Nov 26, 11
Read in August, 2010
Set in nineteenth century London, Wildthorn is based on true accounts of life and treatment inside insane asylums during that time. Thinking she is going to live with the Woodville family as a companion to their eldest daughter, Louisa Cosgrove ends up at Wildthorn Hall. It's explained that she is very ill and in denial of her true identity, Lucy Childs. The more she protests and asserts that she is Louisa Cosgrove, the more she seems to affirm her status as a mental patient.
Louisa is brought up in a time when the duties of women consisted of providing an orderly home for their families, calling on other women/families within their status, carrying out charitable works, and completing various handicrafts. This is how Louisa's mother wishes her daughter to live her life: causing as few ripples in the pond as possible. Born with an impetuous nature and curious mind, Louisa wants the exact opposite. She prefers reading her father's medical books and conducting experiments. Much to her mother's disappointment, Louisa's father encourages her interests. The first quarter of the book alternate between the present and past, giving the reader insight into Louisa's behavior and how it begins to make life difficult for her.
"Excessive study, especially in one of the fair sex, often leads to insanity."
This line is the basis of what lands Louisa in Wildthorn Hall, but it's this knowledge that helps her survive. Eliza, who works at Wildthorn, becomes an invaluable asset to Louisa's survival and future. You can tell from their first meeting early on that Eliza will provide some sort of anchor for Louisa's sanity.
I was drawn into the story right away and thought Ms. Eagland moved the story along well. I imagine it was tricky, as many times we are alone with Louisa and her thoughts, and the lack of dialogue could make the book feel like it's dragging. I thought Ms. Eagland succeeded in keeping the plot moving without stalling out in the slower parts. Louisa's fear and distress is palpable for the reader, and at times you begin to wonder with Louisa if she really is sick. There are many times when I wanted to reach out and smack the workers at Wildthorn for Louisa because of the treatment she received. The knowledge that people really lived in conditions haunted me throughout the book.
All I'll say about the ending is that you won't be disappointed with the way Ms. Eagland tied up the little loose ends. Wildthorn really brings home the reality of what life was like for women in the 1800s and how much we take our freedom and opportunities for granted.