I love historical fiction and when it features a strong and feisty heroine who is true to her ideals, I think I like it most. This book fit the bill.
Alice is a farm girl with a dictatorial father. She chooses to leave the farm after her mother dies to work at the cotton mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. While working there, she takes on the cause of the working conditions of the mill. She also advocates for justice for her friend who is killed by a local minister.
It’s the treatment of the Methodist movement in this book that causes me to give it a 4 out of 5 star rating. Of course, this is a subjective opinion. I realize this. But it does bother me that Christians are so often demonized in secular historical novels and movies. Through the ages there have been thousands of good, caring ministers. But it seems that the secular fiction world can’t help but exploit and highlight the very few rotten ones. (Disclaimer: I’m married to a minister and am an ordained minister myself.)
I also take issue with the sarcastic attitude toward the Methodists in the way they worshiped. It’s fascinating, though, that the author described the worshipers as prostrating themselves before the preacher, when in fact, people prostrate themselves in Christian worship toward God Himself, not the preacher. At least that’s always been my experience. But isn’t it interesting that the secular world views it this way?
In all fairness, Alcott is historically accurate even in this attitude. The Methodist movement, and religious camp meetings, were mocked in the newspapers of that time (see political cartoon below). They were labeled fanatics and superstitious fools. Charismatics and Pentecostals continue to be targets of such ridicule. Christians of all stripes are told they are superstitious and stupid for their beliefs. Such labels are as old as Christianity itself.
Certainly, there were charlatans in those days just as there are today. There were preachers in those days that exploited women for money and sexual favors just as some do now. It’s an unfortunate truth. But this can be said of many occupations, not just ministry. There will always be religious leaders who fall into the temptation of greed and lust. It’s just too easy to exploit people when it comes to religion.
Still, in this story, why couldn’t the murderer have been a mill foreman instead of a Methodist preacher? I’ll tell you why. The secular world loves reading about Christians who fall. It helps them rationalize their hate for Christians and Christianity. Unfortunately, they rationalize that Christianity is a feeble religion because they base it on fallible Christians instead of Christ Himself.
The story in this book is compelling and while the romance in the book is predictable and a little on the dull side, it was a nice subplot.
The most important part of the story is educating us in the working conditions of the mill, the mistreatment of women and children and how society in those days viewed women. It makes me grateful that I grew up with a father who never let my gender determine my dreams. I don’t ever remember thinking something couldn’t happen for me just because I was a girl.
One of the bad conditions of the mill that I didn’t know about, was the air. They kept the windows closed so the cotton would remain dry. In doing so, women inhaled cotton lint. Many died from lung disease. The working conditions were poor, the pay was poor, and their treatment was poor. The book’s main character, Alice, advocates for better conditions and pay.
If you love to learn new things when you read fiction (like I do) and if you love historical fiction as much as I do, you’ll really enjoy this book. It would make a lovely movie or series on PBS. I hope they’ll make one. Well, er, that is, as long as they leave out the parts about Methodism.
Tweet this: Are you as brave as The Daring Ladies of Lowell?