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I read this book as part of my research into American life during the Civil War years. On that level it did not disappoint; the descriptions of gatherings, people's homes, the bustle of the city and life in the country were excellent, and not romanticized. The heroine is thwarted in love, makes a few bad decisions, is rescued by a stranger, a young woman, in a church and goes on to live as a governess. There are romantic encounters that she shuns because she feels she can love only the man she believes she has lost. There are a few very Victorian coincidences, not terribly believable, that move the story along.
It is a good read, but infuriating to a modern reader. The heroine is too often blamed for the griefs inflicted upon her by those around her; and her somewhat cold, reserved manner does not ingratiate her to most of the women she encounters. And, there are the passages preaching of God and Christianity as the only true answer, which, for some, may be true, but in the context feels forced.
Ms. Harris is only too aware of the injustices visited on the heroine, and many of the women in the novel, because of the laws and mores of the day. She just isn't capable of seeing, as many of contemporaries did, that these were things that needed to be changed, not to be humbly accepted and submitted to. She has a knack for recognizing and describing, the inner lives of her characters and their motives in a manner I found surprising for a production of the period. And the preaching makes it clear how confined women's lives truly were.