Penelope's English Experiences is written in first person as thought it were a diary or a series of letters from an American artist Penelope Hamilton. She describes her time in London with two other women from America in the first half of the book. In the second half, she describes her stay in a small house in the country. She begins by summing up herself and her companions in a few short sentences thusly:
10 Dovermarle Street.
"Here we are in London again,--Francesca, Salemina, and I. Salemina is a philanthropist of the Boston philanthropists limited. I am an artist. Francesca is- It is very difficult to label Francesca. She is, at her present stage of development, just a nice girl; that is about all: the sense of humanity hasn't dawned upon her yet; she is even unaware that personal responsibility for the universe has come into vogue, and so she is happy.
"Francesca is short of twenty years old, Salemina short of forty, I short of thirty. Francesca is in love, Salemina never has been in love, I never shall be in love. Francesca is rich, Salemina is well-to-do, I am poor. There we are in a nutshell."
As the book progresses, we discover that this neat profile of Penelope and her friends changes. Penelope does fall in love and in doing so finds her aspirations of being an artist do not satisfy her as much as being a woman.
"I am not painting, these latter days. I have turned the artist side of my nature to the wall just for a bit, and the woman side is having full play. I do not know what the world will think about it, if it stops to think at all, but I feel as if I were 'right side out' for the first time in my life; and when I take up my brushes again, I shall have a new world within from which to paint,--yes, and a new world without."
The book is interspersed with descriptions of scenery in London and the country and funny incidences like the one of the three women trying to learn to gracefully eat soft-boiled eggs from the shell. Although Penelope falls in love, this is kept in the background and only appears in small segments in which she wonders whether she is in love with love or with the man who proposed to her.
I think my favorite incident was from the chapter The ball on the opposite side. In this chapter, Penelope and her companions notice a gentleman and his two daughters enter a nearby house for sale. After questioning the butler about the man, they find that the man is Lord Brighthelmston who has rented the house for a week for his three daughters and two orphan nieces to give a ball. The three find the preparations being made all week engrossing. They send invitations to some of their close friends to visit them the night of the ball for a "Private View". The evening of the ball, they watch the proceedings with as much interest as if they had prepared, cleaned, and decorated for it and were going to it themselves. The women and their friends try to guess what everyone is saying and doing, and they build romances for all the people involved. I liked this part best because it is exactly the sort of thing I would do myself.
Although I have never visited England, and I do not know if this book is an accurate portrayal of England, I recommend this book to those who wish for a bit of amusement. The descriptions are well written and well worth reading. Each chapter describes some part of London or the country in a peculiar fashion. I think I will read this story again sometime.