Emmeline by Judith Rossner is a sad story of an innocent girl sent away to earn money for her family at a cotton mill in Lowell, Massachusetts. As I read this depressing tale, I compared Emmeline with my main character Ellen Cook in my novel Daughter of the Bride. It is by coincidence that both their names begin with E, and the only similarities between the two girls are their age and that they lived in the 19th century. Other than that, these girls are total opposites.
Emmeline’s story begins in 1839 in Fayette, Maine, whereas Ellen’s begins in 1895 in Texas. Emmeline comes from a large struggling family. Ellen is an only child of Lenore, a woman who lived a privileged life before the death of her husband Frank. Each girl must leave their childhood homes due to economic necessity and embark on a new life. Their relationships with their mothers contrast sharply. Closest to her mother, Emmeline “ loved her mother perhaps beyond a daughter’s usual love, and never questioned her perfection” (4) while Ellen, closer to her father, questions almost all of her mother’s decisions. Ellen’s father Frank treats her and Lenore more like sisters. Henry and Sarah Mosher, Emmeline’s parents who are dependent on her to support the family, treat their eldest daughter as if she were an adult, a surrogate third parent.
Rossner’s character is shy, unassertive; the type of girl who easily becomes a victim. From the beginning, I wanted my character to be strong and assertive—a girl who refuses to be taken advantage of, a girl who fights back. Ellen is wiser, more educated than Emmeline, which are characteristics that will keep her from becoming a victim.
I don’t want to tell you too much about Emmeline’s love life because you might want to read the story yourself. And I don’t want to tell you too much about Ellen’s love life because I hope you will read it one day when I’m finished writing it and it’s published (hopefully). Let’s just say the loves in both girls’ lives result in emotional havoc, but the devastation fails to destroy their love.
Emmeline is a great read, even with its long and slow narratives. I found it somewhat predictable in places, but this didn’t stop me from sobbing at the end. Not sure if my novel will be a tear-jerker; I don’t know how things will turn out for Ellen yet. She is still trying to grow up—like her author!