Gemma Hardy’s story parallels Jane Eyre’s experiences—both have an evil aunt and have to work for their educations at boarding school as charity girls. Both girls are bullied and treated unfairly by family, school staff, and students. Both girls have disappointments with men who have secrets. If you enjoyed Charlotte Bronte’s gothic tales or Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, you will love The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey. Set in the 1950’s and 1960’s in Scotland and Iceland, the author uses the imagery of birds and flight to underscore Gemma’s journey.
Gemma is stubborn and uncompromising but plucky, curious, very bright and a little fey. Born of a Scottish mother and an Icelandic father, she is torn from her home in Iceland when her parents die. Her uncle, a minister, takes her to Scotland to live and, with love and patience, helps her adjust. After her uncle tragically dies, her aunt rids herself of the responsibility of ten-year-old Gemma when she is sent to work for her education at Claypoole School. It is heart-breaking to read about Gemma wondering why everybody she loves is taken from her.
Cinderella’s life seems easy compared to Gemma’s. She tries to fly away from her troubles, but more find her. She ends up almost homeless, but like Cinderella, she does have some fairy godmothers (and godfathers) who help her—teachers and doctors and her employers try to make her way easier. Gemma soldiers on and follows the advice of her fellow charity girl, “Hardy, live up to your name.” Gemma’s struggles to achieve a university education help her become an adult and also become less judgmental.
As she grows up, she learns the secrets her family and her fiancée kept from her, and she travels to Iceland to find her father’s family and achieves her goal of being beloved and not just regarded.