Book Review: Masquerade

I’m not sure sure how I ended up reading two novels about the Gilded Age back to back, She Walks In Beauty by Sir Mitchell (linked to my review) and now Masquerade by Nancy Moser, but I think doing so enhanced my understanding of that era. They contained similar contrasts of the rich vs. the poor, the plight of  immigrants and the excesses of the rich, as well as descriptions of the lavish clothing and stringent societal rules.

In Masquerade, Lottie Gleason is a spoiled, self-centered headstrong nineteen year old in England being shipped off to marry a rich American to save the family, which is in trouble due to her father’s indiscretions, both financial and moral (though the American family, the Tremaines, don’t know the situation.) When her mother’s plans to accompany her fall through due to illness, Lottie’s maid, Dora, is sent in her stead as more of a companion than maid.

On the ship to America, Lottie hatches the plan that they should switch places. Lottie does not want to marry a man she has never met, she wants freedom and adventure, and Dora could use the financial situation to help her mother. It takes some persuading for Dora to agree, but eventually she does.

Thus we have a Prince and the Pauper situation. Dora finds out that high society has its pleasures, but its has problems as well, and Lottie’s bout with freedom leads quickly to frustration and danger as she encounters people and situations she never dreamed of, but she also finds kindness in unexpected places.

The historical setting has been well-researched and well-written, and I enjoyed that part of the novel, but the tale of the two girls…irritated, I think, would be the right word. It’s believable that someone of Lottie’s personality might dream of such an idea, but it seemed implausible to me that Dora would go along with it and that neither of them would think through the consequences (though thinking things through was not one of Lottie’s strong points, either). For instance, they were themselves on the ship, interacting with other passengers (and Dora almost falling in love with one): did they think they would never seen any of them again once in New York under different identities? And did they think they’d never see their families again, or did they figure by that time the die would be cast and it would be too late for their parents to interfere?

I finally had to just concede the point and move on. But there were minor points that chafed as well: I don’t think we were ever told how the Gleason and Tremaine families made contact in the first place and then got to the point of arranging a marriage for their children. The arrangement makes sense in Lottie’s family’s situation but not Conrad Tremaine’s, the intended beau. Were there no single rich young women in New York, necessitating the family having to make arrangements sight unseen with the family of a girl from England? When one of Dora’s handkerchiefs with her real initials on it is discovered by someone else, we’re not told how it came into her hands for her to have it at just the right moment. Lottie develops a conscience and more of a heart of compassion, but her bent toward being headstrong and impulsive doesn’t change. Dora seems to care for someone back home, someone she met on the ship, and Conrad interchangeably for a long while until she finally makes a choice. The one character whose growth and story arc I most liked ends up kind of left in the dust, but I won’t say who so as not to spoil the story. In the high society church, the author writes, “The organ played a song to remind everyone that God had arrived” (p. 210). Seriously, does anyone think that? That sentence did not make sense to me at all. An occasional phrase here and there seemed anachronistic.

I do, however, like the way the theme of masquerading for various reasons played out not just among the two main characters but several others as well. When someone dropped their mask or pretension and showed their true selves, it was usually a positive.

I had picked this up because I really enjoyed Nancy’s How Do I Love Thee? about Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but I didn’t care for this one as much. Even still, it’s not a bad book altogether. The characters do grow and learn valuable lessons along the way and do learn to see and submit to the hand of God. Looking at the reviews at Amazon and, some felt as I did but others really liked it. “You don’t have to take my word for it,” as Levar Burton used to say. And I don’t think this will keep me from trying another of Moser’s books.

On a side note, nearly every time I saw this title around the house, my mind played the Masquerade song from Phantom of the Opera. 🙂

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Masquerade

  1. Shhh…I wish you wouldn’t have mentioned the song from Phantom. Now it’s playing in my head!

    I like Moser. And I had forgotten that this book came out. Sorry to hear it wasn’t as good as some of her others, but I’d still like to read it at some point just because I like HER as an author. Glad you talked about it again today to remind me of its existence.

    • I didn’t dislike it overall per se — there were just certain things about it I didn’t like. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this — you may have a completely different take on it. And I am looking forward to more Moser books as well.

  2. I like a lot of Nancy Moser’s books so would give this a try. After reading the book I just did about early 1900’s Russia and some of the things people believed, the organ sentence actually does make sense to me. LOL.

  3. Pingback: What’s On Your Nightstand: September « Stray Thoughts

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