George's Reviews > Harriet and Isabella

Harriet and Isabella by Patricia O'Brien
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Jul 27, 2012

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Read in July, 2012

A fictional account of the Beecher family, who apparently were one of the more accomplished American families of the 1800s. The "Harriet" in the title is Harriet Beecher Stowe of Uncle Tom's Cabin fame. Her brother, whose trial is at the center of the book's plot was noted preacher Henry Ward Beecher, and some readers may be familiar with the recipe and domestic advice books of older sister Catherine(aka "Miss Beecher"). In addition, younger half-sister Isabella was apparently associated with a number of the big names in the women's suffrage movement.

When Henry is accused of adultery, the family rallies behind him in their own ways. Harriet is firm in her belief in her brother's innocence. Isabella is just as convinced that he is lying and it is because she loves him so much that she she wants him to tell the truth. The resulting rift will result in a 15-year estrangement that provides the dramatic backdrop for the book.

It takes a while for the book to get going and the plot's never really that strong, with a lot of repetition. O'Brien does a reasonable job of developing the characters, not just the title pair, but also several of the supporting characters who comprise this family. There seem to be a number of promising angles to mine here, but O'Brien keeps pulling us back to her central focus (loyalty vs. honesty, family duty, etc.) and I think the book suffers a little because of it.

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