Harriet and Isabella
Touchstone, Jan 2008, $25.00
In March 1887 in Brooklyn Heights the great American abolitionist preacher Henry Ward Beecher lays nears death. His extended family has gathered to pay their last respects while the media also arrives seeking a story especially since his two famous sisters have publicly feuded over him in the past fifteen years.
The gathering is mindful of a similar family meeting that happened a decade and a half earlier to discuss how to handle the scandal. On the front page of the newspaper is an accusation that Henry is having an affair with his parishioner Elizabeth Tilton witnessed by her children. A church committee conducts a kangaroo hearing into the matter and in 1875, he stands trial for committing adultery while his former parishioner, Theodore Tilton, sues him. Henry’s sisters split as Harriet the renowned author supports him and Isabelle the ardent suffragette condemns her sibling.
This is a fabulous historical fiction tale that could be easily read in the headlines of today. Other flashbacks round out the tale, but it is the deftly handled celebrity trial of Henry Ward Beecher that makes this worth reading. Reconstruction Era historical buffs will appreciate this fine telling of the events that caused a schism amidst the first family of mid nineteenth century human rights.