The Morgesons, Elizabeth Stoddard, 1862
“‘That child,’ said my aunt Mercy, looking at me with indigo-colored eyes, ‘is possessed.’”
That’s the first line of The Morgesons by Elizabeth Stoddard, the best oft-o’er-looked novel of the Victorian Era. Do you love it already? I do. There’s lots more to love, including:
- obstinate young girls chafing against the restrictions of life in post-Puritan New England
- fun Puritan names like Temperance Tinkham, Mehitable, Seneth, Sophrony, etc.
- vivid description of rugged coastlines, kitchen gardens, Victorian clothing, and the sea which always matches the mood of our mysterious, changeable narrator
- a love story, a love story, and another love story
- a carriage accident
- a grumpy grandfather or two
- the sometimes tender and sometimes distant relationship between our strange narrator and her even stranger sister “We grew up ignorant of each other’s character, though Verry knew me better than I knew her; in time I discovered that she had closely observed me, when I was most unaware.”
- honest relation of the simultaneous intimacy and remoteness between parents and children who spend every day together, yet, because of parental reserve, know very little of what lies in each other’s minds
- apt metaphors
- a plot that surprises you
- this amazing bit of medical advice “Keep your feet warm, wont you? And read Shakespeare.”
- realism interspersed with surreal dialogue that would fit in a fairy tale, see the quote below for an example
“See,” she said softly, “I have something from heaven.” She lifted her white apron, and I saw, pinned to her dress, a splendid black butterfly, spotted with red and gold.
“It’s mine,” she said, “you shall not touch it. God blew it in through the window; but it has not breathed yet.”
“Pooh; I have three mice in the kitchen.”
“Where is the mother?”
“In the hayrick I suppose, I left it there.”
“I hate you,” she said, in an enraged voice. “I would strike you if it wasn’t for this holy butterfly.”
Sisters. Quirky sisters.
The Morgesons is so weird and so good. I found it immensely refreshing. Stoddard has a unique voice. Her narrative is beautiful, poetic, odd, honest and surreal. I will read this book over and over, as should you. It’s short; it’s special. Get yourself a copy. It’s a female bildungsroman that takes on the oppression of women in Victorian society. So good.
You might like The Morgesons if:
- you like Anne of Green Gables or Little House on the Prairie or other classics of children’s literature by women authors, but you’re a grown up now
- you can see the romance in a literally and figuratively scarred woman on the rocky shores of New England gazing into the sea in search of self-definition
- you have read so many novels that you can see a plot twist coming two hundred pages away and you’re ready to read a novel by someone who doesn’t think like other authors and is therefore unpredictable
- you love your parents, but there’s so much you don’t know about them
You might not like The Morgesons if:
- I don’t know, because you and I have nothing in common. I respect you, but I don’t know how your mind works.
Final Thoughts: My pathetic words can do Elizabeth Stoddard no justice. Read it. It’s wonderful. I don’t know why it’s not more widely read and highly regarded, because this book is spectacular. Spectacular.