Thursday, June 1, 2017

Review: Alexandra Ripley’s FROM FIELDS OF GOLD - The American South and Aristocratic London in late 19th Century

June is Western Historical month on the blog so I’m starting with one on my best list. Not exactly the West as we think of it today, but certainly the West in spirit. This one begins in the South in 1875.

Francesca (“Chess”) Standish, was raised to be a lady but the Civil War left her at 30 with only a rundown plantation and a patent on her grandfather’s machine to make cigarettes. Once her life was filled with laughter, now she is gray and glum. She wants to be married, but she has given up hope until Nate Richardson comes along.

Nate is smart, handsome and has ambition, and desperately wants to gain the patent for the machine that makes cigarettes. When Chess, who is 8 years his senior, tells him he can have the patent if he will marry her, he agrees. Ever since he was a teenager, Nate has been in love with the girl who became his brother’s wife. He shows Chess no passion, believing she is not interested. He finds his pleasure elsewhere. Chess is so in love with him, she is willing to take the crumbs he offers her. (We can relate, no?)

Chess is a heroine to love, brave, smart and willing to wait for what she wants. She knows Nate doesn’t love her but she vows to become the business partner he will respect. And she does, sharing with him his dreams and his passion for the tobacco industry. Though he admires her, Nate is not faithful. But a trip to London will show her the affection she has missed and awakens in her the girl she once was.

The story reflects the author’s deep research into the tobacco industry and the era of the late Victorian period in America, both in the South and in London. She captures the life of the idle rich as well as the Americans who were leading the development of new industries and discoveries. It was the spirit of the west, even if not the location.

Ripley have given us a great tale that is rich in detail, even as to fashion, with splendid characters and some actual historical figures. You must wait till the very end for that happy ever after, but I assure you, it’s coming.

I didn’t want to put it down!

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