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The Black Velvet Gown

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  986 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
There would be times when Riah Millican came to regret that her husband had learned to read and write, and then shared his knowledge with her and their children. For this was Durham in the 1830's, when employers tended to regard the spread of education with suspicion. But now Seth Millican was dead and she was a widow with the need to find a home and a living for herself a ...more
Paperback, 356 pages
Published May 1st 1989 by Summit Books (first published 1984)
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Sep 07, 2010 Graceann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Historical fiction fans
I grew up thinking that Catherine Cookson was sort of a lightweight romance author, and thus I never really bothered with her. Imagine my surprise when I picked up The Black Velvet Gown, and found it to be more intricate than I expected, and written in an intelligent, sometimes stark fashion.

Riah is a young 1830s widow who finds that the fact she's been taught to read and write is more of a hindrance than a help. Her children encounter the same prejudices. Her daughter Biddy, especially, finds
Jul 01, 2015 Wendy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like dramas
Shelves: fiction, classics
I absolutely loved this book, and I really didn't expect to. Based on the cover and various descriptions of it and its author, I really expected another shallow, crappy 'historical fiction' (really a romance in pseudo-intellectual clothes). This, to my mind, was nothing of the sort. No, nothing sweeping or epic happens--none of the characters change the world. But they do change their worlds, and that alone was enjoyable enough to read. It really gave you a sense of the conditions of the time pe ...more
Stella Coulson
Mar 11, 2015 Stella Coulson rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tara Chevrestt
Sep 17, 2009 Tara Chevrestt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: england
I didn't realize that the education of the "lower" ranking classes in the late 1800s was such a controversial issue till I picked up this book. For a Cookson novel, it was a tad disappointing.. I have come to expect a bit more out of her. It had an interesting enough start beginning with a woman named Maria and her four children. Her husband has just passed away of Cholera, leaving her with two sons, two daughters, and a small bag of money in a mining town that wishes to kick them out. After bei ...more
Jul 09, 2015 Leslie rated it it was amazing
I love this book and have read it at least 5 times.
I love the last line, "it just showed you that people should be careful before they do a kindness."
just got done reading it again :) 7/9/15
Aug 24, 2012 Laura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bettie, Wanda
Just arrived from USA trough BM.

Page 165:
Books, books, books, I'd like to burn the lot. People are right, the gentry are right, the working class shouldn't be allowed to handle them, the're disturbers, trouble makers.

Page 218:
"In the main, ye happy, because they are satisfied with their lot; but teach them to hold a pen and to read from a page, then you are dropping seeds of discontent into their otherwise content lives.

This is the story of Riah Millican and their children, specially her daught
Cynthia Haggard
Jul 17, 2013 Cynthia Haggard rated it it was amazing
My grandmother, Stephanie Treffry, was a great admirer of Catherine Cookson, and so I picked up this novel to try and find out what she liked so much about this writer.

Like Norah Lofts, another British best-seller, Catherine Cookson’s novels are tied to a particular place, in her case the mining and fishing areas of the north-east around Durham and Tyneside. So it is no surprise that this novel opens next to a coal-pit.

In this novel, however, we have more than one protagonist. The book descripti
Mar 29, 2015 Carmen rated it it was amazing
I am a great fan of Catherine Cookson and read most of her books.In the 1830's in northern England, Riah Millican, a widow with three children, takes a job as housekeeper to a reclusive former teacher, Percival Miller. Miller makes Riah the gift of a black velvet gown, and even educates her children. But when Riah discovers the reason behind Miller's gifts, she vows to leave his house, but Miller has a hold on her, even after his death, when he leaves his house to her on the condition that she n ...more
Cathy Austin
First time I have read Catherine Cookson. Excellent writer. This book is about rising above your social standing. If you are poor you should not rise to greater heights and you should not learn to read or write, no good will come of that. Mind you, it is 1830's we're in, in Durham county, England when children went out to eke out a living young as 7 or so. Main character Biddy does rise above her station and it is that journey that is so well written in The Black Velvet Gown, the ironies, the fa ...more
Jun 15, 2015 Kat rated it liked it
The Black Velvet Gown reads almost like two different books as it appears to be separated into parts. The first part is the story of Riah Millican a recent widow attempting to find employment and shelter for herself and her four young children. The second part primarily focuses on Riah's now grown up daughter Biddy and the trials and tribulations she faces by lowering herself to the task of a laundry maid despite her impressive intellect.

For the first hundred or so pages Riah traipses around the
Clare O'Beara
This is one of Ms Cookson's lengthier and better known works.

The central character is a housemaid in a big country manor who has, unusually, been taught to read. At this time only senior staff like the butler and housekeeper are expected to be literate so it comes as something of a shock when the girl is able to sign her name in thanks for a Christmas gift from her employers. Literate understaff are not desirable - they might read private correspondence, diaries, business papers. The wealthy th
Jul 26, 2009 Barbra rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another good book by this author. Also made into a TV series.

Back Cover Blurb:
This is the story of a mother and her daughter, often at odds with each other, facing the need to challenge and fight the prejudices of the 1830's in the north of England. Now a widow, Riah Millican must look for employment, preferably something that would provide her with a home.
The chance to become a housekeeper didn't work out, but it led to Moor House and a scholarly recluse obsessed with that very book learning th
Debbie Johansson
Apr 03, 2013 Debbie Johansson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourite-books
I really liked this story for its depiction of life in England during the 1830s and for the differences in the class system. It taught me that the upper classes believed that God made the poor the way they were in order to serve the upper class. It was inconceivable for those in the lower order to learn to read and write. I really like strong willed, intelligent Biddy and I always had a thing for Laurence. I originally read this book in my early teens and was my first introduction to Catherine C ...more
Coco Cat
Jun 11, 2015 Coco Cat rated it it was amazing
My 1st Catherine Cookson book. I loved it. I found it very interesting.
Oct 12, 2014 Julie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
great read couldnt put it down
 Northern Light
Reading a Catherine Cooksoon book you know just what you are getting and this book is no exception.

It tells the story of Rhia who recently widowed has to leave her miner's cottage with her four children and try and build a new life. Times are tough and jobs hard to find so she has no choice in doing very long hard hours for little money.

The big story is the attitude to the family's ability to read and write which is seen by many as getting above their station. How they get round this is both sad
Oct 04, 2015 Mutsa rated it it was amazing
great story of struggle and triumph with a hint of romance, good read!
Apr 29, 2013 Jayne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think this is the first Catherine Cookson story I have read. Something about the bookcovers(I know it's bad.) put me off and if I hadn't been starved for choice, I doubt I would have picked this story up.

It's mainly about the relationship between a mother and daughter, where they feel their responsibilities lie, and how it completes their relationship. I enjoyed and could relate to the changes in their relationship as their circumstances changed.

Aug 15, 2011 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When my Nan suggested that I read this I was a little doubtful that it would entertain me, so it was a pleasant surprise that it did and to the point where I wanted to keep reading. I really loved the character of Biddy and when I go back to my Nan I won't be so doubtful of her other Catherine Cookson recommendations.
May 18, 2012 Lili rated it liked it
I read all of Catherine Cookson's books some years ago and enjoyed them immensley. I recently re-read all of them and find that on a second look I found them all so very predictable, and was rather disappointed. However I'm sure that it is my tastes that have changed not the calibre of her story telling.
Feb 15, 2008 Loni rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I did really enjoy this book, but I found the end a bit lacking. It seems to wrap up too quickly for how intricate and complex the plot was wound up. I would like this book better if there was a sequel because it really needs one. The ending just wasn't good enough for the rest of the book.
Aug 15, 2008 Marcene rated it liked it
I saw a movie based off a novel she wrote and wanted to read one of her novels. The book takes place in the 1800's in England. It tells of the sacrifice and strength a lower class mother has after her husband passes away. It was ...okay...a little slow, but for the most part a o.k. book.
Mar 28, 2010 Britt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was hard pressed to really get into it at first. but once I was in the middle, I read it really fast. and towards the end found myself thinking about it (like Marianne said, that tells you it's a good book) and then wishing I had a few more pages to read at the end.
Sep 06, 2011 Joyce rated it liked it
Interesting, but with a strange, sad twist. I always enjoy reading about "ye olde england" because I love learning about the lives of different social classes in those days, and wondering how my ancestors lived.
Oct 31, 2011 Karen rated it really liked it
Recommended to Karen by: Sallyann
Thanks SA for telling me about this author. I really enjoyed this book. There were no surprises but it twas a very pleasant historical romance. I liked her writing style and character development.
Jan 20, 2012 Jen rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. It is a book about the injustices served to different classes of people and the way educating plays a role in the mix. A story of love, hardship and fortune.
Lynn Smith
Good solid family saga. Very accurate and descriptive detail of the social and economic conditions of the middle period of the 19th century in the North East of England.
Aug 24, 2012 Christine rated it really liked it
This is my first by Catherine Cookson, but won't be my last. I feared it would be too romancy, but it was a well-researched, interesting story of life in England in the 1800s.
Jul 02, 2010 Sabra rated it it was amazing
I have read almost all of Catherine Cooksons books. I have read them more than once. I enjoy her writing very much!
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Catherine Cookson was born in Tyne Dock, the illegitimate daughter of a poverty-stricken woman, Kate, who Catherine believed was her older sister. Catherine began work in service but eventually moved south to Hastings, where she met and married Tom Cookson, a local grammar-school master.

Although she was originally acclaimed as a regional writer - her novel The Round Tower won the Winifred Holtby
More about Catherine Cookson...

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