Book Review: The Woman Thou Gavest Me

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, December 30, 1913:  There’s nothing much to write about for today. Am interested in reading a book that I once tried several years ago and though it too dry.

The.Woman.Thou.Gavest.Me

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Curling up with a good book is the perfect way to spend a cold winter day.

It’s obviously not what Grandma was considering reading because it was published in 1913, but I just finished reading The Woman Thou Gavest Me by Hall Caine. It was #7 on the Publisher’s Weekly bestseller list for 1913.

This book tells the story of a young woman, Mary O’Neill, who loved an Antarctica explorer, but was forced by her father to marry another man. Her wealthy father wanted to get control of some land, so he insisted that she marry a financially-struggling nobleman who owned an estate.

(Tip to the wise:  If you’ve never consummated your marriage, but instead decide to have an affair with an Antarctica explorer, be sure to use birth control if you sleep with him the night before he leaves for Antarctica.)

The Woman Thou Gavest Me touched on a lot of complex social and moral issues that people were grappling with in 1913—

  • Should marriages be based upon family and business relationships, or should they be based on love?
  • Should women be allowed to divorce? . . . and if they are allowed to divorce should they be allowed to remarry?
  • What role should the Catholic church have in determining what is acceptable in regards to marriage and divorce?
  • Is it sometimes acceptable to have an affair?
  • How should illegitimate children (and their mothers) be treated by society?

This book is worthwhile reading from a historical perspective. The themes addressed by this book reminded me of the themes that Edith Wharton, another author from this era, often explored.  The Woman Thou Gavest Me was a slow read—and felt very dated; but there was something about it that kept pulling me back to it over the course of several months.

Book Review: Hester Morley’s Promise

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Sunday, November 19, 1911: Went to Sunday School this afternoon. Wore my new hat and coat. I’ve just finished reading a book tonight, I can call it that for it is about half past eleven. Hester Molly’s Promise was the name; most too sad to be really interesting.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Hester Morley’s Promise by Hesba Stratton was published in 1873. It is available online and can be downloaded from the Internet Archive.

This novel tells the story of two women (Hester and Miss Walden) in a small town in England who love the same man—a young minister named Carl.

As a 16-year-old Grandma probably enjoyed the romance–though she obviously didn’t like the lack of a “happy forever after” ending.

The book also examined how pettiness and self-interest of church members can pull a church apart.  This may have resonated with Grandma since the church that she attended was shuttered within 10-years of the time that she kept this diary.

Grandma probably also took away something about extra-marital affairs. I was surprised that books from that long ago dealt with this topic, and found it interesting that the novel suggested that an affair doesn’t affect just the people who are involved in it, but also their families and communities.

Hester’s father was a bitter, broken, 50-year-old man named John Morley. Hester’s mother died when she was young, and John then married a woman 14-years his junior named Rose.

About 10 years prior to the beginning of the book, Rose was not satisfied with her marriage and had an affair. When John found out about the affair, he threw Rose out—but never could get over his anger and his life spiraled downward.

The young minister Carl got drawn into all of the messiness as the ongoing repercussions of the ancient affair played out. Intertwined in this story was the story of  two woman who loved Carl–and one had the power to destroy his future in the town if he didn’t reciprocate her advances.

Carl chose Hester, and Miss Walden set out to destroy him.  She spread nasty rumors about Carl, and he was soon asked to leave the church for heresy.

In many ways this book seems very dated—yet I still enjoyed reading it. It gave me a better understanding of how sin, redemption, love, and relationships were viewed a hundred plus years ago.

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