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The Tea Rose

The Tea Rose

4.5 313
by Jennifer Donnelly

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The Tea Rose is a towering old-fashioned story, imbued with a modern sensibility, of a family's destruction, of murder and revenge, of love lost and won again, and of one determined woman's quest to survive and triumph.

East London, 1888-a city apart. A place of shadow and light where thieves, whores, and dreamers mingle, where children play in the


The Tea Rose is a towering old-fashioned story, imbued with a modern sensibility, of a family's destruction, of murder and revenge, of love lost and won again, and of one determined woman's quest to survive and triumph.

East London, 1888-a city apart. A place of shadow and light where thieves, whores, and dreamers mingle, where children play in the cobbled streets by day and a killer stalks at night, where bright hopes meet the darkest truths.

Here, by the whispering waters of the Thames, a bright and defiant young woman dares to dream of a life beyond tumbledown wharves, gaslit alleys, and the grim and crumbling dwellings of the poor.

Fiona Finnegan, a worker in a tea factory, hopes to own a shop one day, together with her lifelong love, Joe Bristow, a costermonger's son. With nothing but their faith in each other to spur them on, Fiona and Joe struggle, save, and sacrifice to achieve their dreams.

But Fiona's dreams are shattered when the actions of a dark and brutal man take from her nearly everything-and everyone-she holds dear. Fearing her own death at the dark man's hands, she is forced to flee London for New York. There, her indomitable spirit-and the ghosts of her past-propel her rise from a modest west side shopfront to the top of Manhattan's tea trade.

Authentic and moving, Jennifer Donnelly's The Tea Rose is an unforgettable novel.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Donnelly indulges in delightfully straightforward storytelling in this comfortably overstuffed novel. In 1880s London, the squalid Thames-side neighborhood of Whitechapel is home to Fiona Finnegan, spunky daughter of Paddy Finnegan. Both are employed by unscrupulous tea merchant William Burton, but Fiona is saving to start a shop with her love, Joe Bristow. Just as her future seems assured, a string of tragedies toppledher hopes. Joe is tricked into marriage to another woman, Burton has Paddy killed for supporting a labor union, Fionas mother is murdered by Jack the Ripper and Fionas distraught brother is found dead in the Thames. Fiona had been attempting to get compensation from Burton for her fathers death, but when she overhears his boasts of killing Paddy, she must flee for her life with her sole remaining brother, five-year-old Seamie. She rushes to a seaport, but cannot get passage until the wealthy dandy Nicholas Soames offers it, pretending she is his wife. The scene switches to New York City of the Gay 90s, to the glitter of Delmonicos, the elegance of Gramercy Park and the crowded tenements of downtown. Fiona lodges with her alcoholic Uncle Michael and saves both him and his grocery on her way to making her fortune in the tea industry. But she never forgets her familys fate, and when she can, she returns to England to revenge herself on Burton. Though Donnellys indomitable heroine steps out of period character from time to time"her easy acceptance of Soamess homosexuality is particularly unlikely"the novels lively plotting, big cast of warmly drawn characters and long-deferred romantic denouement make this a ripping yarn. In the final dramatic settling of scores, Donnelly even ventures to unmask Jack the Ripper. (Oct. 1) Forecast: This epic historical novel has more muscle than most and comes equipped with blurbs from Frank McCourt and Simon Winchester. Rights have been sold in France, Germany and Italy, and Donnelly will embark on an author tour. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1888, Fiona Finnegan and Joe Bristow hoard shillings and pennies so that they can marry and open a shop. But Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of London's East End, and poverty threatens from the shadows. Setting the story in motion is the murder of Fiona's father, a dock worker whose union activities angered his tea-company boss. Fiona and her younger brother must flee to New York City to avoid their own murders. Through hard work and luck, Fiona and her beloved Joe prosper on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Misunderstandings and mistakes keep them apart as they build separate lives and incredible fortunes. Children's book writer Donnelly effortlessly takes her narrative through slums and high society while intertwining a number of subplots without tangling them. Both major and minor characters capture and hold interest and sympathy. Although the number of Fiona and Joe's near encounters stretches the imagination, readers will forgive the tease once the lovers' reunion and Fiona's revenge for her father's death converge in an action-packed ending. Public library readers will relish this rags-to-riches romance. Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ., Mankato Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A bright, plucky, and (of course) beautiful Cockney girl escapes poverty and violence in the Whitechapel neighborhood of Victorian-era London to make her fortune in New York City. In Donnelly's sprawling debut, the heroine is heroic, the villains villainous (and rich), and the heroine's love interests in need of a strong woman like her to keep them out of trouble. Seventeen-year-old Fiona Finnegan's plans to open a shop with her childhood sweetheart Joe are dashed when Joe succumbs to the wiles of his boss's daughter and ends up in a shotgun wedding. Fiona's distress is compounded by her father's accidental death at the Burton Tea Company, where he was organizing a union, her mother's murder by Jack the Ripper, and her brother's drowning. When Fiona overhears William Burton, the cold-eyed, knife-wielding owner of Burton Tea, brag that he had her father murdered, she realizes her own life is in danger and flees to America. Befriended en route by a young art collector named Nick, Fiona is put off by neither his syphilis nor his homosexuality, an open-mindedness that rings false in the Victorian setting. Taking over her alcoholic uncle's failing business, Fiona becomes a successful grocer, and, although she still pines for Joe, she enjoys being wooed by a charming, prominent financier. Then Nick faces a homophobic scandal instigated by her wealthy suitor's son. Unaware that Joe, whose marriage ended when his wife miscarried, is still searching for her, Fiona marries Nick to save his reputation and settles into what turns into a happy if unconventional marriage. While amassing a fortune in the tea and grocery trade, Fiona secretly plans to wreak revenge on Burton. After Nick's death andextensive plotting, she returns to London, reunites with Joe, and causes Burton financial ruin, which brings out his murderous side. Or perhaps he was more murderous all along than in anyone's worst suspicions. Bland, despite the gruesome-deaths quotient. Author tour
From the Publisher

“It's so much fun ...this is London in the 1880s, the London of Charles Dickens and Edward Rutherfurd, a teeming, messy place full of business, dirt and poverty. Once in New York, we trip from the tenements of the Lower East Side to elegant dining at Delmonico's, with hardly a paragraph to catch our breath...the atmosphere of both starring cities is created in satisfying detail. One can walk the streets and listen to the people chat in the company of Jennifer Donnelly, who has done her historical homework...she delivers.” —Washington Post

“Time seems to stand still when The Tea Rose comes to life.” —The Anniston Star

“When you start reading Jennifer Donnelly's The Tea Rose give yourself plenty of time because this is a most seductive novel. You will travel from the rough, often savage, back streets of London to the glossy sophistication of New York's Fifth Avenue. You'll be charmed by the novel's heroine, Fiona Finnegan-her intelligence, her courage, her great heart. Despite her suffering-a lost love, a tragic family-there are moments you will want to cheer. It's the kind of novel where the writing is so fluid you feel the author simply loves telling her story. This is a splendid heartwarming novel of pain, struggle, decency, triumph-and just what we need in these times.” —Frank McCourt

“I loved this vividly atmospheric and wonderfully rambunctious yarn-brilliantly told, great fun to read.” —Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman

“Bold, brisk, and beguiling. The Tea Rose is splendid brew of a book.” —Samuel H. G. Twining, LVO, OBE, director of Twinings Tea

“The Tea Rose is the kind of book that calls for a rainy day, a cozy chair, and a good, steaming cup of tea. It's strong and satisfying, with a taste that lingers in the memory.” —Paula Cohen, author of Gramercy Park

“In the tradition of Barbara Taylor Bradford...steeped in romance and authentic period detail, this exquisite melodrama will appeal to fans of epic historical fiction.” —Booklist

“The novel's lively plotting, big cast of warmly drawn characters and long-deferred romantic denouement make this a ripping yarn.” —Publishers Weekly

“Readers will relish this rags-to-riches romance.” —Library Journal

“A hard book to put down until the final page.” —Chattanooga Free Press

“Donnelly's tale pulls the reader into its emotional depths and refuses to let go. Fiona Finnegan is a remarkable heroine.” —Romantic Times Book Club, Top Pick

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.56(w) x 11.02(h) x 1.67(d)

Read an Excerpt


Polly Nichols, a Whitechapel whore, was profoundly grateful to gin.

Gin helped her. It cured her. It took away her hunger and chased the chill from her joints. It stilled the aching in her rotten teeth and numbed the slicing pains she got every time she took a piss. It made her feel better than any man ever had. It calmed her. It soothed her.

Swaying drunkenly in the darkness of an alley, she raised a bottle to her lips and drained it. The alcohol burned like fire. She coughed, lost her grip on the bottle, and swore as it smashed.

In the distance, the clock at Christ Church struck two, its resonant chime muffled in the thickening fog. Polly dipped her hand into her coat pocket and felt for the coins there. Two hours ago, she’d been sitting in the kitchen of a doss-house on Thrawl Street, penniless. The landlord’s man had spotted her there, asked for his fourpence, and turned her out when she couldn’t supply it. She’d cursed and screamed at him, telling him to save her bed, he’d get his doss money, telling him she’d earned it and drunk it three times over that day.

“And I got it, too, you bastard,” she muttered. “Didn’t I say I would? Got yer poxy fourpence and a skinful to boot.”

She’d found her money and her gin in the trousers of a lone drunk wending his way down the Whitechapel Road. He’d needed a bit of coaxing. At forty-two, her face was no longer her fortune. She was missing two front teeth and her pug nose was thick and flattened across the bridge like a fighter’s, but her large bosom was still firm and a glimpse of it had decided him. She’d insisted on a swig of his gin first, knowing a mouthful would numb her throat, get up her nose, and block the beer and onions stink of him. As she drank, she’d unbuttoned her camisole, and while he was busy groping her, she’d slipped the bottle into her own pocket. He was clumsy and slow and she was glad when he finally pulled away and staggered off.

Christ, but there’s nothing like gin, she thought now, smiling at the memory of her good fortune. To feel the weight of a bottle in your hands, press your lips against the glass, and feel the blue ruin flowing down your throat, hot and harsh. Nothing like it at all. And close to full that bottle had been. No mean thru’penny swig. Her smile faded as she found herself craving more. She’d been drinking all day and knew the misery that awaited her when the booze wore off. The retching, the shaking, and, worst of all, the things she saw—black, scuttling things that gibbered and leered from the cracks in the walls of the doss-house.

Polly licked her right palm and smoothed her hair. Her hands went to her camisole; her fingers fumbled a knot into the dirty strings threaded through the top of it. She tugged her blouse together and buttoned it, then lurched out of the alley and down Bucks Row, singing to herself in a gravelly, gin-cracked voice:

“Oh, bad luck can’t be prevented,

Fortune, she smiles or she frowns,

’E’s best off that’s contented,

To mix, sir, the ups and the downs . . .”

At the corner of Bucks Row and Brady Street, she suddenly stopped. Her vision blurred. A buzzing noise, low and close like the wings of an insect, began in her head.

“I’ve the ’orrors of drink upon me,” she moaned. She held her hands up. They were trembling. She buttoned her coat up around her neck and began to walk faster, desperate for more gin. Her head lowered, she did not see the man standing a few feet ahead of her until she was nearly upon him. “Blimey!” she cried. “Where the ’ell did you come from?”

The man looked at her. “Will you?” he asked.

“No, guv’nor, I will not. I’m poorly just now. Good night.”

She started to move off, but he grabbed her arm. She turned on him, her free arm raised to strike him, when her eyes fell upon the shilling pinched between his thumb and forefinger.

“Well, that changes things, don’t it?” she said. His shilling plus the fourpence she already had would buy booze and a bed tonight, tomorrow, and the day after, too. As sick as she felt, she couldn’t turn it down.

Polly and her client walked back the way she’d come in silence, past tumble-down dwellings and tall brick warehouses. The man had a powerful stride and she found herself trotting to keep pace. Glancing at him, she saw he was expensively dressed. Probably had a nice watch on him. She’d certainly have a go at his pockets when the time was right. He stopped abruptly at the end of Bucks Row, by the entrance to a stable yard.

“Not ’ere,” she protested, wrinkling her nose. “By the metal works . . . a little ways down . . .”

“This’ll do,” he said, pushing her against two sheets of corrugated metal, secured by a chain and padlock, that served as the stable’s gate.

His face shone weirdly bright in the thickening darkness, its pallor broken by eyes that were cold and black. A wave of nausea gripped her as she looked into them. Oh, Jesus, she pleaded silently, don’t let me be sick. Not here. Not now. Not this close to a whole shilling. She forced herself to breathe deeply, willing the nausea to subside. As she did, she inhaled his scent—Macassar oil, sweat, and something else . . . what was it? Tea. Bloody tea, of all things.

“Let’s get on with it then,” she said. She lifted her skirts, fixing him with a look of weary expectation.

The man’s eyes were glittering darkly now, like shiny pools of black oil. “You filthy bitch,” he said.

“No dirty talk tonight, pet. I’m in a bit of an ’urry. Need some ’elp, do you?” She reached for him. He slapped her hand away.

“Did you really think you could hide from me?”

“Look ’ere, are you going to—” Polly began. She never finished. Without warning, the man grabbed her by the throat and slammed her into the gate.

“Leave off!” she cried, flailing at him. “Let me go!”

He tightened his grip. “You left us,” he said, his eyes bright with hatred. “Left us for the rats.”

“Please!” she rasped. “Please don’t ’urt me. I don’t know about any rats, I swear it . . . I . . .”


Polly never saw the knife coming. She had no time to scream as it plunged into her belly, biting and twisting. A soft gasp escaped her as he pulled it out. She stared at the blade, uncomprehending, her eyes wide, her mouth a great, round O. Slowly, delicately, she touched her fingers to the wound. They came away crimson.

She lifted her eyes to his, her voice rising in a wild, terrified keen, and looked into the face of madness. He raised his knife; it bit into her throat. Her knees buckled and all around her darkness descended, enveloping her, dragging her into a thick and strangling fog, a fog deeper than the river Thames and blacker than the London night that swirled down on her soul.

Copyright © 2002 by Jennifer Donnelly. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Jennifer Donnelly writes books for children and adults, including the novel The Tea Rose. She lives in Brooklyn and upstate New York, with her husband and two greyhounds. She has a passion for tea and roses.

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The Tea Rose 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 313 reviews.
JamieFan More than 1 year ago
I've been looking for another 'historical romance' series since finishing the 'Outlander' saga of Jamie and Claire Fraser--which is, in my humble opinion, the best romance saga of all time! But I digress--This wonderful book was recommended to me by a fellow 'Outlander lover' as almost as good as the 'O' series; and she was RIGHT! I loved the characters, the pathos, the descriptive language, the rich development of characters, and the nail-biting murder mystery of the victims of Jack the Ripper. All in all, I'd recommend this book to anyone ruined as I was for any other books except those written by the fabulous Diana Gabaldon. Jennifer Donnelly's writing is almost as wonderful as Herself's prose. I'm just starting 'The Winter Rose'--and can't wait for 'The Wild Rose' which is supposed to be coming out sometime in the next year. If you like historical romance that doesn't devolve into a 'bodice ripper' but has a wonderful love story woven throughout, you will love this book!
TeeNY More than 1 year ago
I loved reading The Tea Rose. I could not put it down. The author keeps it exciting and fast paced. It has a little of everything in it. It was romantic,sensual, thrilling, intense and truimphet. I just finished the book and now I am reading The Winter Rose.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jennifer Donnelly has the ability to pull the reader in as she spins her story. You feel the hope, despair, loneliness, happiness and love as the characters unfold. Don't let the size of this book stop you from reading the wonderful words Donnelly has written-you won't be sorry!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't even know where to begin, I have two chapters left till I finish the book. I am 17 years old and I just can't come to my senses on how amazing this book is. I couldn't put it down and not wonder what would come next. It brought me to tears too many times happy ones, sad ones, angry ones etc. I found my self laughing a lot and I would read as I walked home! Fiona, a wonderful, strong, beautiful, honest girl who suffers a lot and yet keeps her life going. Amazing love story. Tastefully done. Justice served, this book has it all! Marvelous! I can't wait to read everything else Ms. Donnelly has written. PLEASE PLEASE DON'T HESITATE IN READING THIS BOOK. I ASSURE YOU, YOU WONT REGRET IT!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author takes us back in history inviting us to walk the streets of London in the "not to good times" and take a strong character such as Fiona and allow her to blossom from a young girl to a woman with fiery drive and compassion to those that she loved and lost; this is a time in the new world when it was totally unheard of for women to be successful in the world of business. I couldn't put this book down and what a book for television or movies!!!!!!!!!! Jennifer Donnelly.....what a great job and all of your hard work is worth it! Keep 'em coming! This book is #1 on MY list!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Must read. This book has all the drama of real life. A very clean and decent read on how one bad decision will impact the rest of your life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely LOVE books by Catherine Cookson. But, since she is virtually impossible to find, it is WONDERFUL to find someone who writes similarly to her. I love stories about the servant classes of Victorian England but I LOATHE the "bodice ripper" type of book. So, it is very hard for me to find a book that I like as well as I like this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful story, the best of the series. Unsicomoro
grad_jessy More than 1 year ago
It is rare for me to get into a book so much where I begin to wonder of the characters and plot twists when I have to pry myself away from the story. Jennifer Donnelly's writing entranced me from the very beginning and kept my constant attention throughout. I find that I am often bored in books and it can be a struggle to get through a story, but this book was a constant page turner. A very rare book indeed packed with memorable characters filled with hardship and courage to get themselves back up on their feet.
butterflyES More than 1 year ago
This book lets you know jusy how easy it is for your entire life to change in a fraction of a second! It shows you should never take advantage of what is good in your life you should always savor every waking moment! This book made me laugh, cry, gasp, hold my breath, everything you cam think of it did. Its a heartwrenching story that will stay with me for a long time to come! Great, expressive, amazing read!
Bostoncharm More than 1 year ago
This book is exciting, heartfelt, smart, witty and the author doesn't let you down. (I couldn't read this book fast enough) You will fall in love with the characters and this wonderful writer brings them to life! If your a fan of Materpiece Theater type books.. you will love this!! The next book in the series is even better.
an-avid-readerPK More than 1 year ago
I had read "A Northern Light" and had to read another one of Jennifer Donnelly's book, bought "The Tea Rose", could not put it down, I stayed up untill 3am last night to finish it. This will definitely go on one of my favorites list. If you love romance, murder, suspence, and the bad guy getting what he deserves then you will really enjoy this book. Don't miss out GET IT. And just incase in happens I did not put + or % signs in this, I hope B&N get that fixed very soon. Oh will be buying "The Winter Rose".
BabaJoe More than 1 year ago
I got this book on a whim. I had a gift card, and was trying to fill it up. I stumbled on this because one the staff recommended it. It was one of the best book I have ever bought. So far, I have recommended it to four people and they loved it as well. The characters are so real that you feel you know them and care for them as the story progresses. At times, I felt like I was in the story. It struck so many emotions in me, I felt for the characters. It has everything a good book needs, romance, murder, mystery, comedy. It is just a spectacular read. I could not put it down and that is a test of a truly, good book: When you try and put it down chapter after chapter but you keep reading. 5 stars, 2 thumbs up. Amazing book.
caiseemontgomery More than 1 year ago
I am pretty picky when it comes to books and this one was fantastic! I enjoyed everything about it, the characters were great and the love story was wonderful... I enjoyed it immensely! I'm onto to The Winter Rose now~ It was a very well written book and fast paced! I didn't get bored once. Definitely read it, it's a book I think any woman would love!
Crimald 8 months ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was amazing. It kept me on the edge of my seat until the last page!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book has a little bit of everything
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Avidreader22DM More than 1 year ago
A very good read!
randi13RG More than 1 year ago
I was shocked how quickly 700+ pages went by.  Such a great story!!! Now onto Winter Rose and Sid Malone!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
tori_g More than 1 year ago
I just completed the "Rose Series" in under a month.  PROS:  With all three books fresh in my mind, I would say that this was my favorite. Fiona, the main character, set the standard for the ensuing Rose characters. She’s strong headed, determined, and disregards societies’ opinion of what a woman’s place should be. I CONS:  - The entire book was quite gripping, but I feel like in an attempt to create climax on top of an already climatic story, the author just kept shoveling on more drama. Sometimes less is more. It eventually became a little unrealistic.  - This book does have mature (very descriptive) sexual content.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was terrific! Interesting and well developed characters. A plot that twists and turns. People you care about and multiple story lines to keep you thinking. I truly enjoyed this book!!