The restless, passionate novel about a family’s political progressivism in Manchester, England, at the turn of the 19th century.
At the start of Adickes’ work of historical fiction, readers are ushered into the life of the Benton family. Joshua and wife Hannah run a small farm and weaving operation and, along with their three children, will suffer the consequences of Joshua’s reformist tendencies, which are shared by his wife, if with a soupçon of reserve upwelling from her protectiveness. Adickes draws these characters with a beautifully sympathetic hand, never overplaying their decency; the story moves unhurriedly, following the eddies and swirls of the tale as time and events inexorably propel it forward. The Benton home life has its share of terrible emotional and physical batterings as a result of the family’s political stance, but just as surely do the working people of Manchester as the city moves into the Industrial Revolution. Adickes carefully coaxes forth the circumstance and mood of the times, heedful of the need for nuance—the characters are not black and white; Hannah takes John Locke to task for democratic weaknesses in his philosophy and a wealthy landowner bespeaks the “inequities under our present system.” The author addresses the role of envy in politics, the discord engendered by fear and the brutality of the coming economic system with its drudgework, factory stores and child labor. Indeed, Adickes plays out the family’s saga against a backdrop of the manufacturing economy’s evolution, with even a short course on James Watt’s steam engine (“a piston in the first container, operating on a rotary motion, kept the steam at its operating temperature”). As fervor is such a driving force in her characters, it comes as a shock when Hannah’s daughter Ellen appears lacking in that department—she says rather blandly of a suitor, “I know I must respect his love, even if I cannot return it. The situation will require much thought and effort”)—but she rallies in love and life mission, thanks to a dissenter’s sensibility. Reform comes, too, if only through sweat and blood.
A gripping, colorful drama in which probity runs like a sweetly inclusive river.