Thursday, May 6, 2010
Review: The Beth Book
This novel is really a manifesto, decrying the terrible injustices suffered by late-Victorian women. The book follows the life of Beth Caldwell, a woman of intelligence and literary talent, who is denied education and opportunity. All of the Caldwell family resources are invested in Beth's brother, Jim, and her life is full of injustice. After losing her father in childhood, Beth and her family move from Ireland to Yorkshire, where the family falls into poverty. Still, all resources are funneled into Beth's arrogant and feckless brother. There is little love in young Beth's life: her father is dead, her mother finds Beth aggravating. To escape Beth marries early, a man who turns out to be a lout. Beth's husband relishes using all of the privileges that law and custom afford him over women, and his despicable character is quickly uncovered. Originally published in 1897, this books is meant to be a fictionalized account of Grand's life, and she shares the Irish and Yorkshire origins of her heroine, as well as the unhappy marriage, and the limits of Victorian womanhood. The truly terrible strictures that bound late-nineteenth century women are evident throughout this book. Grand is certainly not the only one to write of these issues, and she is hardly the most subtle. Grand clearly writes from anger and exasperation, but her prose retains literary merit.
Sarah Grand, The Beth Book (Dial, 1981) ISBN: 0803705522, 528 pages