EMMELINE by Judith Rossner

EMMELINE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Within the austere severity of her pre-Civil War New England setting, Rossner--as in Looking for Mr. Goodbar--pierces the central passion and terror of the victim. In 1839 13-year-old Emmeline Mosher, oldest of nine children, a partner to her adored and spirited mother on their rocky, destitute Maine farm, is sent (at the urging of Aunt Hannah) to help support the family by working in the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts. Once in the new mill city, uprooted and homesick, Emmeline is dazzled by the poised regiments of ""Lowell girls,"" white-cuffed and smoothly coiffed; she's bewildered by the jabs of innuendo and challenge from the other boarding-house roomers, all older than she; she's frightened to tears by the thundering roll of the mills where the girls work from dawn to 7:00 P.M. Devout, shy, and gentle, Emmeline has ceased to be ""important"" as she was at home--and reassuring friendships seem to evaporate or are whirled away by her peers. So, for this achingly lonely girl, jokingly affectionate Mr. Maguire--overseer of her weaving room--is light and warmth in her desolation. Maguire, one of the despised Irish who married cold Yankee money--and whose own family is hidden in shanty town--is a man of restless and sudden lusts. He will seduce Emmeline, who is frightened and uneasy but becomes ""another Emmeline,"" with Maguire, at last making friends and plans. Then--she becomes pregnant, Maguire pays her off (through an intermediary), she's sent from the mills in terror and disgrace to have her baby (taken away for adoption) in secret, with guilty Aunt Hannah. Maddened with grief at first, a somber Emmeline returns home but will never reveal her story. Only years later, when 34-year-old Emmeline marries Hannah's son Michael, will the secret emerge. . . to crush her soul forever. Rossner makes something fresh and stately out of the historical-novel framework--with measured prose, a cool and spare landscape, the chorus of mercilessly grinding Lowell and Maine folk. And though none of this quite prepares you for the Greek-tragedy wallop at the finale, it's improbably appropriate, audaciously stunning. A strange, in some ways difficult book--but a grave tale of lingering impact.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Simon & Schuster