When Henry Ward Beecher was put on trial for adultery in 1875 his trial not only split the country, it split apart his family, causing a particularly bitter rift between his sisters, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Isabella Beecher Hooker, an ardent suffragist. Harriet remained loyal to Henry, while Isabella called publicly for him to admit his guilt. What had been a loving, close relationship between two sisters plummeted into bitter blame and hurt.
It is 1887, and Henry Ward Beecher lies dying. Reporters from around the world, eager for one last story about the most lurid scandal of their time, descend on Brooklyn Heights, their presence signaling the beginning of the voracious appetite for fallen celebrities we know so well today.
When Henry Ward Beecher was put on trial for adultery in 1875, the question of his guilt or innocence was ferociously debated. His trial not only split the country, it split apart his family, causing a particularly bitter rift between his sisters, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Isabella Beecher Hooker, an ardent suffragist. Harriet remained loyal to Henry, while Isabella called publicly for him to admit his guilt. What had been a loving, close relationship between two sisters plummeted into bitter blame and hurt.
Harriet and Isabella each had a major role in the social revolutions unfolding around them, but what happened in their hearts when they were forced to face a question of justice much closer to home? Now they struggle: who best served Henry -- the one who was steadfast or the one who demanded honesty?
March 7, 1887, 7:00 a.m.
A persistent skittering sound from the darkened space between floor and baseboard pulls Isabella from an uneasy sleep. She sits up, shivering in her thin cambric nightgown, scanning the room. The bed in which she lies, no more than rusting scrap iron, creaks ominously as she hugs her knees to her chest.
Her gaze travels from an old sideboard with broken drawer pulls to the green curtains hanging like seaweed from the window, resting finally on a scattering of black pellets that confirm the origin of the sound coming from the floorboards.
Mice. She hates mice.
What is she doing here? She wonders if she is insane after all.
But the day has begun, and there's no use crouching in a ball feeling sorry for herself, wishing only that she could drift back to sleep and pick up the threads of her dream. She had been a child again, with Henry's large hands gripping hers, swinging her by the arms, both of them ...
There are many good reasons to recommend this book but perhaps it's greatest strength is that through the skillful characterization of Harriet and Isabella I could understand why each one felt the way she did. Their actions seem perfectly justified based on the background we are given in their formative years, not only as individuals but as the role they played within the family unit. It's amazing that against the broad background of sweeping historical events, O'Brien's attention to personal and intimate details is what puts the reader exactly where they want to be--immersed in a great story.
(Reviewed by Vy Armour).
Uncle Tom's Cabin, Absinthe & Brooklyn
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