4 out of 4 stars
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Memorial Day Ball is happening in Newport, Rhode Island. Penelope Stanton, a young lady of the upper middle class, has been forced to attend this first event of the season. After the business of Penelope’s father goes under water during the Panic of 1893, her parents’ main goal is finding a wealthy husband for her. At the party, Penelope catches the eye of Edgar Daggers, a rich and married playboy. Mr. Daggers and his wife offer her a position as his personal secretary in their house in New York. Penelope’s parents demand her to accept the position because it will benefit them financially. Knowing that she cannot accept the job as it entails becoming his mistress too, Penelope moves to Boston with Lucinda. In Boston, Penelope accidentally becomes a member of the Women’s Rights Movement. She will have to decide which path is best for her after Mr. Daggers reenters her life.
Mistress Suffragette by Diana Forbes is historical fiction at its finest. In her debut novel, Forbes makes an accurate portrait of the last years of the Gilded Age, the Panic of 1893, and the Women’s Rights Movement. Upper-class families lost their standing in high society after banks started going bankrupt. Women, who usually were married off to wealthy men, began to look for jobs in the big cities, such as Boston, Chicago, and New York City. As a result, the Women’s Rights Movement gained momentum in the United States. Income inequality between millionaires and poor workers was striking during this epoch. Forbes shows the reader how all of these elements interacted during this historical period without a flaw. It is not a surprise that this book has won numerous awards.
My favorite aspect about this book was the development of Penelope’s character. She matures from a seventeen-year-old girl who is being forced to find a husband to an independent woman who makes her mark the world. At the beginning of the story, she is constantly distracted by her love interests. Her taste in men is questionable. The reader will be astounded by her actions at times. However, her attitude and perspective change as she becomes friends with strong women like Verdana and Amy, and as she learns more about women’s causes. At the end of the story, Penelope is an entirely different person: independent, focused, and strong.
Another compelling aspect of this book is that Forbes justly depicted the different currents within the Women’s Rights Movement. A group of women advanced the idea of women’s rights in the workplace. Another group of women, which usually was composed of former abolitionists, advocated for the rights of black men. Some women focused on the women’s right to vote. Others wanted all women to wear the rational dress. Forbes’ refined storytelling brought to life the discrepancies between these currents and how the movement cracked because of them.
I cannot think of something I did not like about this novel. The editing was superb. I only found two grammatical mistakes: a missing quotation mark and a missing period. I have become a fan of Diana Forbes, and I cannot wait to read her next book. Without question, I rate Mistress Suffragette 4 out of 4 stars. The author is incredibly talented at writing historical fiction, and her writing style is witty. The story showcases the struggle of women to acquire independence and rights. I recommend this book to readers of historical fiction, women’s fiction, and romance novels. I would not recommend this book to readers who are chauvinistic.
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