Saturday, September 24, 2011

Saturday Review of Books: Siri Mitchell's She Walks in Beauty

She Walks in Beauty, by Siri Mitchell, had been on my to-read list for quite while, so I was delighted to find it at my local library.

Several other bloggers had enthusiastically recommended this book, and I can say it didn't disappoint at all.

The story

Clara Carter is the daughter of a wealthy physician, living on Fifth Avenue in New York City during the so-called "Gilded Age" of the late 1890's.

Although she mourns her beautiful mother, who died when she was a child, Clara is happy enough pursuing her studies with her governess and reading poetry.

In fact, she's bright and intelligent enough that her governess thinks she could get into Vassar, the college for women.

But academically-minded girls are not particularly wanted in society, and Clara had a different destiny.

She must marry. And she must marry the heir to the DeVries fortune, in particular. To that end, her studies are ended and replaced with different learning: things like which fork to use, how to communicate by using a fan, how to waltz, and most difficult of all, how to wear a corset 24/7 to whittle one's waist down from 22 inches to 18.

Clara is to be a debutante, thrust into a whirl of social obligations to which marriage is the only possible outcome.

There are complications. Her best friend, Lizzie, is her main challenger for the hand of Franklin DeVries. Added to that is the fact that Clara much prefers Franklin's younger brother--a kind, funny young man who also has a depth of spirituality that Clara hasn't seen since her mother died.

Then, Clara learns things about her father that cause her carefully-constructed world to crumble.

My Thoughts

I loved this book, and read it in a very short time because I had a very difficult time putting it down.

Siri Mitchell's writing is perfect for getting inside the mind of a young girl of that era. Her obvious in-depth research lends an effortless authenticity to the story.

Things like the corruption of New York City politics, the shameful poverty of immigrant tenement dwellers, as well as the often hypocritical and haughty world of the wealthy are among the themes that inform this truly absorbing story.

Clara's character is also faced with the question, "Does God really love me just as I am?" In a world where she has to change everything about herself, including her waist size, to please society, Clara surmises that God's unconditional love would be an extravagant gift indeed.

I'm participating today in Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books--click the icon for more information!



Sherry said...

Hi, Cindy. I read this novel about a year ago and thought it was pretty good. If you're interested in the time period and want some other suggestions, I have a post here:

Sherry said...

Oh, I meant to say also, thanks for linking to the Saturday Review.

Alexis @ Reflections of a Bookaholic said...

This is my first time hearing of this novel. Thanks for putting this on my radar.


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