book review: Emily Hudson

Title: Emily Hudson
Author: Melissa Jones
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books (September 2, 2010)
Category: historical fiction
Rating: A

The perils of being a free-spirited, intellectually curious woman during the Civil War are at the heart of this historical fiction novel, based on an event in the life of Henry James. After being expelled from boarding school for her improperly close friendship with a schoolmate, Augusta, and being accused of not fitting in, Emily Hudson finds herself at the mercy of her mother’s brother in Newport. Emily lost her entire family to consumption and her uncle feels overly burdened by having her in his care. He’d like her married off as soon as possible but Emily has other ideas. She wants to travel. She wants to be an artist. She plays piano and sketches and paints when she can. While her other cousins are off at war, William, who’s rather weak and sickly, remains behind in Newport. Soon Emily and William spend their days talking about literature and travel and have become the closest allies. When a relationship falls through for Emily, William decides to take her abroad under his guardianship. Emily had longed to visit England and be part of European society and away from her puritanical uncle but she soon finds that William is as controlling. If Emily is every going to be free and truly content, she must make her own plans.

I wish you would not describe me and pinpoint me so continually. Besides, in my belief, a person is always essentially themselves. That cannot be changed or altered.

Author Melissa Jones has created a rousing feminist character in Emily. She’s outspoken and likely to shun conventionality. Emily’s a bit ahead of her time. Women are supposed to be married off by a certain age and then be relegated to the kitchen and drawing room, only to come out for parties and entertaining. And to be an artist at this time? It’s rather unusual and Emily certainly meets those who doubt her talents and capability to make it out there on her own, including her dear cousin William. Throughout her elegant prose, Jones makes it quite clear that William suffers an awful jealousy of his cousin’s fiery persona and independent nature. He tries to control her through an allowance but Emily refuses to be constricted by proper society and her cousin’s simplistic wishes for her.

Above all she was tired of fighting and struggling, struggling with her own nature—her own being.

Outstanding research and scintillating physical descriptions makes Emily Hudson a truly stand-out work of historical fiction. Through memorable settings and eloquent details, Jones turns 18th century Boston and British society into beguiling additional characters. Emily Hudson is a charming story about one woman’s search for her true self and everlasting happiness without sacrificing her ideals.

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