Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A pair of fine ladies from my fall reading

I'm making some progress with my fall reading(have yet to crack open one of my James Ellroy picks, however) and much to my surprise, have seen something in common with two of the heroines on my list.

 Both of them are in very different places in time and history, yet they share an independent spirit and feel burdened by the roles that society insists that they assume. Granted, they each handle their particular set of circumstances in completely different ways but if these two got a chance to chat, they would have plenty to compare and contrast.

The heroine of I Shall Be Near to You(a debut novel by Erin Lindsay McCabe that I received from Blogging for Books) is Rosetta, a native of New York State during the Civil War. When her beloved Jeremiah announces his intention to join the Union army, in order to earn enough money to take the two of them out West to start their own farm, she demands that they get married right away. He's happy to do so and for a brief time, they enjoy some wedded bliss.

Eventually, Jeremiah leaves with his regiment and Rosetta finds it hard to stay behind. She's a rough and tumble kind of girl, used to working on the farm with her father rather than sitting inside and sewing with the ladies. Her mother-in-law expects her to fall in line but that ,and a violent encounter with a childhood bully, convinces Rosetta that her true place is with her husband.

She takes off on her own, cutting her hair short and enlisting as "Ross Stone", Jeremiah's cousin. Upon seeing her join his troop, Jeremiah is furious but reluctantly accepts the fact that she's not going anywhere without him, at least for now. As the approach of true battle draws near, Rosetta must do her best to not only protect her husband and herself but to honor the trust of the troop as well.

This novel is one of those books that you know right off of the first page is going to be a good read. Erin Lindsay McCabe has based this story on the numerous accounts of women who did disguise themselves as men during the Civil War to fight for their country and this fictional tale gets right into the heart of Rosetta, who is a fine example of what these courageous warrior maidens must have been like.

 Rosetta's struggles to fit in with the troop(some of whom know her secret, due to being boys from back home) as well as with civilian life that demands a girl remain in her place(by both men and women of the time) is well portrayed and realistic. I Shall Be Near to You was sent to me in hardcover but it is available in paperback and should certainly be on the top of many reading group lists out there. What is most touching about this story is Rosetta's deep down to the bone love for Jeremiah, a devotion that is sweetly epic to see:

Joan Aiken's look at the "second heroine of Jane Austen's Emma", entitled Jane Fairfax gives much more of a backbone to the character than some might give her credit for. We met Jane as a child, when she tries to be a friend to the high and mighty young Miss Woodhouse but the latter's jealousy shuts that down just as Jane goes off to live with Colonel Campbell's family.

There, Jane is keenly aware that she is expected to become a governess when she grows up and is willing to accept that fate, even though as the time goes near, the Campbells are not quick to send her off just yet.

Jane does find the path that society has laid out for her and Rachel Campbell(who longs to be an artist) very trying and wishes that she had the rank and financial independence of Emma to do more with her life.

 Being practical about her situation does not prevent her from falling in love with Matthew Dixon, who Rachel also has her heart set upon. By standing aside in that romance, Jane finds to her surprise that long time friend Frank Churchill has declared his love and wants to marry her but must keep their engagement secret from his disagreeable aunt.

Austen fans are well aware of how this story goes and yet, Aiken brings a freshness to this character along with some depth into her relationship with Frank Churchill. Her rankling at the constraints of her situation in life fits well into the Austen mold and allows her intelligence to shine though. While Frank's actions during their secret keeping in Highbury do have extra meaning behind them, he is not completely let off the hook here either.

Emma herself is not the true villain of this piece(several characters, both old and new, can claim that distinction) but her self centered nature is properly displayed. Overall, this take on Emma is a worth while read that does justice to it's inspiration. It is nice to see Jane Fairfax get her fair share of the romantic spotlight without compromising her full value as a smart and capable woman. Frank should certainly endeavor to deserve her,indeed:

 Well, I have some ways to go with my fall reading(which may extend into winter) and I do plan to take part in a couple of blog tours this season, which should be fun. So much to read, so little time as they say and yet, I can't help but be all about the books:

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