Saturday, February 15, 2003

Catherine's Heart: A Victorian Romance

Lawana Blackwell continues her historical fiction "Tales of London" series with Catherine's Heart, the follow-up to the tender and sweet Maiden of Mayfair story. It is now 1880, and Sarah and William, and Naomi and Daniel (Sarah's father), live quite comfortably, even enjoying the very newest technology of the day -- telephones.

The story now focuses on Sarah's cousin, Catherine -- only briefly mentioned in the previous book -- and her years at a women's college. In contrast to Sarah, Catherine has lived a life of ease, sheltered by good parents, education and travels abroad to India. Like Sarah, Catherine sometimes lacks good judgment, especially as regards the intentions of would-be suitors -- a quality developed more intensely than in Sarah's case, which was a rather small plot development in The Maiden of Mayfair. Catherine's girlfriends at school add to a story of the idyllic 1880s college life -- yet a realistic world with its own jealousies and conflicts between close friends.

Back from the first book, and more fully developed, is William's nemesis, Sidney. Rounding out the cast is a rather unpleasant family with over-indulged children, for a full look at a less-than-perfect Victorian world. As with the first book, some notable characters are lacking in good morals and virtue.

The historical context involves the early days of Girton College, an actual women's college opened in 1873 in Cambridge. (The school is still in operation, though as a co-ed school since the late 1970s.) Neighboring Newnham was another women's college in the area, as mentioned in the story. The characters in Catherine's Heart convey, too, the spirit of the school at this time -- its emphasis on a classical education, with additional offerings in science fields, and chaperoned visits to Cambridge a few miles away -- where the women would likely encounter the male college students.

The plot in Catherine's Heart lacks the moving, emotionally-stirring story of an orphan restored to higher English society. Still, the story serves a nice addition to a series about life in Victorian times, with the strength of characters we have come to love from the first book.

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