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Wilkins Freeman, who lived from 1852 to 1930, was born in Massachusetts and
spent her life in New England. Though I would never classify her as a writer of great literature, she was certainly a significant and prolific writer of her
time. She was known for her numerous short stories and story collections, novels, children's verse and stories, and stories of the supernatural. However,
what Freeman wanted most through her writings was to be known as a feminist, especially concerning the rights of rural women.
This is one of Freeman's shorter novels, translating to only 125 pages on my Nook format, and it is definitely about women, but not "feminist". In fact, it really speaks very poorly about women. It is also quite difficult to grasp the point of the story until about half way through. In the first half, she tends to ramble, presenting the characters and situation clearly without giving a clue as to where it is headed. Events occur that seem to be leading somewhere, then just disappear, leaving one wondering. And the title—well, I have no idea what it means. Very odd. But about half-way through, a strong plot does emerge, driving the reader on to the end.
Even during the first segment which seems to lack direction, one aspect is obvious, and that is that Freeman is painting a picture of a small town called Fairbridge, New Jersey, which is just a ferry ride across from New York City. The people who live there are, well, basically snobs who think they are much bigger and better than they really are. Freeman says, "Fairbridge was like an insect, born with the conviction that it was an elephant."
The men, the few of them mentioned, are not quite as bad, mostly hard working who dote on their wives. But the women—really quite horrible, and yet, no doubt an accurate character study of the period, 1912. They are extremely shallow, phony, and concerned about appearances and their social standing. We catch a glimpse of them mostly through their Zenith Club.
The two most "prominent" women here are rivals. Mr. and Mrs. George Slade are quite well off, and regularly patronize New York for its entertainment, for which New York should be "honored." Wilbur Eades has a law office on Broadway in that big city, however, and Mrs. Eades is considered the state of perfection to much of Fairbridge, and is also worshipped by her husband. However, things are not as they appear. There is also another man who is much esteemed, the local physician, Doctor Sturtevant. His portly wife, however, is ridiculed among the other ladies, who pity the poor doctor for being stuck with such a dull woman.
There are really only three other characters who are of importance in the story. One is Alice Mendon, who is beautiful and charming, and though she behaves affectionately and caring, one cannot help but wonder if it is genuine. Still, she proves to be one of the better characters in the story.
Another one is a man, a single man who is a minister, Karl von Rosen, who readily admits he does not enjoy the company of women. Shortly after the Zenith Club meeting, a strange thing happens. A pregnant young Syrian woman shows up at his doorstep, has a baby, then dies. OK, so this was one of those head-scratching moments which seems to have no bearing on the story. Why Syrian? Anyways, von Rosen and his housekeeper amazingly fall in love with the child and plan to adopt it, but the young Syrian husband shows up, then breaks in and steals the baby, and some other items, too. Huh?
Meanwhile, Mrs. Eades wants to outdo Mrs. Slade's guest at the last Zenith meeting, Mrs. Sarah Joy Snyder, who was a big hit. She thought she had secured Lydia Greenway, but that celebrity became ill and left New York. Enter now, the third important person, who, to most people, seems to be horribly unimportant. She is Annie Eustace, who dearly loves Margaret Eades, and comes to visit her. Annie lives with her two abusive spinster aunts, and her feisty grandmother who likes to read naughty novels in bed. Annie suggests to Margaret getting instead the author Martha Walllingford, who is in New York at the time, and who has written the current best-seller, Hearts Astray.
Upon Annie's departure, Margaret begins to turn her wheels, determined that she shall have Miss Wallingford at the next meeting. She goes to New York, gains Wallingford's audience, and basically deceives her concerning her motives for her invitation. She invites the author to visit her home, and Miss Wallingford accepts. And from then on, all goes downhill through Margaret's refusal to speak the truth. Miss Wallingford finds herself at a Zenith Club meeting, without knowing she is to be the guest speaker! Well, she refuses to comply, and makes it known she was deceived.
But Margaret doesn't seem to understand her horrible social sin, and in her desperation to win back her respect, she commits an even worse one. And then, things really get rolling!
I will leave the rest for you to find out. This is by no means a great book, but it is entertaining and easy to read.
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