Review

Harriet and Isabella

by Patricia O'Brien

In
1887, two sisters on deathbed watch muse on the destruction of
their well-known family. As the celebrated preacher Henry Ward
Beecher lies dying, his wife Eunice oversees his care. His famous
sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of UNCLE TOM’S CABIN,
is also in attendance, along with other siblings. One sister,
however, is not welcome at her brother's bedside. Isabella Beecher
Hooker is scorned by her family members, yet she cannot stay away,
so she rents a room across the street from Henry and Eunice's
house. Isabella yearns for mutual forgiveness with her estranged
family.

While Isabella and Harriet are apart, awaiting their brother's
death, they are remembering the family's shared past and the event
that parted Isabella from the others: the sex scandal trial against
Henry in 1875. They also recall the rise of the vibrant young
preacher, as well as Harriet's fame and fear as a controversial
celebrity (she once received a package containing a slave's ear in
protest of her book). Isabella had also become acclaimed as a young
woman when she was transformed into a zealous suffragist.

In fact, it was Isabella's ardent fight for women's rights that had
caused the original rift between the two sisters. When Isabella
asked Harriet to write for her group's newspaper, Harriet refused.
Although she was in favor of women's rights, Harriet declared that
Isabella's organization was too radical. The most extreme
suffragist Isabella knew, the free-love advocate Victoria Woodhull,
targeted Henry as a womanizer and blatant example of the double
standard. Woodhull stated flatly that the acclaimed preacher was an
adulterer. Her claim turned Isabella's struggle to help women
personal. Should she protect her family when she can't help
believing Woodhull's accusations?

Isabella was torn between the two things she cared about most: the
principle of women's rights and her loyalty toward her large, close
family, even as that family forbade her to continue to associate
with Woodhull. As the adultery trial against Henry Ward Beecher
began, the Beecher clan claimed that Isabella was a family
traitor.

Now, in 1887, across from Henry's home, Isabella watches the street
and the mob of reporters awaiting news. She sees a reporter named
Puckett, who had once been quite kind to her. Puckett approaches
Isabella, claiming he can help her reconciliation with her family.
But can she trust him? Is he only hoping for an inside story?

Although history buffs know the course of the adultery trial
against Henry Ward Beecher, this novel based on facts pulls the
reader into the hearts and minds of the Beecher family through the
stories of Harriet and Isabella. The atmosphere is vividly drawn
and the characters vibrant in this compelling tale of a celebrated
family, laced with fascinating historical details and intriguing
gossip.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon (terryms2001@yahoo.com) on January 22, 2011

Harriet and Isabella
by Patricia O'Brien

  • Publication Date: January 8, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • ISBN-10: 1416552200
  • ISBN-13: 9781416552208