9 min read ⌚
Are you ready for a visit in yet another fictional haunted house?
If so – join us, as we follow the footsteps of Kate Morton and try to uncover the mystery of The Clockmaker’s Daughter.
Who Should Read “The Clockmaker’s Daughter”? And Why?
The Clockmaker’s Daughter – as a Washington Post review by Jess Righthand states – assembles all the familiar trappings of a good ghost story.
In other words: “the titular character’s death under mysterious circumstances; a delightfully haunted house; and of course, the present-day saps who decide they’d better get to the bottom of it all.”
If that strikes your fancy and you like Kate Morton’s style (The Lake House, The Distant Hours, The Forgotten Garden), then there’s no way you won’t enjoy The Clockmaker’s Daughter.
See why in the summary below.nul
Kate Morton Biography
Kate Morton is undoubtedly one of Australia’s most shining gems due to her amazing writings and publications.
She has sold millions of copies in 40+ countries all around the globe.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter is 500-pages long and winding mystery novel covering over two centuries of history – most of them packed in the Birchwood Manor, an estate on the Upper Thames. Consequently, it has more than one narrator.
The primary one is Albertine “Birdie” Bell, which is pretty strange considering the fact that she dies the year the novel begins – which is 1862.
Yup, you’ve read that right: most of this novel is narrated by a ghost haunting the Birchwood Manor.
The life of the second most important protagonist, Elodie Winslow, is told through a third-person all-seeing narrator in the present (2017).
However, there are many other characters whose lives we learn a lot about on the pages of The Clockmaker’s Daughter.
They all get to meet the ghost of Birdie Bell (in one way or another) since they are all inhabitants of the Birchwood Manor.
Which is undoubtedly the best place to start our summary.
The Legend of Birchwood Manor
Back in the 19th century, it was believed that the Birchwood Manor had been built on land blessed by none other than a Fairy Queen.
Because it is in that house that a loving couple, a long time ago, managed to protect its children from harm.
According to many people, these children have haunted the house ever since: supposedly, sometimes, a light turns itself on in the attic window of the house.
And that’s precisely why the main narrator of The Clockmaker’s Daughter, Albertine “Birdie” Bell, came to the house back in the summer of 1862.
Though, being a ghost now, she knows that the above story is not true one bit:
We came to Birchwood Manor because Edward said it was haunted. It wasn’t, not then, but it’s a dull man who lets truth stand in the way of a good story, and Edward was never that.
His passion, his blinding faith in whatever he professed, was one of the things I fell in love with. He had the preacher’s zeal, a way of expressing opinions that minted them into gleaming currency. A habit of drawing people to him, of firing in them enthusiasms they hadn’t known were theirs, making all but himself and his convictions fade.
I remember him. I remember everything.
Who’s this Edward guy and how did our main protagonist fell in love with him?
Well, read on to find out!
Birdie’s Back Story
Albertine “Birdie” Bell didn’t have a great childhood.
The daughter of a clockmaker, she spent her early years believing that her father had abandoned her. In fact, as she learns on the very day of her death, he wanted to make a life for both of them in America but was killed by a horse before he could achieve that.
Be that as it may, in the meantime he left her in a house of petty thieves, and in the care of Mrs. Mack, a sort of a leader of the group.
Long story short – in time, Birdie became a pickpocket herself.
This is how Morton describes the moment when Birdie is first caught stealing by an aristocratic lady:
Over the years I had prepared myself for this precise scenario. I had been through it many times in my head. I should have feigned innocence, widened my eyes and pretended that it was all a mistake, perhaps even produced some pitiable tears. But I was caught unawares… Against this lady with her fancy hat, fine manners, and wounded delicacy, I was nothing.
Luckily, a prince on a white horse comes to her rescue.
And that guy is none other but a painter, the leader of the Magenta Brotherhood.
1862: The Magenta Brotherhood at Birchwood Manor
The Magenta Brotherhood is a group of talented young artists who descend upon the art world of the 19th century with a lot of passion and enthusiasm, embodied in their leader, Victorian painter Edward Radcliffe.
If you need real-life analogs to the characters of our story, google “Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood” and “Dante Gabriel Rossetti.”
Most of the things you know about the former can be applied to the Magenta Brotherhood: they too want to enthuse art with some new energy, utilizing novel techniques and creating seductive images.
Some of the things you know about Dante Gabriel Rossetti are true for Edward Radcliffe as well. Like, for example, that he had a keen eye for artists’ models; and that he fell in love with his muse.
In the case of Rossetti, the girl’s name was Elizabeth Siddal; in the case of Edward Radcliffe, it is Albertine “Birdie” Bell, or, as we soon learn, actually, Lily Millington.
After paying an obscene amount of money to Mrs. Mack for Lily, Radcliffe wins both the time and the heart of our protagonist.
In the summer of 1862, the two visit the Birchwood Manor, together with all of the members of the Magenta Brotherhood; their intention is to spend one last summer in their company before sailing away to America in search of a better life.
However, by the end of the summer, Fanny, Edward’s estranged fiancée, is shot dead by a supposed robber, an heirloom diamond called the Radcliffe Blue has disappeared, and there’s no sign of Lily anywhere.
It isn’t difficult to connect the dots: Lily, the one-time pickpocket Birdie, made a deal with one of her old friends, who subsequently killed Fanny, stole the diamond, and together with her ran off to America.
But, of course, that’s not the whole story.
2017: The Satchel and the Archivist
Back in the present, Elodie Winslow is a young archivist at Stratton, Caldwell & Co., a London firm. The daughter of a celebrated and deceased cellist, Elodie is engaged to a domineering and bullying mama’s boy named Alastair.
One day at work, Elodie discovers an old leather satchel; in it, there’s an artist’s sketchbook and a photograph. While cataloging the items, Elodie’s attention is grabbed by some of the sketches.
One of them features a beautiful young woman wearing the heirloom diamond we mentioned above, the Radcliffe Blue. And another one is the sketch of a house which reminds Elodie a lot of one her deceased mother told her many stories about.
So, Elodie decides to discover the story behind the sketches, and her journey leads her to Birchwood Manor.
And she is merely the latest of the many guests the ghost of Lily has already entertained.
1899: Ada Lovegrove and the Blue Light
Three decades after Lily died during the events for which she was deemed the cause, Ada Lovegrove was a student at a school located at Birchwood Manor.
The school was opened by none other than Lucy Radcliffe, Edward’s little sister; Edward, in the meantime, had died, after living a few solitary and depressed years following the death of Lily.
Bullied at school, Ada nearly lost her life one day, during a boating accident which cost the life of another girl.
How did Ada survive even though she could not swim?
Lily helped her, by appearing to her underwater and telling her to follow the blue light.
After the accident, Ada wasn’t tortured anymore.
1928: Leonard and Juliet
In 1928, Leonard, a historian still in grief over the death of his brother Tom in the First World War arrives at Birchwood Manor to research the life of Edward Radcliffe and his possible love affair with Lily.
He is aided in his research by the now-elderly Lucy, Edward’s sister.
Leonard is doubly devastated by the death of his brother because he had had an affair with his fiancée, and he is somehow inclined to believe that the latter had contributed to the former.
At Birchwood Manor, Leonard crosses path with Juliet, with whom he eventually becomes friends.
1940: Juliet and Her Children
In 1940, in an attempt to escape the London Blitz (during which her house is destroyed), Juliet takes refuge at Birchwood Manor with her three children.
Her husband Alan, we learn, had been killed in the war.
Tip, Juliet’s youngest son, develops a connection with Lily, and, after a few meetings, he tells his mother.
You can’t blame Juliet for not believing him.
However, later, at a restaurant in Birchwood, Juliet meets Ada. During a conversation, Ada understands that Tip is seeing the same ghost who had saved her life.
So, she suggests Juliet that Tip is not lying, after which he starts an in-depth conversation with the boy.
1862: The Story of Lucy
Now that the stories of a few of the Birchwood tenants through the years connect, it’s time we go back to 1862 and find out what really happened during the visit of the Magenta Brotherhood.
And we learn about these events through the story of Lucy, Edward’s then thirteen-year-old sister.
We learn that Lucy was in the house when Mrs. Mack’s son, Martin Mack, entered the house to look for Lily and ask her a few things about the Blue Radcliffe.
Lucy didn’t only overhear this discussion but also saw how Martin was dragging the unconscious Lily by her wrist.
In an attempt to help her, she hit Martin on the head and then locked Lily in a secret compartment at Birchwood Manor.
However, during the struggle, she suffered a head injury herself and couldn’t explain to the police what had happened other than Lily talking to an old acquaintance of hers, Martin.
And that persuaded the police in the Lily/Martin robbery plot they had been suspicious about from the start.
Years later, however, in a suitcase she had never unpacked, Lucy discovers the Radcliffe Blue diamond.
And, in a revelatory flash, she is suddenly capable of remembering everything – not only the fact that she put the diamond in her case after the arrival of Martin, but also that she had locked Lily in the secret compartment.
After the death of her brother, that’s exactly where she finds her dead body.
Lucy buries Lily’s remains in a casket in the front yard of Birchwood Manor; besides her body, she leaves a letter detailing her life; above it, she plants a Japanese maple sapling.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter Epilogue
Back in 2017 – exactly one hundred and thirty-five years after the burial of Lily (which had occurred two decades after her death – Elodie visits the Birchwood Manor in an attempt to uncover the mystery of the artist’s sketchbook.
Due to a storm, her taxi never arrives, and she spends the night there with Jack, a man who is living in Birchwood Manor hoping to find the Blue Radcliffe there.
The storm uproots the maple tree in the front yard, and Elodie and Jack discover that there’s something hidden in the hole beneath it.
As they are waiting for the storm to pass, they agree to dig it up and see what’s under there.
Meanwhile, Lily tells us that even though the mystery of her death has finally been solved, she has no plans of leaving the Birchwood Manor.
In a way, she says, she feels as if she’s a part of the house.
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“The Clockmaker’s Daughter PDF Quotes”People value shiny stones and lucky charms, but they forget that the most powerful talismans of all are the stories that we tell to ourselves and to others. Click To Tweet There are very few certainties in this world, Mr. Gilbert, but I will tell you something I know: the truth depends on who it is that’s telling the story. Click To Tweet No matter what evil might come one's way to be loved is to be protected. Click To Tweet I have learned that one must forgive oneself the past or else the journey into the future becomes unbearable. Click To Tweet What a dignified object was a book, almost noble in its purpose. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
At its best, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a captivating read; at worst, it’s overpopulated.
And for all its merits – mysterious, breathtaking, finely written – The Clockmaker’s Daughter would probably have been a better book if Morton had decided to leave out all of the secondary characters altogether.
The story is excellent as it is – even if Lily, Edward, and Lucy are its only protagonists.
Also published on Medium.