Home > 19th Century, Australian Literature, Beach and Public Transports Books, Cambridge Ada, Classics, Novella, Sugar without cellulite > A Humble Enterprise by Ada Cambridge – Melbourne, tea cups and romance

A Humble Enterprise by Ada Cambridge – Melbourne, tea cups and romance

A Humble Entreprise by Ada Cambridge. (1896) Not available in French.

I decided to sign up for Australian Women Writer Challenge again. I had joined this literary event in 2018 and all my Australian readings are in here. AWW (#AWW2020) is hosted by Australian bloggers and its rules are described on their website.

The idea is to read four, six, ten or more books written by Australian women writers. I’ve already read four, so I’m joining the party now. The first ones are two books by Catherine Helen Spence, her novel Mr Hogarth’s Will and her Autobiography

I had A Humble Entreprise by Ada Cambridge on the TBR because it was included in my omnibus collection of books by Cambridge that I acquired when I read The Three Miss Kings.

It also includes Sisters, A Mere Chance, Materfamilias, The Retrospect and her memoirs Thirty Years in Australia. I’ve read Sisters (upcoming billet). Among the ones I still have on the TBR, which one would you recommend?

A Humble Entreprise doesn’t seem to be one of Cambridge’s most famous books, it’s not even listed on her Wikipedia page.

A Humble Entreprise opens with a familiar scene of 19thC novels: Joseph Liddon, a dutiful clerk at the Churchills’ offices and dies in a tram accident, leaving his wife and his three grown-up children without an income.

His young son is hired as a clerk in the same office as his father but he can’t support the whole family with his entry-level wages. The eldest daughter, Jenny, comes with a plan: she convinces her mother and sister to open a tea shop in Little Collins Street, Melbourne. To keep the running of the shop simple and efficient, they decide to serve tea, coffee and scones, since Mrs Liddon excels at baking them.

She puts an ad in the paper to advertise the place and Mr Churchill, her father’s former employer, stumble upon it. He remembers about the late Mr Liddon and also that his family declined any financial help from the firm. He’s impressed by their entrepreneurship and their willingness to support themselves with their tea shop.

He decides to visit the place and endorse it. He asks his wife and daughter to have tea there on their next shopping trip to Melbourne and to promote the shop to their lady friends.

Soon, thanks to Jenny’s sound management of their money and Mrs Churchill’s patronage, the place is successful.

Meanwhile, at the Churchill mansion, the family prepares themselves to the return of Mr Churchill’s eldest son, Anthony, from his trip in Europe. His stepmother is particularly happy to see him again, she who hoped to marry him but eventually married his father. She’s still romantically attracted to her stepson, which brings a certain twist to the story.

Anthony is thirty-five, still single and thinks it’s time to settle down. If only he could find the right wife. He has played the field enough and knows he doesn’t want a frivolous wife who only cares about clothes and parties. He wants an industrious, caring wife, one who’ll want to take care of their children and not let them too much in the care of nannies.

Guess what happens when he meets hard-working, no-nonsense and entrepreneurial Jenny?

A Humble Entreprise is written for a readership of young girls. Ada Cambridge uses this light and fluffy romance to give advice about love and marriage. There are several passages in which Anthony muses over the qualities he wants in his future wife. Pretty doesn’t come first, he’s more looking for companionship. Ada Cambridge addresses directly to her readers:

And, my dear girls—to whom this modest tale is more particularly addressed—I am credibly informed that quite a large number of men are inclined to matrimony or otherwise by considerations of the same kind. You don’t think so, when you are at play together in the ball-room and on the tennis-ground, and you fancy it is your “day out,” so to speak; but they tell me in confidence that it is the fact. They adore your pretty face and your pretty frocks; they are immensely exhilarated by your sprightly banter and sentimental overtures; they absolutely revel in the pastime of making love, and will go miles and miles for the chance of it; but when it comes to thinking of a home and family, the vital circumstances of life for its entire remaining term, why, they really are not the heedless idiots that they appear—at any rate, not all of them.

Something Jane Austen says in one sentence in Emma, “Men of sense, whatever you may choose to say, do not want silly wives.”

Of course, her views on marriage are in accordance with the mores of her time but she still advocates equality in the personal relationship. She sees marriage as a loving partnership and she clearly wants to teach her readers that beauty evaporates with time and that a good character with adequate skills lasts longer. They should work on useful skills instead of entertaining ones.

I wonder why she didn’t go further and explain to her female readers what they should look for in a husband. After all, women of sense do not want a silly husband either. Drunkards, gamblers, idlers, spendthrifts, cheaters and quick-tempered men should raise warning flags as well. Perhaps she didn’t go there because girls didn’t have the luxury to be picky and could only hope for the best.

A Humble Entreprise is a fluffy novella I’ve read in one sitting, which was exactly what I was looking for. I wanted to read a feel-good novella and it filled the bill. Cambridge writes in a light tone and has a good sense of humour, as you can see in her description of the Churchills going out to downtown Melbourne:

Half an hour later her husband and stepdaughter, two highly-finished, perfectly-tailored figures, sober and stately, severely unpretentious, yet breathing wealth and consequence at every point, set forth together through spacious gardens to the road and the tram—which appeared to the minute, as it always does for men of the Churchill stamp, who are never too soon or too late for anything.

As always, because I’m curious about everyday life in other countries and previous centuries, I enjoyed reading about Melbourne in the 19thC.

Recommended to readers who enjoy 19thC literature and are not allergic to romance.

PS: About the cover. I really don’t understand where this cover comes from. It’s miles away from the atmosphere of the book, as far from it as Nana is from Emma. The second picture is more accurate, you can imagine Jenny running the tea shop while her mother bakes the scones and her sister holds the cash register.

  1. April 26, 2020 at 10:03 pm

    A fluffy novella is really appealing! I enjoy 19th century writing too, and I don’t think I’ve read any Australian novels of this period. I am a bit allergic to romance though…


    • April 26, 2020 at 10:08 pm

      I don’t know how allergic to romance you are, so I can’t help you. I can tell it’s a short book, free in ebook, so you don’t commit to much if you try it.
      You might enjoy Mr Hogarth’s Will or The Three Miss Kings too. I think that women Australian writers of that time have a feminist vibe that I like a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

      • April 26, 2020 at 10:10 pm

        A mild allergy – the feminist vibe will help offset it 😀

        Liked by 1 person

        • April 26, 2020 at 10:13 pm

          And we’re almost in Novella Month!

          Liked by 1 person

          • April 26, 2020 at 10:15 pm


            Liked by 1 person

          • April 26, 2020 at 11:16 pm

            I thought it was Novellas in November… who hosts Novella Month?


            • April 27, 2020 at 10:31 am

              Mme Biblilophile does her own “one novella a day” in May. She reviews a novella per day during the whole month of May.


              • April 27, 2020 at 1:33 pm

                Yes, now I remember, I think I did one last year at that time to support it…

                Liked by 1 person

  2. April 27, 2020 at 1:47 am

    The cover is ridiculous, no one in an Ada Cambridge novel displays her undergarments. I love that you are making your way through these novels, I struggle in your wake! That’s a good point that Cambridge doesn’t say to young women – her readership after all – what to look for in a husband. I wonder if she does anywhere. Where are you sourcing these books? Project Gutenberg? And are you adding your reviews to the Australian Women Writers Challenge database – https://australianwomenwriters.com/
    Of course I’ll add this one to my own database of reviews of Australian women Gen 1 writers.


    • April 27, 2020 at 10:39 am

      This cover is totally ridiculous. Even without reading the books, the probability of it being a good fit for a 19thC novel is rather slim.

      I don’t know which one I’ll read next. Sisters was good too but a lot darker. Do you have any recommendation about the one I should read next? Which one is the most famous among A Mere Chance, Materfamilias and The Retrospect?

      I have the books on the kindle and found them in the kindle store for free. And yes, I’ve added my reviews to the AWW database and thanks for adding this one to your Australian Women Gen 1 writers.

      I have another question: are there novels of that time set in other places than Melbourne and “Stations”?


      • April 27, 2020 at 1:34 pm

        None of them is known at all. You may well be the first person to read any of them for 100 years. The rate you’re going you will be the Gen 1 database’s no.1 contributor.

        The last question is difficult. Cambridge lived in Victoria and so her heroines gravitated towards Melbourne. Rosa Praed grew up in outback Queensland (so lots of stations). She was married in Brisbane, lived for a while on Stradbroke Island then moved to England. Tasma was Tasmanian but married in Melbourne and lived in Victoria until she left the marriage and Australia went to Belgium. CH Spence was from Adelaide. Catherine Martin was from Adelaide but An Australian Girl moves from Adelaide to Melbourne. Ellen Clacy wrote for Melbourne newspapers. Mary Gaunt was Victorian. HH Richardson went to school in Melbourne I have a mental block about NSW. If I come up with a Sydney (or Perth) novel/novelist I’ll let you know – How about Miles Franklin, My Career Goes Bung (it’s better than My Brilliant Career)

        If you can bear another word about Melbourne then you might try Martin Boyd who wrote novels about his wealthy parents and grandparents who moved backwards and forwards between Melbourne and Europe.


        • April 27, 2020 at 1:55 pm

          Brona has read Sisters, so I’m not the only one in the last 100 years. 🙂

          I’m not sick of Melbourne, I was just wondering why I never stumbled upon books set in Sydney. It seems that the literary scene was in Melbourne.

          Liked by 1 person

          • April 27, 2020 at 2:07 pm

            I only meant the three you named. Sisters and The Three Miss Kings in particular are becoming more widely read since being revived in the 1980s.

            Gen 1 was very Melbourne based. Melbourne was “the richest city in the world” from the goldrushes of the ’50s to the bank crashes of the ’90s. Gen 2 was based around the Sydney Bulletin which was openly hostile to Melbourne and to women ‘romance writers’.


            • April 27, 2020 at 2:11 pm

              Ah, OK, I understand.
              Thanks for the explanation of Melbourne vs Sydney, Gen 1 vs Gen 2.


  3. April 27, 2020 at 2:47 am

    Ah yes – don’t judge a book by its cover. Readers who did so in this case would have been a bit surprised


    • April 27, 2020 at 10:41 am

      Yes, quite surprised.
      I know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but publishers should also ensure they’re not too far off the mark with the covers they choose.


  4. April 28, 2020 at 8:19 am

    I very much enjoyed The Three Miss Kings a few years ago. So, fluffy or not, A Humble Enterprise appeals, though not sure how easy it will be to find over here.


    • April 28, 2020 at 8:52 am

      It’s available for free on the kindle. (and maybe on Project Gutenberg, I haven’t checked)


  1. May 15, 2020 at 2:37 pm
  2. May 20, 2020 at 8:16 am

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