Extrapolating from a Charles Dickens quote and “comingling” his own words with those of Dickens again, Hauser (The Final Recollections of Charles Dickens, 2014, etc.) delivers a preachy vision of Victorian England where idyllic romance and rapacious capitalism collide.
Hauser’s latest pastiche shares an era with Charles Dickens, as well as a linguistic style, some sentimentality, and a swathe of social concerns. But Hauser’s politics are more bluntly stated—“Crafty avarice grows rich. Honest labour remains poor”—and neither his storytelling nor his characters offer the inventive magic of the original. Hauser’s heroine is lovely, blameless, orphaned Ruby Spriggs, who is snatched from poverty to grow up in the motherly care of a baker and then, with the aid of kindly benefactor Octavius Joy, becomes a teacher. It’s also through Joy that Ruby meets saintly, handsome pillar of integrity Edwin Chatfield, who's employed by dastardly coal manufacturer Alexander Murd. Murd’s scheming, snobby daughter Isabella’s infatuation with Edwin leads to the crushing of an innocent heart as Murd bullies Ruby into leaving the country without explaining her actions to anyone, supposedly for the sake of Edwin’s good name and future prospects. As heartbroken Ruby sails to Boston and settles there, Edwin, mystified by her disappearance, visits one of Murd’s coal mines in Lancashire, an opportunity for some moral tub-thumping on the truly appalling working conditions of the miners, later underlined by a pit accident that kills 120 workers. Ruby’s eventual letter of explanation is the key to the story’s swift resolution, which features a shipwreck and miraculous rescue, retribution for the wicked, salvation for the good, and a homily on love and marriage.
A smudgy parable of industrialization wrapped in a sappy love story, Hauser’s new novel once again piggybacks off the achievements of a genius.