Secret Victorian love story set to be modern bestseller

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The Independent Online
AN ILLUSTRATED book of flowers and poems about a secret love by an amateur Victorian artist, kept from the world for 150 years, is tipped to become a best-seller.

The delicate watercolours of Fanny Robinson of Norfolk use flowers' symbolic language - roses for passion, forget-me-nots for constancy - to echo the fleeting verses she wrote about an unknown, but clearly unattainable, lover.

Entitled simply The Book of Memory, the wistful volume was written privately and kept by her family after her death in 1872, but it is to be published this week, repackaged as The Country Flowers of a Victorian Lady.The title consciously echoes the celebrated 1970s publishing sensation The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden; the book has now sold more than six million copies. But the publishers of Fanny Robinson think they have an even bigger hit on their hands, because along with the beauty and the charm they have a story of love denied.

Born in 1802 into a genteel Yorkshire family, Fanny Robinson married a William Hubbard Burrell of Norfolk and settled with him in Gorleston near Great Yarmouth. But her poems are aimed at another, who may have been the playwright Thoms Haynes Bayly who was studying at Oxford University at the time.

John Luscombe, her great-great-nephew, who is behind the publication, said yesterday: "She was deeply in love, but in Victorian times you didn't just jump into bed with everybody you met. She devoted her life to expressing herself and the book records her love, regret and passion."

The book, to be published on Wednesday by Apollo, has an introduction by Gill Saunders, a senior curator in the Department of Prints, Drawings and Paintings in the Victoria and Albert Museum. She said: "Sketching and painting were standard to a middle-class girl's education in Victorian times. In those days flowers carried subtle meanings. Using the lexicon of plant lore, a carefully chosen bouquet of flowers could be put together to convey a complex message."

Apollo's publishing director Peggy Vance said: "Fanny's book combines evocative poetry with fine illuminations and most startlingly of all, exquisite water colour studies."

The author's descendants have pledged that royalties will go to the charity Landlife, which supports conservation projects across the UK and is run by her great-great-great-nephew, Grant Luscombe.