Harriet and Isabella

Patricia O'Brien, Author . Touchstone $25 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4165-5220-8

Smooth flashbacks carry this inventive romp through a 19th-century New England scandal, which opens at the deathbed of Henry Ward Beecher, “the most brilliant preacher in America,” in March of 1887. Around him are his many siblings, notably his famous sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin . The deathwatch mirrors the moment when, 15 years earlier and further on in the book, the clan assembles to discuss a front-page story in Victoria Woodhull's newspaper that, in veiled language, accuses Henry of having an affair with parishioner Elizabeth Tilton, in which the two conduct “orgies” in front of her children. The result is (among other things) a punishing church committee hearing. Three years later, Henry's former protégé and parishioner, Theodore Tilton, files suit against Henry, charging alienation of affections. O'Brien (coauthor of I Know Just What You Mean ) takes the reader into the courtroom, a scene of such twists, betrayals and revelations that it will entertain even those who know how it ended—a tricky business since even Elizabeth, who has confessed, denied and confessed, wonders, “Which of my stories was true?” That the question remains just makes the telling juicier, and O'Brien delivers just enough history to make a reader feel virtuous while savoring the gossip. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 08/27/2007
Release date: 01/01/2008
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 521 pages - 978-1-4104-0615-6
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-7432-7777-8
Ebook - 320 pages - 978-1-4165-5378-6
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