My latest vintage read is Mrs Georgie Sheldon's sappy melodrama, The Masked Bridal. Edith Allandale is our heroine, and like most other Victorian heroines she is sweet, beautiful, and adored by all and sundry, from the heroic young lawyer who briefly employs her to the dastardly Italian sculptor whose steps are dogged by a mysterious woman. After her mother dies, Edith discovers a secret of her own that sends her flying from New York to Boston, where she finds a position as a companion to the brilliant socialite, Mrs Goddard. When both Mr Goddard and Mrs Goddard's villainous brother fall in love with Edith, the jealous Mrs Goddard comes up with the perfect scheme to punish the erring husband and console the spurned brother. Family secrets, mysterious beauties, women scorned, and dastardly schemes seem ready to trap Edith in a horrible deception--but of course her guardian angels are hard at work.
This book was fun, but not particularly deep. I felt the writing style was a little choppy and superficial. Also, the point of view flits lightly from character to character with little warning, which provokes literary hiccups.
As to the book's message, it revolves around the damage done when, to quote, "girls will be so foolish and headstrong as to go directly contrary to the advice of those who love them best, and run away with men of whom they know comparatively nothing!" There are a number of ways Mrs Sheldon could have discussed this worthy moral. She could have, for instance, taken a rather harsh line and come across as heartless. She did not, and I really appreciated how the novel held out grace to repentant sinners. However, there was a double standard that disturbed me. When Edith and a female relation discuss their plans to live together and enter society, the following resolve occurs:
"Let us pledge ourselves never to admit within our doors any man who bears the reputation of being immoral, or who lightly esteems the purity of any woman, however humble; while, on the other hand, let us never refuse to hold out a helping hand to those poor unfortunate girls, who, having once been deceived, honestly desire to rise above their mistake."Perhaps I am over-sensitive, since it is certainly more appropriate for two single ladies to help members of their own sex, but given the Victorian emphasis on the superior piety of women as opposed to men, this felt like a tacit presumption that women are generally the poor deceived victims while men are generally the cold-hearted villains in such circumstances, undeserving of pity. While, at the end of the novel, grace is finally extended to a man with this kind of sin in his past, it seems almost a grudging concession when compared with the glowing description of a woman who has risen on the stepping stones of her dead self to higher things to an almost Mary Sue-like level.
Once more, this was an enjoyable book, but I think I have had enough Victorian melodrama for now!