life, Charlotte doesn’t know how to dress or act. Fortunately she finds a friend in Miss Templeton, who likes Charlotte’s quirky ways. Miss Templeton is younger but also tasked with finding a husband, something she dislikes as much as Charlotte, but for different reasons.
Charlotte hatches a plan. Since she can’t seem to escape her fate, she’ll go after a husband just to make her father realize that he can’t do without her. Then he’ll call off this nonsense.
But Mr. Trimble proves himself an able assistant, so that her father seems to be able to get along without her very well. And her plan to attract suitors, assisted by Miss Templeton, succeeds only too well.
I’m afraid I didn’t like Charlotte at first. Even the person who came to love her called her “the most maddening, most vexing, most exasperating woman I have ever met.” I didn’t mind the fact that she didn’t know how to fit in society, and I even agreed with her that some conventions seemed silly. But at first she seemed to see only her own viewpoint. Yet, as I got to know her, and as she broadened her horizons and learned a little humility, she grew on me.
One of my favorite quotes from the book:
Conversation, my dear Miss Withersby, is a very fragile creature. You must nourish it if you would have it survive. Its favorite food is a question.
Siri Mitchell’s books are far more than romances. I loved her note at the end of the novel where she explained the different influences that went into this story: women who contributed to the study of botany but could not be published under their own names, the conflicting views of botany between scientists and religious people, the eccentricity of botanists, the unusual collections and plant projects of the times, the Opium wars between Britain and China, the nature of introverts, the concept of a helper in the Bible, Victorian gender roles and expectations. She wove all of these together seamlessly, with warmth and humor. Above all the book illustrates the main theme of being who God created you to be.