Title: The Daring Ladies of Lowell
Author: Kate Alcott
No. of Pages: 304
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: 25 February 2014
Bottom Line: Pleasant reading diversion but ultimately forgettable
“Eager to escape life on her family’s farm, Alice Barrow moves to Lowell in 1832 and throws herself into the hard work demanded of “the mill girls.” In spite of the long hours, she discovers a vibrant new life and a true friend—a saucy, strong-willed girl name Lovey Cornell.
But conditions at the factory become increasingly dangerous, and Alice finds the courage to represent the workers and their grievances. Although mill owner, Hiram Fiske, pays no heed, Alice attracts the attention of his eldest son, the handsome and reserved Samuel Fiske. Their mutual attraction is intense, tempting Alice to dream of a different future for herself.
This dream is shattered when Lovey is found strangled to death. A sensational trial follows, bringing all the unrest that’s brewing to the surface. Alice finds herself torn between her commitment to the girls in the mill and her blossoming relationship with Samuel. Based on the actual murder of a mill girl and the subsequent trial in 1833, The Daring Ladies of Lowell brilliantly captures a transitional moment in America’s history while also exploring the complex nature of love, loyalty, and the enduring power of friendship.”
Thoughts: While Alice is the main character for all intents and purposes, it is Lovey who steals the spotlight. She exists mostly in the background as her murder occurs fairly shortly into the novel, but she remains the spark that fuels Alice’s transformation. She has a zest for life that is irresistible, one not contained to a page but one that infects readers with her zeal. Her murder does nothing to diminish that special something either. Without her, the story would be dull indeed.
That a dead girl is more exciting than the main character is a damning statement, albeit a true one. There is a meekness to Alice that one could easily construe as weakness, even though Alice is anything but weak. She is quiet though and tends to fade away next to the stronger characters in the story. Even though she makes the tough decisions and stands her ground according to her beliefs, she never really does banish a reader’s feeling that she is a follower rather than a leader. Given everything that occurs, it may be an unfair assessment, but it exists nonetheless.
Even the descriptions of the mills, the towns of Lowell and Boston, and the countryside fail to inspire or shine with any sort of vibrancy. They are adequate in that readers can create the necessary mental images to understand the context of the narrative, but there is nothing in the writing that makes a reader want to stop and savor a passage or linger over imagery.
The Daring Ladies of Lowell is charming in its own way. Its depiction of life as a mill girl is, by all accounts, fairly accurate. Alice has a wonderful strength of character that mostly overshadows her propensity for passivity, while Lovey is a character that just sparkles no matter if she is in a scene or not. Ms. Alcott does a fine job capturing the changing attitudes of the factory workers and the factory owners as competition enters the landscape and creates greater conflict between profitability and worker safety. In the end though, The Daring Ladies of Lowell is really nothing more than a coming-of-age romance disguised as historical fiction. Its educational elements are secondary to Alice’s growing activism and her brewing relationship with Samuel. As such, it makes the entire novel a pleasant diversion but ultimately rather forgettable.