In my previous post I mentioned a backlog of three book reviews; today I am going to make an effort to get started on the first one.
For a while, I thought I was not going to write a review on "Brought Home" by Hesba Stretton, because the book seemed too short and too moralisingly religious for my own taste; I did think of not finishing it at first, but in the end, I decided not only to finish reading it but also to write about it here.
At first glance, "Brought Home" seems to be just one more of the many novels meant to be spiritually edifying, aimed at (mostly) girls, and frequently given as Sunday school prizes; one more that tries to instill the importance of virtue and the dangers of sin into young minds. Nowadays, a lot of our ideas about sins and virtues are very different to what was generally understood back then - on the surface. If you look properly, though, you will find that we are not that different under many aspects from those who lived back then.
When was "back then"? The author, Hesba Stretton (her real name was Sarah Smith), lived from 1832 to 1911. She was from Shropshire, England, and the daughter of a bookseller. At her time, she was very popular; Wikipedia says that one of her books sold ten times more than "Alice in Wonderland".
And yet, her writing was different in that she had practical experience with the kind of people she wrote about, having worked with slum children in Manchester and having witnessed close-up all manners of cruelties and degradation. Let me quote Wikipedia again: [said experience] gave her books a greater sense of authenticity, for Stretton's books drive home the abject state of the poor with almost brutal force. She became one of the co-founders in 1894 of the London Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which combined
with similar societies in other cities such as Manchester to form the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children some five years later.
"Brought Home" is, in short, the story of a vicar and his wife. She becomes an alcoholic, and the book not only describes how this was possible for someone of her standing, but also how people treat her, how her husband and the village react to her illness, what is done (or not done!) to help her, and how she eventually recovers and is, in more than one sense, brought home.
The way Hesba Stretton deals with the subject is very interesting. Not only does she explain that, in fact, alcoholism is not limited to the lowest social stratum of society, but also that self-righteousness and claiming to be good Christians does nothing to help an addict. I imagine that, back then, this particular story may have been quite an eye-opener for some. Her understanding of alcoholism seems profound, and I guess she had spoken in depth to more than one sufferer in order to be able to write about it in the way she did. She never accuses, merely describes and explains, and that made me decide to write this review and not feel ashamed about having read something so "Sunday-schooly-ish".