Monday, June 28, 2010
Tea & Read: She Walks in Beauty
Author: Siri Mitchell
Rating: Two Cups of Tea
For a young society woman seeking a favorable marriage, so much depends on her social season debut. Clara Carter has been given one goal: secure the affections of the city's most eligible bachelor. Debuting means plenty of work--there are corsets to be fitted, dances to master, manners to perfect. Her training soon pays off, however, as celebrity's spotlight turns Clara into a society-page darling. Yet Clara soon wonders if this is the life she really wants. Especially when she learns her best friend has also set her sights on Franklin De Vries. When a man appears who seems to love her simply for who she is and gossip backlash turns ugly, Clara realizes it's not just her marriage at stake--the future of her family depends on how she plays the game.
Siri Mitchell has proven herself to be a versatile writer. I was first introduced to her with her contemporary fiction, Moon over Tokyo, Chateau of Echoes and The Cubicle Next Door. Chateau of Echoes gave me a glimpse of the fact that Mitchell could write historicals, and she delivered with A Constant Heart and I was hooked.
She Walks in Beauty, another historical, has several great things going for it. First, it is a Victorian novel, but it’s set in New York City instead of the traditional England. But the same traditions and customs rule. This story is just as Victorian, with all its beauty and grace. Victorian on American soil gave the book a unique slant that I’d not seen in Victorian novels.
Second, Mitchell captivates with wonderful characters. Clara is a striking character, the type of character I tend to gravitate to. She goes against the grain of what is expected of her. I love her reactions to social requirements, which are very close to what my own reaction would be. I also enjoyed the tension created between Clara and Lily and the unexpected character of the DeVries Heirs. And, in the tradition of overbearing Victorian women, Clara’s aunt plays her part perfectly.
Third, as in all her books, Mitchell has done her research and it shows. I often found myself just as perplexed as Clara in learning some of the social customs. I particularly found the custom of “cutting” (which means something totally different from a girl from Baltimore) interesting. Clara’s education in social graces proved amusing and gave great insight into Clara’s world.
My only complaint is that there were a couple of loose ends that I felt needed to be cleared up. I would have like to have heard more about Clara’s mother and her father’s work. There was also three other characters in the book, Katherine Mr. Douglas and Ms. Miller. But the book is solid and a great read overall.