Through a Glass Darkly

Through a Glass Darkly

3.6 617
by Karleen Koen

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Part Two Of Two Parts

Set in the upper-class families of 18th century England and France, THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY tells the story of Barbara Alderley, a beautiful and passionate heroine; the grandmother she adores; the mother she despises...and the man she loves.

At 15, Barbara finds herself betrothed to a man 27 years her senior. Marriage propels her into a

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Part Two Of Two Parts

Set in the upper-class families of 18th century England and France, THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY tells the story of Barbara Alderley, a beautiful and passionate heroine; the grandmother she adores; the mother she despises...and the man she loves.

At 15, Barbara finds herself betrothed to a man 27 years her senior. Marriage propels her into a glittering, cynical society: the casual adulteries and violent politics of the age of Richelieu, Pope and Swift; of buildings by Christopher Wren; of greed,elegance, excess and cruelty. Barbara navigates these dangers with great skill; her beauty takes on polish and sophistication.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
London caught up in the feverish excitement of the South Sea Bubble and Paris under the licentious influence of the Duc D'Orleans make a glittering background for Koen's first novel. Much of the plotyoung noblewoman in love with and married to charismatic older man enters society and is disillusionedand many of the characterswillful, innocent heroine; adored, autocratic grandmother; and loveable, reckless brotherare standard fare. Historic detail, though abundant and accurate, is often marred by didactic presentation. Still, there is action and intrigue enough to win a following who will demand this and further volumes in what is sure to become another sweeping saga. Cynthia Johnson Whealler, Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, Mass.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st ed

Meet the Author

Karleen Koen is interested in history, particularly women's place in it. Love and hate, gender issues, and spiritual quests are themes she explores in her fiction. She lives in Houston and is also the author of Dark Angels and Now Face to Face. Her blog, called Writing Life, is at

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Two voices, raised in anger, carried through the halfopened window of the library. Recognizing them, Barbara stopped and looked for a place to hide, a place where she might listen but not be seen. Seconds later she was burrowing into the ancient ivy that crisscrossed the mellowed redpink brick of the house. Entangled, dense, persistent, its vines as thick as her wrists in places, the ivy released the house reluctantly. Each spring it sent cunning, thin green fingers curling under the window frames and into the rooms, and each spring her grandmother calmly snipped the fingers to bits with a pair of sewing scissors and ordered the gardeners to trim it down to size. Now, in November, it clung to the house stubbornly. Already many of its glossy dark green leaves were dulled yellow-brown with cold.

"Fool! Impudent young fool!"

Her mother's voice carried clearly from the library.

"Did you imagine I would approve it? Were you going to come crawling like a whipped dog for my blessing? Blessing! I could kill you. Do you realize what you have almost done? Did you think -- or has all feeling ceased, save for that hard prick between your legs?"

It was impossible to describe the effect of her mother's voice. Its usual tone was low and husky, and when anger and scorn were added, the result was numbing.

Harry muttered something, and Barbara tried to move closer to the window so that she could hear better, but the ivy was tenacious. It had been there first, being as old as the house, which had been built well over a hundred years ago in the time of Elizabeth I. The house sprawled over several stories, its once modern features nowconsidered quaint and oldfashioned: twisted chimney stacks of brick, no two of them alike; sharp, pointed gables all across the roofline; windows with many small panes of blown glass; dark, cold rooms with uneven floors; and outside, arbors of wych elm, a bowling green, fish ponds, an old garden maze. Barbara loved it, for it was both her birthplace and her home. She knew every path and pond and orchard and creaky place on the stairs. She felt safe and beloved here...except when her mother visited, which was fortunately not often. It was Harry who must have brought her down from London, she thought. How could she have found out? She envisioned her mother's beautiful, white face and felt foreboding for her brother.

"You are such a fool," said her mother, and her voice paralyzed with its scorn. "The match is totally unsuitable. Now more than ever. John Ashford was appalled when I told him." Harry must have made some movement -- she could picture him, crouched in a chair, his face as hard and cold as their mother's, his hands clenched with the effort to hold his temper -- because her mother's voice changed.

"Yes, I told him! With his daughter standing beside him to hear me. If she had not cried, like the weak, mewling child she is, her father would have beaten her. Something I would have done, at any rate. God, I wanted to strike her! As for you, your conduct is unforgivable. Any alliance we form now is crucial -- as you should know better than anyone!"

Each word had the clear, harsh sound of finality. Barbara knew that Harry, always thoughtless about the future, must be stunned by their mother's sudden appearance from London, by her quick, sure, numbing action.

"Damn the family!" Harry said. "And damn you. I love her. What does it matter whom I marry? There is no scandal I could create to equal what you and my father have already begun -- "

The crack of a palm sounded against flesh. Barbara's body jerked as if it were she, and not Harry, who had just been slapped.

"Do not say your father's name in my presence again."

What venom there was in those words.

"He is out of my life. As Jane is out of yours. She is to marry her cousin within a few months; already the Ashfords are packing her off to London to stay with a relative. And you are going away also, Harry. Tomorrow. A few months' stay in Italy, a visit to France, should add the polish and patience necessary to a youth of your...what? Impulsive? Yes. Impulsive nature. I prefer impulsive to stupid. Your face, Harry! I wish you could see it. The mention of Italy calms the ardent lover within you somewhat, does it not?" She laughed. "I thought it might."

It was always fatal to show emotion to her mother; she pounced on it and turned it against you. Her voice was fainter now; she must have moved from her position in the room. Barbara had to stand on tiptoe, straining, the ivy around her uncooperative, to hear.

"You will obey me in this. Meres will be with you until you sail, so there can be no final, romantic farewells between you and your little sweetheart. And no final surprises nine months from now, either! It is over. Accept that. It was calf love, a brief spark, the first of many, I trust. I leave you to your thoughts, my dear Harry. If you are capable of summoning any.

There was silence. Barbara wanted to go to her brother, but she knew better. He had been humiliated, quickly, ruthlessly, thoroughly, and he would not want her witnessing the aftermath. She wedged her foot on a thick ivy vine; she would climb up slightly, just enough so that she could look in the window and see him

"Mistress Barbara!"

She jumped. Without a doubt, it was one of the serving girls calling to tell her her mother was home. Well, with any luck, she could miss her mother's visit entirely. Or, at worst, see her for a few moments tomorrow before she returned to London. She backed off the ivy, still torn between her instinct to escape and Harry.

"Mistress Barbara!"

The voice of the serving girl was closer now. Escape won hands down. She ran across the wide flagstone steps of the library terrace. She ran past her grandmother's faded rose garden, the bushes bare now, ugly with their thorns and fat...

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