carnegie’s maid by marie benedict, 354 pp
historical Biographical fiction
I’m happy to introduce Laurie Brown with a guest blog post for Carnegie’s Maid. Laurie and I met through a Facebook reading group with a shared interest in historical fiction. Subsequently, she began to follow my Author page and submitted the correct answer to a March Women’s History Month post where I queried for the name of the statue in a photo (below). As a “prize” I offered Laurie her choice of one of the books I won in a trivia contest. She chose Carnegie’s Maid and kindly agreed to write up a guest review for my blog.
What happens when you assume the identity of someone else – how many years can you live before you end up claiming your true self? The outcomes are at the heart of this novel with all the main characters pretending to be someone they aren’t. The protagonist of the story, Clara Kelley, an 18-year-old Irish immigrant, has been sent to the US in the early 1860’s to find work and send money back home to her family. Upon disembarking the ship, she hears her name called. Realizing the “real” Clara Kelley must have passed away on the ship, she seizes on her chance to be someone she’s not, and assume the deceased Clara’s role. This role is a lady’s maid to Mrs. Carnegie – mother to the iron mogul Andrew Carnegie.
Even though Clara has no skills as a lady’s maid, her sharp mind helps her assume the role of being indispensable to the hard-to-please Mrs. C. As the story progresses, Andrew befriends Clara. He finds her invaluable for sharing tips she overhears daily while playing her role of a servant who is seen and not heard. Andrew also appreciates her intelligence and the two form a close bond. However, as servant and master, there is a barrier they cannot cross. Clara must search her heart for whether she should continue to play her role, which is necessary for the much-needed money she sends home, or does she reveal her true self to the Carnegies, while admitting she and Andrew have feelings for each other?
As Andrew grapples with a vow to “never be poor again”, he makes unscrupulous business decisions that stab at his soul. Mrs. C. struggles with feelings of inadequacies among the upper class of society. Despite her wealthy status, her roots as a poor Scottish lady who cobbled shoes to make ends meet are never far she is never far from her thoughts.
While the character of Clara is fictional, the author used her as the catalyst that caused Carnegie to turn to philanthropy. Strong writing makes the premise believable. A quick read with a strong female protagonist, this was an enjoyable read.
FB POST: Wrapping up Women’s History Month. Look at the cool books I won in the trivia contest during an author Zoom chat. Name the famous woman (center statue) and published poet, political playwright and satirist during the age of the American Revolution and I’ll share one of my prize books with you. Her statue can be found in her hometown / my town of Barnstable MA. Laurie’s Answer: “Okay, I had to Google this because I had no idea. Mercy Otis Warren – interesting lady!”
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