Since I have a bit of commute for school pick-up, I’ve been listening to more audiobooks in the car these past few months. I get them from the local library. Recently I listened to “The Daring Ladies of Lowell” by Kate Alcott (author of The Dressmaker – which I also listened to on audio) which is read by Cassandra Campbell.
I live near the Lowell Mills and I have always found their history fascinating. In this novel, Alice Barrow moves to Lowell to work in the mills. She is a fairly typical “mill girl”, having left her family farm for work in the city and some independence. Alice lives in a boarding house (very typical of the time) with several other mill girls. Then one of them is found dead — suicide is suspected but it turns to murder. Alice becomes involved in the trial and in trying to bring her friend’s murderer to justice. Along the way, the girls are fighting for better working conditions and health protection, and Alice finds herself falling in love with the son of the mill owner.
The following contains SPOILERS!
I enjoyed listening to this book. I have to say I was a bit freaked out by the health issues some of the girls had that I was unaware of — coughing up “cotton balls” of lint from breathing it in during production, and eventually having their lungs ruined. That was quite disturbing. Lovey’s murder is also quite disturbing – she is pregnant and the number one suspect is an itinerant minister. Interestingly, this part of the novel was based on the real life murder of a mill girl, and Alcott even used the trial testimony and some real names. (In real life, though, the murder took place in Fall River – still in Massachusetts but not Lowell).
The only thing that didn’t “work” for me in this story was the romance. It seemed fairly improbable that the mill owner’s son would fall in love with a worker (and I don’t mean “lust after” but truly “fall in love”). The class divide was pretty great in those days and the working class was often “invisible” to the wealthy. It was fine; I just had to suspend my disbelief during those scenes!
Here’s a great article from the Globe about the real murder in Massachusetts that this is based on and how Ms. Alcott came to write about it:
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