„Lily of the tower” by Elizabeth Hart is that kind of novel that seems simple, yet it’s extremely complex, a combination of Emily Bronte’s „Wuthering Heights” concerning Lily’s character and situation and Jane Austen’s „Jane Eyre” concerning Agnes’s character involving her marriage and in the end, her love for Lily, the captive of the tower.
Elizabeth Hart manages to introduce us to two wealthy families during Regency period of the Victorian Era’s England : the Netherfield’s and the Headey’s. Smoothly, the story flows by understanding our two main character’s situations.
Lily Netherfield is the only daughter of the wealthy family and it’s expected soon to be married, yet she has an affair with her maid and her parents and her brother take her to an asylum and then imprison her in the family’s domain, because she is considered t be ill and reluctant to be cured. Lily is resigned, because she understands that even now, after their parents’ death, her brother looks at her with pity and tries to help her, yet Lily is not ill, she just loves women and doesn’t deserve her imprisonment (just like „The man in the iron mask”) and to be seen like a freak of nature even by the servants. Everything is dark and even Lily believes to be ill after taking those pills and she is somehow buried in this tower.
Agnes Headey is just a normal Victorian girl from a wealthy family courted by James Thornton, she has a free spirit and lives with her father that is very anxious to see her married to James, yet she’s not. She’s full of life, scents and exhuberance.
She rides alone one night and gets lost, while a storm brakes out and she searches refugee at the neighbors, the Netherfields, who’s home she has never seen. Everybody knows Lily is dead and the home is lived by her brother only. She is welcomed by the servant girl and it’s offered a room for a couple of days, yet somehow she understands something isn’t quite right in the great mansion and she discovers the secret of the tower, Lily and she quite falls in love with her at the very first sight and for the very first time. She really wants to help Lily and doesn’t understand her feelings , all that she knows is the fact that she wants to see Lily again. She blackmails Claire, the girl servant and master Netherfield to give Lily little freedoms like to be able to leave the tower, to get her old dresses back and her rooms. I really loved Agnes’s strength of will and how she even finds Lily’s former maid , Zona, who has become a nun and believes Lily is really sick. Agnes doesn’t really understand Lily’s relationship with her maid until she sees her and beyond her reaction , she understands now that Lily and her maid were lovers and they tried to escape dressed as young men and Agnes is jealous and wants Lily’s attention and all her touches for her alone, while she visits she manages to even kiss Lily and touch her, but Lily knows better and doesn’t encourage Agnes in any way, even more she tells Agnes that the taste of freedom hurts and got her into this situation and advices Agnes to get married.
Agnes is furious and doesn’t want to see Lily again and she marries James, yet the physical relation with him is a terrible experience for her, even though she gets pregnant and loses her child, yet still she thinks of Lily and after many months not seeing Lily now he writes her and sends her books. She manages to finally visit Lily again and her feelings grow intense and deep and they kiss again and furthermore, Lily touches her for that very first time and Agnes knows she has longed for that touch all her life and realizes she is in love with Lily and wants to spend her life with her.
Agnes runs away from her husband and dressed as a young man she escapes in the city and cannot be recognized by anyone while her husband and her father search for her like mad men all she wants is to develop a plan for her to live with Lily. After many weeks around her home and Lily’s she goes to see her and dressed as a young man she enters the mansion easily and they just embrace and kiss and all their feelings are revealed right there, right then. Accidentally, Lily discovers that her brother is gay and was all along, having a relationship with a young servant man and that he had condamned her to an imprisoned life for loving women, while all along he knew what it ment. That’s the turning point of the book, He commits suicide, Agnes’s husband returns home, while Lily and Agnes live happily ever after away from the Netherfield’s mansion who remained in the hands of the servant young man.
I enjoyed the plot and the final surprise with Lily’s brother, the reason is weak, yet I wished Lily’s character would have been stronger and to have faught more for her first love and for her last love, Agnes. Maybe the author wanted it this way for Agnes’s character to be bolder and stronger into aknowledge her sexuality and jealousy and love. It took so long for Agnes to understand Lily’s and Zona’s relationship. Agnes dependence on laudanum during her short marriage was so dramatic really, because all she wanted was Lily. I enjoyed the read , captivating historical lesbian romance.