The Rose-Garden Husband

September 4, 2009

I finally followed a long-ago recommendation from Redeeming Qualities reader Elizabeth and read The Rose-Garden Husband, by Margaret Widdemer. And I love it. It’s so completely up my alley that it’s hard to believe it’s real.

Phyllis Braithwaite is 25, and has been working in a city library for seven years. She’s moved through a couple of different positions, and is now a children’s librarian. She’s worn out and frustrated and having trouble making ends meet. When she sees a girl from her hometown looking happy and wealthy and pretty, with two adorable children in tow, she gets even more depressed. She wishes for money and a husband and a rose garden, and something, somewhere, hears her.

The next day Phyllis is invited to have dinner with her friends the De Guenthers, a wealthy elderly couple, who have an interesting proposition for her. Their friend Mrs. Harrington is dying, and she wants someone to look after her son when she’s dead. Her son, Allan, is about four years older than Phyllis, and has been mostly paralyzed since a car accident seven years back, which also killed his fiancée, Louise. She’s interested in Phyllis for the job, but she doesn’t want her to be a nurse; she wants her to be Allan’s wife. I mean, of course, right?

And Phyllis is okay with the idea.

So the De Guenthers introduce her to the Harringtons. Mrs. Harrington is kind of morbid, and apparently enjoys wallowing in her misery. Phyllis is horrified when she learns that Mrs. Harrington goes into Allan’s room to cry (and so am I). Allan is listless and–Phyllis thinks he looks like a crusader on a marble tomb. From the first mention of Mrs. Harrington’s proposition I knew how this story was going to turn out, obviously, but it’s only from that line that I knew it was going to be awesome.

Really, though, everyone knows how this one goes: Mrs. Harrington dies, Phyllis moves in, and her bright personality and experience with kids make her much more fun for Allan to be around than his purposely miserable mother. Phyllis rents a house in the country–with a rose garden attached, naturally–and puts Allan in regular clothes instead of pajamas and they fall in love with each other, and take a little while to figure that out, and it’s lots of fun. A+, Margaret Widdemer.


  1. This looks charming–I’ll have to put it on my reading list!

  2. That was a great read!

    • Wasn’t it? Glad you liked it too.

  3. Since I recommended this to you, you know that I totally love this book. It’s one of my favorite rainy-day, curl up in the wing-back chair books.

    And. . . there’s a sequel (sort of). The Wishing-Ring Man featured Phyllis and Allan Harrington several years later (they have two adorable children, about ages 7 and 3) and the story involves their friend, John Hewitt, who we meet briefly in the Rose Garden Husband. I don’t love this one as much as Rose Garden, but it’s still a lovely read.

  4. I already have quite a few favorite books for curling up with on a rainy day (I’m rereading Dear Enemy now) but I’m pretty sure I’m going to be coming back to this one before too long.

    I’m saving The Wishing-Ring Man for a more proverbial kind of rainy day. I’m glad to know that I’ll be encountering the Harringtons again when I do get to it.

    Thanks so much for recommending this.

    • Have you ever gotten around to reading The Wishing-Ring Man? I’ve now re-read it a few (okay, more than a few) times, and I love it.

      • I have! I think I’ve read it twice, actually. I like it so much, maybe better than the Rose-Garden Husband because of the larger cast and the different environments. Also it’s weirdly good as a clothes book.

        • You need to review it–I’d love to hear you take on it.

          • after the next time I reread it :)

  5. Hi there!
    I stumbled upon this post after searching for “books like The Rose Garden Husband”. It’s really awesome that I’m not the only weird one reading such old novels (yes, most people find it strange considering the vast selection available of new releases). So as I mentioned above I’m really feeling like reading a book similar to this one. Any suggestions? :)

    • Similar in what way? Other Margaret Widdemer books, like The Wishing-Ring Man and The Year of Delight, have young women with dull, quiet lives finding romance. Wanted: a Husband, by Samuel Hopkins Adams, has a sort of pretend marriage. You can look at my he/she fell in love with his/her wife/husband tag for other books about couples who get married first and fall in love later.

      • Basically sweet vintage romance stuff :) I’m a sucker for that ;) I actually have read Wanted: a Husband albeit a while ago. Using my PC, I’ve had more of a chance to explore your blog – and wow! Really great stuff…Also a fan of Jean Webster, and ManyBooks is my go to website for ebooks (I like that you can filter by genre as compared to Gutenberg) All in all, thanks for sharing the tag as well, and I’m definitely following your blog! ♥

        • How about the Williamsons? I’d recommend starting with The Lightning Conductor or Set in Silver. And another Samuel Hopkins Adams you might enjoy, if you haven’t read it, is Little Miss Grouch.

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