Finding Lillie

THE BOOK: Finding Lillie


THE AUTHOR: Kate Ferris


SUMMARY: It’s the start of the 20th Century in New York, yet expectations for wealthy, socially privileged women are still very Victorian: marry, have children, be employed but only in good works. And obey your husband, or his mother, if your husband is the dead son of Antoinette Thompson. Lillie Thompson, the child of a minister, was brought up to be subservient and to keep opinions to herself regardless of what she thought. Lillie is college-educated, worked as a librarian before marrying Pierre Thompson, is childless, and enjoys the comradery and intellectual stimulation of her literary group who read the novels of the day. She tries her best to be socially correct, but is always a disappointment to her mother-in-law. She enjoys the friendship of a young man, but is oblivious to his real feelings. She falls madly in love with a married man, blinded to the consequences of her actions. Her beloved literary society is a group of opiniated women who enjoy reading the current fiction, yet she assumes too much of their friendship. Long buried family secrets are revealed and Lillie makes a decision not so very different from those of the past.

Image previewTHE BACK STORY: Many years ago, I wrote a paper for an American Studies course on the anti-suffragists, the women who didn’t want women to get the vote. That paper gave birth to this novel decades later. I wanted to explore what life was like for an educated woman who didn’t want to embrace the social expectations of the time. I also wanted to see how women were depicted in the fiction of the time and how that would reflect or influence the main character.

WHY THIS TITLE: Lillie is in search of her true self in a time when women were expected to behave according to the high and rigid standards society set for them.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: For fans of the British television series “Downton Abbey,” we saw how the Crawley sisters and the English aristocracy lived and behaved in the 1910s. But what about the wealthy American woman at the start of the 20th Century? How was she expected to act and live her life? Was it any different? Extensively researched, “Finding Lillie” provides vivid descriptions of American life of the early 1900s in New York City, the Thousand Islands of upstate NY, and Saratoga Springs, NY.


5 Stars Amazon.

4 Stars Goodreads: “Lillie leads us through the life of a spunky turn-of-the-century woman, who embodies wit, charm, and determination. Ms Ferris has so thoroughly researched the history, art, architecture, fashion and decorum, that the reader feels transported. She fleshes out her characters in such delicious detail that I found myself almost among them, barely taking a breath from start to finish. It’s a fun and emotional story that so held me in its grip, I finished fervently hoping there would be a sequel. This first novel is clearly a labor of love, and has taken the author to places in her imagination we all only aspire to. Thanks for a tantalizing treat, Ms Ferris!” — L. Lake

“I’ve just finished reading FINDING LILLIE and loved it. What a terrific job you’ve done with bringing her to life…The story arch, Lillie’s character development and growth, her obstacles, conflict and dramatic tension are so well executed. You’ve vividly depicted NYC at the opening of the 20th century – both as a place and the world of the wealthy and the poor. “– D. Marcil (retired literary agent)

“I started your fabulous book last night and even though I didn’t want to put it down, I eventually fell asleep with it by my side. Then I dreamed about Lillie (we were friends of course) and woke up to finish it around 1 am. .COULD.NOT.WAIT.TO.FINISH. I sooooo enjoyed it, all of my favorite aspects of a good book are included: character development and seeing/feeling/smelling what was going on. The references to the classics that the book club read made me feel well-read…The history of Librarianship, Boldt Castle, Saratoga and the Suffrage movement in general was really good and I found myself saying, “I know that view” or “I know that street”. Well done.” — B. Whalen Nevin (librarian)

“Finished ‘Finding Lillie.’ When’s the sequel coming out?…It is a page turner. I didn’t want to put it down. I’ve been reading Maisie Dobbs books and re-watching Downton Abbey so it got right into that time period (though a little earlier). I loved it–so well written and so descriptive…so so much more eloquent than some books I’ve picked up at the library that looked good (and were incredibly disappointing because of the writing). It’s a really lovely, very well written book!” —  S. Moore Palumbo (teacher)

AUTHOR PROFILE: Her debut novel, “Finding Lillie” is the culmination of Kate Ferris’ career in books and writing. She has a Masters degree in Library Science, but her vocation took her into the fields of advertising, public relations, thoroughbred racing, higher education, non-profits, and county government. She spent the first part of her career in New York City, and has lived the last 30+ years in Saratoga Springs. She spends much of each summer in the Thousand Islands.


Chapter One

Yet again, she proved him wrong. Daniel assumed she would be eager to see him. Though she didn’t ask him in all the time, this month he was sure she would invite him in for tea and he would hand the envelope to her personally. But a new housekeeper answered the door instead. She said Lillie’s mother-in-law was visiting and it wasn’t a convenient time for her to see him. His disappointment had left him tongue-tied. He had managed to blurt out “for her” as he handed the envelope to the maid and made a hasty retreat along West 82nd Street. He didn’t want to be anywhere near if Mrs. Thompson Senior was in the house.

Walking into Central Park, he wondered why Lillie had a way of flustering him so. He normally considered himself self-assured, out-going, one who got along easily with people. Even though he wasn’t one of the blue bloods, he believed he was as respected by them as he was with the people of his old Brooklyn neighborhood. Women found him attractive, being that he was well-educated and a lawyer. Yet somehow when it came to Lillie Thompson, he had to battle the butterflies to complete a sentence.

Today as he rang the doorbell, he thought he had the butterflies under control. He imagined that, after some polite conversation over a cup of tea, he would ask her to dinner for later in the week. But there was a new housekeeper and her mother-in-law was visiting. Former mother-in-law, he reminded himself.

No, he wouldn’t leave this to chance any more. Just because this was aught-three, it didn’t mean he shouldn’t do this properly, as only the young Mrs. Thompson would expect.

Daniel picked up his pace. He had a new plan.

Lillie stared out the window overlooking the back garden, one hand mindlessly spinning a world globe. She was only half aware of a robin hopping amid the dead winter garden in search of food. Things were really getting impossible with Madame T. Today’s intrusion into her life was so annoying, and she didn’t have the faintest idea how to put a stop to her. Her friends constantly reminded her that she was a former in-law, that she was now related in name only. Nonetheless, as the widow of Madame T’s only child, she felt obligated to be a dutiful daughter-in-law.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” Mary Elizabeth said repeatedly, finally getting Lillie’s attention and handing an envelope to her mistress. “Mr. Thorn stopped by earlier to deliver this. I told him you were with her ladyship and he said he would call some other time.”

“Ah yes, it is the first of the month. How foolish of me not to remember.” Lillie patted her hair as though to calm the thoughts in her head.

“And you best be going if you are going to make your appointment this afternoon,” added the housekeeper.

Lillie looked at the clock on the mantel over the fireplace. “Yes, indeed, I must be going. Thank you so much for reminding me! What would I do without you, Mary Elizabeth?”

The housekeeper grinned as Lillie hurried from the room.

“God save us from stupid women.”

Lillie burst out laughing while Josephine shook her head in disbelief. Lillie had never thought of her mother-in-law as stupid. Selfish, meddlesome, and definitely without a care for the consequences of her words or actions. “Arrogant” was a polite description of her. “Foolish” fit as well, but Lillie found “stupid” so very apt.

Josephine continued, “She called you a fool just because you hired a servant without social references?”

“Lord, yes.” Lillie shook her head. “Mary Elizabeth came to me from an employment agency. She told me that after her mother died, she made sure her sisters and brothers were fed, clothed, and went to school. Then her father got sick and she needed to find more work. Just because she doesn’t have half a dozen references from New York society, it doesn’t mean she isn’t capable of managing a household. So far she’s doing an excellent job.”

Their conversation was interrupted by the waiter setting out the tea service at their table. The women had met at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on 34th Street, not because it was the most fashionable place to be seen in New York City, but because women were allowed in without male escorts. This was in no small part due to Louise Boldt who worked along with her husband George in running two of the world’s most distinguished hotels, the Waldorf-Astoria and the Bellevue in Philadelphia.

Jo allowed Lillie to pour as was their usual custom. Many was the time Lillie had served tea at the monthly gathering of the women’s church guild, all good, godly, wealthy Episcopalians in her father’s, the late Reverend Tuttle, congregation. Her mother had instructed her incessantly on how to set the tray, pour the tea, and carefully hand the cups to the guests so that the handle was on the right-hand side facing the person. She was expected to have all the graces of someone quite accustomed to mingling with polite society while caring for the needs of her father’s flock.

“One should never allow the strainer to touch the cup for fear of chipping it,” said Lillie, imitating a French accent. “Or at least that is what my mother-in-law always says. One lump or two?”

Jo eyed the sugar tongs warily. Lillie knew Jo would just as soon grab a couple of cubes with her fingers. Lillie clicked the tongs menacingly.

“Two. How do you do that so easily?”

“What my mother didn’t teach me, God rest her soul, my mother-in-law completed my social training. Though I never do anything quite good enough or I’m not grateful enough for the old so and so.”

“Oh yes, so go on with the story about Mary Elizabeth.” Jo helped herself to one of the pastries on the tea tray.

Lillie sighed. “Well, it’s really not so much about Mary Elizabeth as it is about Madame T, I suppose. She is a product of her upbringing as much as any of us. But she does infuriate me sometimes.”

Jo grabbed another cube of sugar. “Why do you call her Madame T?”

“I’ve never told you this story? And we’ve been members of the Blue Stocking Society for how long?” Jo shrugged her shoulders in reply. “Any way, it was when Pierre and I were getting married. She and I were having a conversation in the solarium. We were discussing some of the wedding plans when she brought up the subject of names.”

“Names?” Jo raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, what I was to call her. She said that she didn’t want to do what her very own mother did. She had to call her Comtesse.” Lillie paused to take a sip of tea.

“Can you imagine growing up calling your mother Comtesse?” she continued. “So much for ‘Mummy.’ Anyhow, she said that calling her ‘Lady Thompson’ was too formal. She was too fond of me for that and especially since I was going to be her new daughter-in-law. But calling her Antoinette, by her first name, was much too familiar. So, I was to address her as ‘Madame T.’”

“Madame T? God save us from stupid women,” Josephine said again.

The two women giggled which generated curious glances from neighboring tables. They stifled their outbreak and returned to sipping their tea.

Lillie took a bite of scone then continued, “After only a few months of marriage, I learned what a vicious woman she really is and started calling her the Valkyrie. To myself, of course. Pierre would never have understood the connection between his mother and the angel of death swooping in, deciding who lives and who dies. He was too much a mama’s boy to see the humor in it.”

Lillie fell silent for a moment and Jo noticed her staring at her left hand. She still wore her wedding band and the engagement ring Pierre had bought her at Tiffany’s. It was a brilliant emerald surrounded by diamonds. A modest ring to the Valkyrie, but quite extraordinary to Lillie.

“It’s time to move on with your life. Pierre isn’t coming back, though I know you’ll always love him.”

Lillie jerked her head up. “Always love him?” A dark cloud crossed her face. “I doubt if I was ever in love with Pierre,” she confessed. “I think I was in love with the idea of being married. Isn’t that what we are raised to do? Marry to the best of our ability and become devoted wives and loving mothers? Certainly, my mother was in love with the idea of my marrying well, and the sooner the better. But…” she hesitated, “Love Pierre?” Lillie shuttered, then squared her shoulders. “More tea?”

If this admission surprised Jo, she didn’t let it show. “It’s been nearly two years since he died. Isn’t it time you got on with your life and met someone new?”

Lillie poured another cup of tea for herself and her friend. “I wouldn’t mind meeting someone. It is rather difficult being a widow. So many women are afraid I’m out to steal their husbands. My mother must have told me a thousand times that we are meant to be couples just like in Noah’s Ark. But I am getting exceedingly tired of people introducing me to ‘suitable’ gentlemen, even Madame T’s doing it.”

“What does she have to do with it?”

Lillie frowned. “Well, you would think that she would want me to mourn over Pierre forever. Yet a few weeks ago, she invited me to dinner. I know she just wanted me to even out the table, so she had me sit next to this English baron. It was the most boring dinner of my life.” Lillie passed a hand over her brow. “He was rotund, his face was blotchy red, and he had the most dreadful teeth. And he was a lecherous old sot, to boot! At the end of the dinner she and the baron had a discreet conversation, the two of them staring at me. Later she said she cares so much for me and wants me to be happy and thinks the baron will be a

perfect match. Fortunately, he left town almost immediately and I didn’t have to refuse him. Otherwise I would still be hearing the Valkyrie tell me how pathetic and ungrateful I am.”

“So why don’t you tell her to mind her own business?”

“Oh Lord.” Lillie slumped as her resolve melted at the thought. “I wish I could. I want to, really, but it’s too difficult. I don’t have what it takes to tell her off to her face.”

“I think you’re being too nice to her,” said Jo. “You’ve got your own life to lead and don’t need her interfering with it.”

“Yes, I know. But her husband’s paralyzed and her only child is dead. I do feel sorry for her.”

Jo shook her head in exasperation.

As they were preparing to leave, the hotel proprietor’s wife, Louise Boldt, greeted Lillie warmly. “How lovely to see you, Mrs. Thompson! What a grand time we had last month! We must do that again. Only this time, you must come up to the Thousand Islands and see the little cottage George is building for me.”

“I would be delighted,” Lillie smiled, then turned to her companion. “May I present Mrs. Lucas Jones? This is Mrs. George Boldt.”

They exchanged pleasantries for a few moments, then Mrs. Boldt excused herself to attend to some pressing business. Lillie and Jo left the hotel and walked along Fifth Avenue. It was overcast and there was a stiff breeze. Lillie tied her hat tighter against the wind.

“Oh, won’t that be lovely,” teased Jo. “You and the Boldts and a few dozen of their closest friends.”

“Oh bosh!” cried Lillie. “I’m as likely to get invited to the middle of nowhere with them as I am to ever make the Valkyrie happy. I only met the Boldts at my in-laws at a party a few weeks ago. Mrs. Boldt rolled her eyes at me when Baron What’s His Name was flirting with me. I could tell that she thought the Valkyrie was…well, never mind. But I’m sure if I do get invited, it will be as an accessory to Madame T. Young widows don’t get invited to house parties unchaperoned.” Lillie grimaced. “I’m taking a cab home. Do you want a ride?

“No thanks,” Jo said. “I’ll see you at next week’s meeting?”

“I wouldn’t miss it.”

LOCAL OUTLETS: Northshire Bookstore (Manchester, VT & Saratoga Springs, NY) and their website The Little Book Store (Clayton, NY).


PRICE: $19.95


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Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

2 thoughts on “Finding Lillie”

  1. I am so pleased to see Finding Lillie on Snowflakes. The author is a friend and I love what Darrell does with this site. And, oh yeah, I read and liked the book. (My personal review can be found elsewhere.)


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