EMILY HUDSON by Melissa Jones

Book Quote:

“It is with regret that I begin this task of writing to you about your niece, Emily.  Her recent behavior, which I have outlined to you in previous letters — most specifically her unfortunate extravagant friendship with a fellow pupil, Augusta Dean, and its unsettling effect on the other pupils, all girls entrusted to my care and to whom I owe a great duty — compels me to request that she be formally removed from the school and returned to your care with immediate effect.  It is a sad request.  I am aware that it comes before the completion of the school year, but we all believe that any shock felt by her abrupt departure would be less than that felt by her remaining.”

Book Review:

Review by Eleanor Bukowsky (OCT 11, 2010)

The heroine of Emily Hudson, by Melissa Jones, is a nineteen-year old orphan forced by tragic circumstances to live in Newport with her stern, condescending, and verbally abusive uncle, distant aunt, and two cousins, William and Mary. The year is 1861, just before the outbreak of the Civil War. Emily is immature, high-spirited, and moody, with a tendency to blurt out whatever she thinks, regardless of the consequences. Since she has no fortune and her relatives care little for her, it would seem that Emily’s future will be bleak. However, William, an aspiring writer loosely modeled on Henry James, decides to finance art lessons and a stay in Europe for his cousin. Before she leaves, Emily has a brief relationship with a kind and agreeable gentleman soldier named Captain Lindsay.

This work of historical fiction traces Emily’s intellectual and emotional evolution from a flighty and insecure girl to a self-confident adult. She makes new friends, corresponds with Augusta, a beloved companion from school, and pursues her passionate interest in drawing. She struggles with an illness that could prove fatal and is tempted by a roué to give up her virtue. Emily eventually travels to Italy, where she basks in unfamiliar sights, sounds, and experiences. William remains a bit of a cipher. Although he claims to care for Emily and does a great deal to help her realize her dreams, he can be cold, critical, selfish, and manipulative.

Although Emily is a heroine whom readers will easily take to their hearts, this novel has a rambling quality that is somewhat off-putting. There is a great deal of shifting from first-person narrative to letters between Emily and various correspondents. A variety of men seem to fall in love with Emily at the drop of a hat; one wonders if someone with such limited means and a paucity of social connections would be pursued by so many ardent admirers. On the other hand, Jones effectively portrays the severe restrictions that hampered unattached females in America and England during the 1860’s. Someone like Emily had few options in terms of educational opportunities, choice of profession, and even the freedom to choose a pastime without the approval of her guardian. Although Jones relies too heavily on plot contrivances to move her story along, this book is pleasant and diverting enough to earn a marginal recommendation.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 4 readers
PUBLISHER: Pamela Dorman Books; Reprint edition (September 2, 2010)
REVIEWER: Eleanor Bukowsky
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Book Rabbit interview with Melissa Jones
EXTRAS: Reading Guide
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another novel set in 1861:

My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

More fictional Henry James:

Author, Author by David Lodge

And written by her sister:

Small Wars by Sadie Jones



October 11, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Coming-of-Age, Facing History, NE & New York, Reading Guide

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