All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

She Walks In Beauty – Siri Mitchell

on August 27, 2010

Clara Carter is an intelligent girl, motherless, being instructed in maths, science and languages by her governness who even thinks she could even attend college. Given it’s 1891, this is an achievement. Those plans are swiftly aborted when her aunt dismisses the governness and announces that instead of debuting next season, she is to debut this season, which is some impossibly short time away. She receives a crash course in social education from her aunt after it becomes apparent that her governness has neglected that part of her education in favour of acadaemia. The reason for this haste? The de Vries heir is back and her father and aunt are determined that she should land him and no other.

Clara is not really socially comfortable and dreads the idea of coming out. She doesn’t have the natural act of flirting, of drawing a man’s attention, so luckily she is beautiful and draws it anyway. Her aunt is determined that she shall be the most successful debutante and laces her into an 18 inch corset, despite the fact that her waist is about 21-22 inches. Clara can barely sleep, can barely eat as she she is forced to endure the ‘sculpting’ of her body, all in the name of catching her husband. The only bright spot for her is that her best friend Lizzie has had her debut pushed forward to this season too, although that is darkened slightly by the fact that her parents have urged her to capture Franklin de Vries also. They are best friends and rivals for the same proposal.

Although Clara is a likable, smart girl who tries her best to adapt to the social ways and graces of the New York High Society, she is weighed down by the pressure and expectation of her father and aunt who are desperate for her to land the de Vries heir in payment for some wrong done to them previously by the de Vries family. It seems only Clara marrying the heir and securing the de Vries fortune will do, even though Clara is a girl that wants more than just a marriage of convenience. She wants to marry for love, which as her aunt tells her swiftly, does not happen in their circles.

The biggest problem I had with this book was that I got bogged down in a lot of details. Yes, I like the couture and perculiarities of this time, but I don’t need so many pages describing gloves, slippers, forks, dance steps. I would’ve preferred more time devoted to the developing of the actual story – Franklin de Vries was a nothing character. He appeared for a minute to dance with Clara, he disappeared. His younger brother Harry was a bumbling, cheerful, loveable sort of younger son and a lot more time was spent with him (for reasons which swiftly become obvious) but all this leads to is the feeling that you’re not quite sure if Franklin is evil or not, or would’ve made her miserable or whether or not they could have had a comfortable society marriage because you don’t know one single thing about him at all!

There is far too much telling and not enough showing. I don’t need to be told that Franklin cut a swathe across the continent, I want to be shown what he got up to, instead about five pages in the entire novel is devoted to Franklin, a girl who everyone is trying to land, including our main character, even if she is only doing it out of duty.

Despite that, the book was an eye-opener into the Gilded Age of 1890’s New York society. The social routine seems simply exhausting with operas, in house days, private balls and functions, something on every single night of the week. And although I knew that corsets caused health problems I had no idea the lengths that were gone to in order to achieve that 18 inch waist. It makes me altogether too scared to get out the tape measure and inspect mine. I could not imagine being laced into something like that every day, not even allowed respite from it to sleep. All in the name of securing a good match, which was always more about the parents than the debutantes and eligiable bachelors anyway.

I’d just like to say that when I read this book, I was unaware it was Christian Fiction. And even after reading it, I was still unaware. It wasn’t until I did a little bit of research on the author that I discovered that she is, apparently, a rising star in Christian Historical Fiction. Even though the characters in the novel do go to church, that’s mostly more about who is there at church and what they’re wearing. Two of the characters have a couple of discussions about God but they’re very short and not of great depth. I actually wouldn’t have really classed it as what I thought was Christian Fiction. Maybe my idea of Christian Fiction is outdated!

All in all, this book was okay. It kept me reading until the end but I wasn’t really invested in it. I didn’t fall in love with any of the characters and the storyline was nothing new to me. I feel that less details about the extreme intricacies of the clothes and customs could’ve been traded for further character development of more than just Clara, and to some extent, her aunt.


(Book #57 of my 75 Book Challenge)

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