Why is the timing of this book in the writer's career so interesting? Because the book explains so much. About how the little things around us, the things that fascinate us as children, the shapes and colors of our own backyards inform the mark we will make on the world. About the swirl of characters in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth cross-pollinated to move art and science forward. About women, property, struggle, and ease. About symbolism and nature; religion and power.
The family of Uglow's heroine were landowners and merchants (much of their fortune was made in ash, or soda). Her father and uncles were radicals, defenders of the poor, believers in the rightness of agrarian life but excited about the future – the mills and factories and railroads that would transform their towns and landscapes. They travelled to learn the latest in mathematics, chemistry, and physics straight from the horse's mouth -- they counted among their friends William Wordsworth, William Paley, Joseph Priestly, John Dawson, William Turner, John Curwen – some names you may know, some you may vaguely recognize. The Regency conversation drew broadly on the past – what to abandon and what to cherish? Mystery, magic, druids, Celtic saints, Greek gods. Even as the poor began their long march into lives of overwhelming, unsustainable drabness, those who could afford to looked forward and back.