Cover image for Julia's story
Julia's story
Harris, Ruth Elwin.
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
Cambridge, MA : Candlewick Press, 2002, 1989.
Physical Description:
301 pages ; 20 cm.
After growing up near London in the shadow of her more talented sister, portrait artist Frances Purcell finds a kindred spirit in their guardian's son, and self-worth as a nurse in France during World War I.
General Note:
Originally published under title: The dividing sea. London : Walker Books, 1989.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library X Young Adult Mass Market Paperback Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Four independent-minded sisters come of age in the early 1900s - and four interwoven novels tell their stories, each through a different sister's eyes.

The year is 1910, and the four Purcell sisters have only each other. Their mother has died, leaving them orphans in a rambling country estate. But with the help of the Mackenzies - their guardian and his family, whom the sisters come to love in very different ways - Sarah, Frances, Julia, and Gwen find the courage to follow their own paths in a world that is rapidly changing.
Avid readers and fans of historical-fiction classics will love these spirited heroines - named "the Little Women of our times" by the TIMES of London - and will be thoroughly absorbed by their intertwining tales, full of feistiness, creativity, and young romance.

Author Notes

Ruth Elwin Harris began storytelling during the Second World War when she and her brother went to stay with their grandfather in his isolated Somerset house. "We led a very solitary existence," she says. "Not that we minded. We read a lot and made up stories to entertain each other." It is that house, christened Hillcrest, that plays an important part in her Quantock Hills series. "My grandfather bought it in the 1930s from three elderly sisters - all of whom had been painters. Their murals still remained on the stable walls. I used to think about those sisters and wonder about life in the village when they were young."



Geoffrey often came over to Hillcrest during the Easter holidays, at first with Antony but later, as he became more at ease, on his own. He was quiet but observant, sometimes content to sit in watchful silence, sometimes asking questions. He wanted to know about Commander Purcell's portrait hanging on the wall and was surprised to learn that it had been painted by Mrs. Purcell. "But it's a proper portrait," he said. Gwen and Julia looked at each other but made no comment. "Why the tropical uniform?" was his next question. They explained, reluctantly because of the voyage's end, that Commander Purcell had been about to depart for the Far East with his ship at the time. Presumably Geoffrey sensed something was wrong for he changed the subject quickly, admiring instead the embroidery lying on a nearby chair. "Mother sews a lot," he said when Julia admitted that it was hers. "You ought to talk to her." They liked having Geoffrey around. They could ask him questions they felt unable to ask of the other Mackenzies. Why was Antony educated at home, for instance, when his brothers had been sent away to school? "He did go to school once, but he nearly died during his first term. Scarlet fever, it was. They had to pray for him in church, three Sundays running." Such a necessity was obviously a source of pride. "Father's taught him at home ever since. He's delicate, Mother says." Geoffrey admitted to being envious. "I hate school." Julia found that hard to understand. She had been sorry to leave hers; she missed it still. Lying awake in bed she would sometimes picture herself returning to the familiar buildings, being greeted by Miranda Cartwright and welcomed by Miss Teasdale, the art mistress. Occasionally she dreamt of the old days, always waking afterwards with an oppressive sense of loss. Geoffrey was happy at Hillcrest. "It's so comfortable, somehow," he said, as if the Rectory were not. He was toasting muffins at the time, kneeling up on the hearthrug. "Muffins come up on a special plate at home," he said, "with a silver cover like the dome of St. Paul's to keep them hot. They don't taste as nice somehow, if you haven't cooked them yourself. They aren't as hot either." His face was crimson from the heat of the fire. Julia wanted to draw him but was too shy to ask. It was Antony, told in confidence by Sarah, who blurted it out later. Geoffrey thought Julia must be joking. "What do you want to draw me for?" "I like drawing people. I always have. I've only got us now that we're come home. I persuaded Antony to pose once, but he was hopeless." It wasn't so much that Antony couldn't keep still, but that he would play the fool, waggling his fingers in his ears and sticking out his tongue. "Like this, Julia? Like this?" Sometimes she found twelve-year-old boys hard to understand. "I don't mind you drawing me if you want to," Geoffrey said, "as long as I can see what you've done." He made no comment when she did so, favourable or otherwise. She suspected that he had expected a portrait like that of Commander Purcell and was disappointed. "You have to look and watch first, and then do lots of sketches," she explained. "I'm not very good yet, so I just do quick drawings. I might try something formal in the summer, when I know you better." The summer holidays seemed a long way off, with three months of the summer term lying between. When Geoffrey went back to school, Julia was surprised to discover that she missed him. In the old days - before January - divisions in the Purcell family had been clear-cut. Frances was a member of the adult world; Julia and Gwen were children; Sarah was in the nursery. Things had changed since Mrs. Purcell's death. Julia no longer felt herself to be a child, but neither did she feel grown-up. Gwen took it for granted that Julia was her companion still; Frances expected her to be supporter and confidante. She did not know where her place lay. She felt that Geoffrey and she had family position as well as their age in common. She hid her insecurity better than he did, perhaps, but she sensed that they were much alike. JULIA'S STORY: SISTERS OF THE QUANTOCK HILLS by Ruth Elwin Harris. Copyright (c) 1989 by Ruth Elwin Harris. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA. Excerpted from Julia's Story by Ruth Elwin Harris All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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