Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Maid to Match (book) by Deeanne Gist

Synopsis:

Eighteen-year-old Tillie has spent her whole life working towards one goal: becoming a lady's maid. As a lady's maid, she would be able to travel, meet famous/wealthy people, better support her family, and donate money to the local orphanage. If she can successfully pass a few more tests, she stands a good chance of becoming Edith Vanderbilt's lady's maid, and her goal will have been accomplished.

Things aren't quite so simple, however. The Vanderbilts hire Mack, a mountain man, because it would give them excellent bragging rights to have gorgeous twin footmen. Mack's twin is already a good footman, but Mack is going to need a lot of training to get up to snuff. It doesn't help that he doesn't really want the job - the only reason he agrees to work for the Vanderbilts is because he'd be paid more than he could earn anywhere else, and he needs the money to get his sister out of the orphanage and bring all his brothers back to the family's home in the mountains. Although Tillie refuses to believe it, Mack swears that the director of the orphanage has been abusing the children left in his care.

However tempting it may be, a romance with Mack would ruin Tillie's chances of becoming a lady's maid and would probably result in her dismissal. Even as she begins to have doubts about wanting to become a lady's maid, a life that would probably mean never getting married and never having children, she refuses to ruin her chances by being with Mack. Still, is being a lady's maid her dream, or is it really her mother's? Would becoming a lady's maid really allow her to do as much good as she thinks, or would it be better to become Mack's wife and take a more active role in helping out at the orphanage?

Commentary:

I have wanted to read this book for a while.  I've only read one other book by Gist, and, I have to say, although I thought that one was pretty good, I liked this one even better. I'm fairly new to Christian fiction in general and Christian romance in particular. Gist seems like a fantastic author to recommend to those who, like me, are used to reading secular fiction. Although "God stuff" does come up in her works, Gist doesn't seem to be too heavy-handed about it. In this book in particular, the "God stuff" is actually pretty light. During the first half of the book, it's just about nonexistent, and, in the second half, it's mostly limited to a few "what does God want me to do?" moments on Tillie's part.

As usual, Gist's writing is filled with all kinds of wonderful historical details. My knowledge of servant life is limited to English servants, and even then I don't know very much. The amount of detail in this book was wonderful, and I enjoyed the historical note Gist included at the end of the book.

One of my biggest complaints about Gist's The Measure of a Lady was my frustration with the main character's black-and-white view of the world, which sometimes made it difficult to like her. I didn't have that problem with this book. Both Tillie and Mack were enjoyable, likable characters. Tillie's desire to do good doesn't become too saccharine, and her refusal to believe what she was hearing about the director of the orphanage was perfectly understandable - after all, the entire town saw him as a fine, upstanding citizen, so why would she believe otherwise? Mack was prone to letting his temper get the best of him, getting into fights when he would have been better off dealing with problems in other ways. However, he only ever raised his fists at those he believed deserved it, and never women or children, and he gradually learned that fighting was not always the best way to solve problems. His horror when he realized that his own bad behavior at the Vanderbilt's could result in others, such as Tillie, being penalized, also went a long way towards making him likable.

I loved Tillie and Mack's relationship - there were some fantastic sparks flying between those two! Mack obviously adored Tillie, and there was no artifice in the way he dealt with her - he flat-out told her how he felt about her, and he demonstrated his feelings for her without once ever trying to make her feel jealous or otherwise force her to return those feelings in some way.

I suppose my love of Tillie and Mack's relationship leads to one of my few complaints about this book: the primary conflict keeping Tillie and Mack apart seemed a bit weak to me. It was obvious that Tillie and Mack were great together. It became increasingly obvious that the benefits of being a lady's maid would, for Tillie, probably not outweigh the drawbacks. Being a lady's maid would have been an excellent way to earn more money, which she could have used for the two things in her life that were most important to her, supporting her family and funding good organizations like the orphanage. However, lady's maids only last as long as their looks do, so her career would have been over by her early 30s. At that point, her chances of having a life like that of others in her station, with a husband and children, would be pretty slim, and yet she would not be able to fund the kind of life being a lady's maid would have accustomed her to. Tillie gets sick riding in carriages, so being able to travel would not have been of true benefit to her. Being a lady's maid would also have consumed so much of her time that the only good she could have done for others would have been with her money - volunteering her time for anything would have been impossible. As her father makes clear later in the book, Tillie siblings can support the family by getting jobs as they get older, so her monetary support isn't as necessary. Once Mack is offered the job of orphanage director, on the condition that he is married, all remaining reasons for Tillie not to be with Mack evaporate.

One thing about this book that may shock those expecting a gentle Christian story is a fairly dark event that happens near the book. Up to that point, it was very difficult for Mack to drum up enough suspicion about the orphanage director to get a proper investigation going. However, after one of the orphanage's children dies, this changes. The thing that makes this tragedy especially dark is that the child who dies isn't a random, unnamed child, but rather a girl that both Mack and Tillie had gotten to know a little. In fact, just before the girl's death, Tillie had promised to teach her how to sew, so that it would be easier for her to get proper employment after leaving the orphanage. It turns out that the orphanage director had a deal with the local brothel - the girls at the orphanage were intentionally not taught marketable skills, so that they would feel their only chance for survival once they became too old to live at the orphanage was to become prostitutes. I had expected that Tillie would manage to help the girl find a job after leaving the orphanage, and that this experience would prompt Tillie to realize that she could do more good in person rather than with monetary donations, so the girl's death was a shock.

Overall, I really liked this book and would recommend it to any reader of secular romance would wanted to delve into Christian romance but was afraid of anything too preachy or disgustingly sweet. Because of the very light amount of "God stuff," and because of the dark turn taken near the end of the book, this may not be considered an acceptable book for some regular readers of Christian fiction, however.

My list of read-alikes and watch-alikes is wimpy. I would love to find more books involving romance between a maid and footman (or other servant positions), but there don't seem to be any. 

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Emma (manga) by Kaoru Mori; Emma (anime TV series) - Those who loved the historical details in Gist's book might want to try this. Set in England, this series focuses on the romance between Emma, a maid, and William, a member of the gentry. Gist's book reminded me a great deal of the second half of the series (last half of the manga series, the second season of the anime), in which Emma works in the Molders' household as part of a large staff. Alas, those who loved Gist's romance between a maid and a footman will be disappointed that nothing happens between Emma and Hans, the Molders' footman, but that doesn't mean the tension between the two of them isn't fun (FYI, this tension is much more pronounced in the anime).
  • Shirley (manga) by Kaoru Mori - Can you tell that my knowledge of stories featuring maids as main characters is largely limited to Mori's works? This manga focuses on a maid named Shirley and is set in a slightly more recent time period than her Emma series.
  • Lady on the Hill: How Biltmore Estate Became an American Icon (non-fiction book) by Howard E. Covington Jr. - Imagine my surprise when, shortly after finishing Maid to Match, I found myself cataloging this book at work.  For those who are interested in reading more about the Vanderbilts and the place where Tillie worked, this book might be a good fit.

2 comments:

  1. If intermittent subplots in TV shows count, there's "Downton Abbey," which features a romance between parlor maid/eventual ladies' maid Anna and Mr. Bates, Lord Grantham's valet, although they're a somewhat older, less stereotypical romantic couple than Tillie and Mack seem to be. Anna looks around thirty to me (although the script makes no reference to her age), and Mr. Bates appears to be well into his forties, in addition to being a war veteran with an initially somewhat disabling limp. The limp appears to have pretty much vanished by the most recent couple of seasons of the show. However, when the series started, Bates' leg injury made it sufficiently difficult for him to move around agilely enough to perform tasks such as carrying luggage and waiting on table when needed that a rival candidate for the valet position almost succeeded in getting him fired on the grounds of physical inability to perform his duties properly.

    Bates also has at least one shady (albeit eventually explained away) incident in his past, in addition to turning out to be still married to a manipulative estranged wife who refuses to give him a divorce. When the wife subsequently dies of a fatal dose of poison, Bates is accused of murdering her. (Some viewers still aren't convinced that he didn't do it.)

    The first couple of seasons of the show also include a subplot about the young footman William's unrequited love for Daisy the kitchen maid, who only likes him as a friend. When William is severely wounded in World War I, Daisy is reluctantly persuaded to grant his supposed dying wish by marrying him on his deathbed, despite her own well-characterized scruples about this being dishonest and unfair to him. Other flirtations and romances--both one-sided and not--amongst various servants have also been featured in more recent seasons, albeit often more briefly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, Downton Abbey would be a good watch-alike. I've only seen the first season, but Anna and Mr. Bates were nice to watch together.

      Delete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...