Novels like Dear Miss Cushman by Paula Martinac are the reason I love historical fiction. This is exactly the type of story I can sit down and lose myself in. It’s the perfect mix of mostly fictional characters set in a true historical time period, in this case the mid 19th century in New York City.
The book tells the story of a young woman, Georgie Carpenter, who ends up working as an actress in the theater after her father abandons their middle class family in disgrace. Georgie had always wanted to follow her father into theater work, but young women of that day and in that class were supposed to be getting married, not going to work. Georgie’s mother was very much against it until it became necessary to keep the family together.
Life in the theater was not easy, especially for young women. Discrimination, misogyny, and many other pitfalls ran rampant in the workplace and were considered normal. It was also where many friendships and lifetime attachments were made; some more special than others.
The author said in her acknowledgments that one reason she wanted to write this novel was to showcase how gays and lesbians managed to live during a time when their sexuality was not even recognized, and where there was zero chance they could live their lives openly. Martinac did an amazing amount of research into how real life lesbians, like the actress Charlotte Cushman, managed their lives so they could still be who they were with the ones they loved. She also researched the way theaters were run, especially backstage. All of this made Georgie’s story absolutely fascinating and very realistic.
I have only the highest praise for this novel and the work that went into its creation. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will be looking for more from this author.
I received an ARC from Bywater Books for an honest review.