MORE THAN COMMON POWERS OF PERCEPTION by P.A.M. Taylor

MORE THAN COMMON POWERS OF PERCEPTION

The Diary of Elizabeth Mason Cabot
edited by
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The thoughtful diary of an upper-crust Bostonian woman, written between the years 1844 and 1904. When the diary opens, Elizabeth Mason is an enthusiastic nine- year-old about to embark on a trip to New York. When it closes, she is a seasoned grandmother who has married, raised five children, lost a brother to war, and witnessed the death of her husband. Mason's writings, which editor Taylor has divided into seven chronological sections, have a strong element of aristocratic reserve yet still manage to portray a warm and complex woman. She is only tangentially interested in public affairs (she barely mentions the Civil War, for example); what fascinates her is the private sphere. By far the most revealing section of her diary occurs between 1854 and 1857, when she is being courted by numerous suitors. Their attentions make her reflect deeply on women's role in society (``But is it not possible,'' she asks, ``that women's true place is yet to be perceived...?'') and the capriciousness of love (``What can he know of me, excepting that I have pretty manners and brown hair and can smile---alas, alas is this the way one is to stumble on one's lot?''). Most of the other sections are substantially more descriptive than reflective, but throughout is a pervasive sense of the precariousness of 19th-century life. Many of Mason's friends die unexpectedly of disease, accident (one young friend burns to death when her dress catches fire), or childbirth. Taylor illuminates Mason's sometimes disappointingly brief entries with informative footnotes, a background introduction, and 16 photos (not seen). A revealing glimpse or 19th-century Bostonian society, written by an intelligent and perceptive woman who's not afraid to question either herself or her world.

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 1991
ISBN: 0-8070-5104-7
Page count: 338pp
Publisher: Beacon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1991