She Walks In Beauty by Siri Mitchell
What a lovely book title and taken from a line in Lord Byron’s poem! Siri Mitchell had me from the introduction of the first chapter when she states…“During the opulence, the splendor, and the excess of the Gilded Age.” Who wouldn’t want a peek into this interesting time period, which by the way, this author paints with words so lavished with grace, beauty and truth that it is difficult to put the book down once one begins to read its pages. The historic backdrop is rich as cream, adding to the stories splendor that lasts long after the last page is read.
Siri’s characters are delightful and invigorating and complex enough that they could be modeled after real people. Clara Carter, an unwilling socialite, had her family’s honor weighing upon her shoulders. She is her social season’s exquisite favorite, well at least for most people. I completely enjoyed getting to know Clara and her dilemma with opulence and I smile to think of her now! She is my favorite of the characters offered in this story, but that does not mean that Lizzie Barnes, Miss Miller, Aunt, the De Vries brothers, Mr. Douglas or the others do not hold my interest, respect or angst with the full measure that their characters should convey.
Lovely sentence rhythm, well rounded characters, intrigue and mystery were delicately and profoundly balanced on the tip of Siri’s pen for She Walks in Beauty. I thank you Siri for your gift of writing and willingness to spill your heart and imagination on the pages, creating a novel that resonated with me and the others I know who read this satisfying and memorable 1891 story.
I still miss her pages now that the book is finished. Yes, this is a definite re-read novel. A favorite! As one of my Pens of Praise writers, Becky McLafferty, stated, “Looks like we have found another new favorite author.” My heart leapt with the truth of her words. Indeed we have and I hope that you will experience Siri Mitchells novels soon. You deserve her, really you do!
Questions for Siri Mitchell:
1) Siri, you sure did your research with this novel. I was definitely impressed with how you weaved historical lifestyles and thought into your plot and character’s dilemma. How did you come up with this story? This book was one of three that focused on dangerous fashions. The first was A Constant Heart. It was set in the Elizabethan era when women poisoned themselves through their use of lead face paint. The second was Love’s Pursuit. It was a little less literal, the central idea being the era’s emphasis on appearance; the thought that what you wore could ruin your reputation – even among those who had known you forever. With She Walks in Beauty, the danger came in the form of the corset.
2) Do you research characters or write from your gut? Are any of your characters modeled after real life people? I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about or interviewing my characters. I feel like my job is mostly to just listen when they speak and record what they say. Most of the time my characters aren’t modeled specifically after real life people, but many times, they’re influenced by a type of person from their era. The hero in A Constant Heart is based on the ideal Elizabethan courtier. Clara, in this book, is based on her era’s society debutante. Hannah, from The Messenger, is based on several Revolutionary-era female spies and the real life dilemmas of conflicted Quakers during the period. My spring release has a quartet of West Point cadets. They’re based on the general types of cadets found at military academies and filled in with bits and pieces of legendary graduates of those pre-war years…and as I re-read this paragraph, I guess the better answer to your question would be ‘sort of’, wouldn’t it?
3) Where do you enjoy finding research most? (In historically written books, internet or libraries?) I’m old-fashioned: I love to hold a real book in my hands as I read although I’ll take information in any form I can get it. Particular research favorites from my bibliography for this book are: In a Gilded Cage by Marian Fowler; American Beauty by Lois Banner; and The Good Old Days – They Were Terrible! by Otto Bettmann. I also made ample use of the archives of The New York Times as I wrote this book.
4) What would you like to tell your current readers and hopefully future readers about the 1891 time period that you couldn’t include in this story? I think it’s important for readers of any historical novel to understand that for the purposes of the story, the scope of the characters’ world has to be artificially narrowed. There was so much I couldn’t include in this story, so much happening outside New York City in the nation and also in the countries across the globe. The women’s suffrage and the temperance movements were gaining influence. Out West, the Massacre of Wounded Knee had just taken place. The very first Sherlock Holmes story was published in 1891. The first successful flight of a manned aircraft took place in Prussia. Commercial production of the automobile began (in France). This was also the era of the robber barons who had created fabulous wealth using unscrupulous business practices and the era of sensationalism in news reporting.
5) Who was your favorite character in this novel and if this story was made into a movie who would you like to play the part of that character? Aside from Clara and Harry, I thought there were some great secondary characters in this novel! My heart went out to Katherine. And Mrs. Hobbs, who was obsessed with death and dying, made me laugh. And Lizzie was just so pure-hearted and loyal. Before I start drafting my stories, I usually make a character collage with images of the characters. The collage for this book can be seen on my Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/
6) What do you find to be the best trait of the 1890’s? Although it was taken to an extreme, I like the idea that there was a general knowledge of etiquette and an expectation of the use of good manners throughout society. I think we could use a little more of those in our culture today!
7) What was the worse trait of the 1890’s? The worst trait had to be the rigid roles required of both men and women in terms of their places within the family structure and within society in general. There was very little room for individuality. I explore this in even more depth in my English-set 1850s novel, Like a Flower in Bloom.
8) You have leapt time periods with your other novels and I always find it interesting to see where your capable mind will land. Do you have a favorite historical time period? I’ve gone as far back as the Dark Ages of Europe with one of my Iris Anthony books (The Miracle Thief) and as modern as the 1920s with Love Comes Calling. My next book, Flirtation Walk, is set in the 1850s. I have to say that each era has its own appeal. And just as soon as I’ve a ruled out a time period as being too dull, I seem to find a story in it!
9) Do you wish to share with us the next novel you have in the works? I just sent off the final proofs of my spring release, Flirtation Walk. It’s set at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the 1850s. Here’s a story summary:
Lucinda Curtis, the daughter of a con man, is trying her best to leave her father’s sordid past behind her. When he unexpectedly dies, she takes the opportunity to move to West Point to live with her aunt, ready to take on a new life and determined to marry a respectable man, a West Point cadet, to impress her relatives.
Seth Westcott, a cadet at West Point, is proud to be at the top of his senior class. Then his mother dies and his sister is taken in by a swindler, and Seth wants nothing more than to head west to track down the con man. But the army will only send the cadets at the bottom of the class to the frontier which leaves Seth with some tough choices.
When a woman trying her best to be good meets a man determined to be anything but, can there be hope for love or will two lonely hearts be condemned to casual flirtation?
Thank you Siri for graciously being willing to participate with this novel review and the questions that were posed to you. I’m currently reading Love Comes Calling and enjoying every word!
10) Where can your readers and followers find you online?