Desert Isle Keeper
The Hidden Hand
Romance readers look to Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte as writers whose books were ancestors to today’s modern romance novels. In addition to these wonderful British ladies, I would like to propose a work by a 19th century American woman writer. This book features a character who was wildly popular and is the prototype of all of today’s feisty, risk taking, plain speaking heroines.
Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth was a very popular writer in the middle to latter part of the 19th century. Her books were serialized in story-papers and later printed and re-printed under different titles to the point that scholars are not quite sure how many books she did write. One thing that is sure – she was a bestseller. Of her many books one of them, The Hidden Hand is still in print and still very enjoyable as an example of old-fashioned melodramatic storytelling at its best.
The heroine of The Hidden Hand is Capitola. She is an orphan and is quite possibly the feistiest heroine in American literature. When we first meet her, Capitola is dressed as a boy to get employment – boys can work, girls can’t. She is taken in by a rich relative and then the plot thickens. Along the way Capitola meets with long-lost relatives and dastardly villains. She survives storms, kidnap attempts and fights a couple of duels, including one with a bad guy named Black Donald. (She wins, of course). And like all good heroines at the conclusion of the book, she ends up with the handsome, stalwart hero.
Mrs. Southworth’s book all have an (over)abundance of plot. To try and tell the plot of The Hidden Hand would require pages and pages of explanation. Suffice it to say the book is melodramatic. It is gothic. It is overblown. And it is tremendous fun.
We often think of the 19th century woman as an oppressed creature imprisoned in layers of skirts. Capitola broke all the conventions for proper feminine behavior and ranged as free as any man. She had adventures, she spoke her mind, she did what she wanted to do and she was rewarded for her audacity. Talk about wish-fulfillment for women! Even modern readers will find themselves cheering for Capitola in all her adventures.
Give this book a try. Yes, it is old-fashioned, but it is written with great vigor and is lots of fun to read. Maybe when our great-great grandmothers first read this book they dreamed of adventure and romance as they crocheted lace doilies and payed social calls. And when you read a romance with a strong, vigorous and independent heroine who speaks her mind and seeks adventure, remember Capitola the mother of all feisty ones.