Saturday, March 14, 2009
Stoddard, Elizabeth. 1862. The Morgesons. 264 pages.
"That child," said my aunt Mercy, looking at me with indigo-colored eyes, "is possessed."
Have you heard of Elizabeth Stoddard? I hadn't either. Not until I stumbled across this book while looking for Steinbeck. In the introduction, it explains a bit why this author fell into obscurity although during her lifetime she was compared with such greats as Balzac, Tolstoy, Eliot, the Brontes, and Hawthorne. (If your library doesn't have a copy, you can read it online here.)
Is it an exciting read? a thrilling one? Not really. Not by today's standards. It's about one girl, Cassandra "Cassy" growing up, coming to age. We follow her roughly from the age of ten to twenty. We see her in various environments and situations--home, visiting relatives for extended periods of time, school, courting, etc. She's not an easy narrator to love. She's more abrasive than that. There seems to be friction, tension, strife in almost all of her relationships. Perhaps because her whole family is 'difficult' to get along with. Perhaps because she's stubborn and makes no apologies. She's not meek or mild.
As a reader, I was never sure of Cassy. If she was the one disconnecting from her family...or if maybe her family were the ones disconnecting from her. There never seemed to be a bond between family members. Not with her mother. Not with her sister. And only slightly with her father. And this slight bond is only because he allows his daughter to go off on all these adventures away from home to visit family and friends, etc. He also keeps her well dressed. So I never was sure if she genuinely loved her father. Or if she just seemed to like him best because he was the one who was able to grant her desires. There seems to be a harsh distance, an emotional barrier that prevents Cassy from genuinely loving and being loved. As I said, I'm not sure who is to blame for this.
Cassy seems to attract some strange men to her. Especially true in the case of her cousin, Charles. Though married, though a father, he seems to find Cassandra irresistible. And though it is never out and out revealed, this attraction is mutual. Cassy, still a teen, maybe fifteen or sixteen?, finds herself in love with her cousin, inappropriate as it may be. See, she's come to live with her cousin and his wife, Alice. She's with this seemingly 'happy' family for a little over a year. And his wife, Alice, is aware that there is something going on between the two. But she's so busy being a good and perfect wife and mother that she pretends she doesn't know or doesn't care. What strikes me is one scene where Charles returns home from a business trip, I believe, and gives Cassandra a diamond ring to wear on her third finger. I don't remember if "good" little Alice gets a present as well, and if so, what it might have been. But there's a distinctly creepy vibe from this family.
Other men in Cassy's life are a pair of brothers, Ben and Desmond Somers. Both alcoholics. (They come from one crazy family!) One marries Cassandra. One marries Cassandra's sister, Veronica. Only one sister will get her happily ever after ending. But which one? Can a 'bad' boy ever turn good and mean it?
Though Cassandra seems a bit of an unnatural heroine, I am glad to have read this one. (After all, Scarlett O'Hara is plenty unnatural!)
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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