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Keeping Katerina (The Victorians Book 1) Kindle Edition
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|Length: 204 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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Simone Baudelaire -- and my God! What a pen name!--took her inspiration from Robert Browning's life in exile in Florence, Italy, with his wife, the more famous in her time poetess Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and especially from two of his own early poems that address the matter of spousal abuse, and murder. She dug into the history of the era, and deftly shares with her readers the grim realities of a society whose laws protect the rights of men to "discipline" female family members however they see fit -- even if it means battering them to death. And of a social mindset that made many believe the victims must have done something to earn their harsh treatment. Sadly, the middle class didn't yet have the political power to affect change in Parliament.
Though the heart of the novel is Katerina being rescued from her savagely abusive father by the kind-hearted and loving Christopher Bennett, the son of a progressively-minded cotton mill owner, the author also includes many other moments of pure light. Among them are Katerina's love of music, and prosperous middle-class characters who are engaged at improving their minds at literary gatherings. Being true to the times, some of them find the social realism of Browning's progressive poems "ugly", and follow up with Tennyson's "pretty" Lady of Shallott (a bit of authorial irony, that, as the poem is the tragic fate of a lady falling in love with a stranger, though it means her death).
I loved the notion that there might be factory owners like the Bennetts, who adapted Victorian England's "dark, satanic mills" with a care for the health and welfare of their employees, but as a scholar of the era, have never found one. At the time of the story, small children were still employed to do dangerous jobs around the massive fabric looms, and their fates were often horrific. (Modern sweat-shops have nothing on the factories of the Victorian era.) As Christopher witnesses, most factory workers lived in the squalor of abject poverty in overcrowded, decrepit tenements, working jobs that paid little while drastically shortening their lives, while factory owners grew fat and wealthy. It would be tough to portray the Bennetts as caring souls if their employees suffered in a common sort of factory.
Beaudelaire's novel WILL engage your heart, but it will also make you think. There are some points in the novel where the pacing lags, but they're not long, and the payoff of Katerina and Christopher's HEA (and payback against her father) is well worth the effort. I'd rate this novel at 3.75 stars, if I could, as it's not quite a 4. I'll definitely be looking to read more in this series.
The story loses its way when Kat and Christopher go to Italy, it seemed like filler. I wasn't interested in reading about Kat's grandfather having sex with a French mistress that was half his age (plus, she was a totally unlikable character). And the part where Kat and Christopher meet Elizabeth and Robert Browning was a bit too much.
Near the end of the book Kat's abusive father making a reappearance, and it was good to see her stand up for herself. But the end felt really abrupt, an epilogue would have helped.