One of my fascinations has always been history. When I grew up for five years of my life in England, my family and I had our own smorgasbord of history. From the great Norman castle of Arundel Castle to Longleet House with it’s incredible animal preserves. In school, I excelled in history and was fortunate enough to have Gary Millen as my history teacher at Kennett High School. He taught history like it was an event. It was and he showed us how history binds us all.
When I started to read the series Etched in Granite, I was taken back to post civil war New Hampshire, and interesting to note that history was in my own back yard. This was a history I never knew. In the first book in Mj Pettengill’s historical fiction novel Etched in Granite I learned about the many poorhouses in Carroll County. This one concentrated on Ossipee’s County Farm. It wasn’t until I was speaking to the chair of the Tamworth History Center, that I discovered a poorhouse just up the road from me in my own home town of Tamworth New Hamsphire. Reading Mj’s first book, I learned about the hardships the poor went through to keep the family farm and some circumstances that occurred that brought many to those poorhouses. The poor were treated inhumanely back in those times. After they died in those they were buried in unmarked graves. At the end of the first book, Mj honors those people in those unmarked graves by giving them their dignity back and providing the numbered graves with the names of those people who died at the Ossipee County Farm. You come away from the first book thinking that no matter a person’s circumstance in life, we are all living on this same planet and must treat the less unfortunate as we would want to be treated. Give each person a humanity and we are all happy.
I find Mj’s series is important. These are stories that need to be told so that we can learn from our past and not make the same mistakes.
Book two, Angels Lament, follows the other part of the Hodgdon family. We are given a look into the life of Abigail Hodgdon’s sister Sarah. She has a musical talent. Her cornet is her lifeblood. She dreams of a better life for herself out of Ossipee. The farming life is not the life she wants. She moves down to Fall River Mass, where she finds the life of the big city is not what she had envisioned. She gets herself a job at the Mill and we learn that life at these Mills is just as harsh as landing up at a poorhouse. Her cornet is her only salvation.
I found as I was reading Sarah’s story that I was learning about a world, that was not too dissimilar to anything that Charles Dickens would write. The poor is once again our main focal point here. Once again Mj, weaves these new characters into one another. Each chapter as in her first book, is a day in the life of these characters. With each heading of the Chapter providing you with a date.
I was most struck by August Wood and his friend Finn, who he calls his brother, because he saw good in him and wanted to help. These two characters give you the flavor of a Dickens novel. They come from poor backgrounds. August lived in the Five Points of New York. I’ve read a little and have seen the movie The Gangs of New York by Martin Scorsese. That was a harsh world. August is taken in by a man named Smitty and is forced to beg for. Smitty is our Fagen from Oliver so to speak.
The story of how August and Sarah meet and what happens to them along the way takes us into a world where you are forced to survive by any means possible. Mj, paints a picture, of a stark realism of the times. As I did with Abigail and Silas Putnam in Etched in Granite, you pull for these characters. They are good hearted people and you want to see them succeed. It doesn’t always work out that way.
There is a subplot which merges into the Sarah and August’s story. We are brought into the world of the wealthy. Bess Adams is the woman’s name. The Father doesn’t say much and is one of the benefactors of the mill. He doesn’t care about what happens to the people that work for him, only the bottom line.
The Mother has a contentious relationship with Bess. She is always worried about etiquette and keeping up good appearances so that Bess will attract the right sort of wealthy suitor. There are many parts of Bess’ mother I found strikingly familiar. In one chapter, Bess talks about how her mother was a stickler on letter writing. Everything had to be perfect, otherwise, the letter was thrown in the fire and Bess had to start again. The Mother encourages one of Bess’s passions and that is her piano. Her mother uses Bess’s talent as a way to showcase her to wealthy families. This portion of Bess’s life becomes the merging point with Sarah and August. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend this read, by Mj Pettengill. A gifted, intuitive writer who senses and sees light when others have lost hope. An Angels Lament can be purchased at her website mjpettengill.com. I would also be remiss if I did not send her to her website. There is far more than a writer here. Her blog posts will