Yankee Cinderella is something I would have been very grateful to read when I was an undergraduate taking History 231: Survey of Colonial America. After reading a ton of dull primary source material, I would have welcomed a little historical narrative. However, what works as history on some levels does not on others, and fails entirely as romance.
This is the “true” story of a colonial girl, Agnes Surriage, the daughter of a Massachusetts fisherman, who was discovered scrubbing tavern steps by an English Peer. Charles Henry Frankland, who would later become Sir Harry Frankland, Baronet, looked upon her, saw a girl of tremendous beauty and potential, and asked her parents for permission to be her guardian and to teach her how to become a lady. When they agreed, Agnes accompanied him back to Boston and was educated and finished by Harry’s aristocratic friends. Later Agnes and Harry became lovers – much gossiped about lovers in the still Puritanical Boston – and even later they married.
The story reads like a fairy tale set in Colonial times. I suspect that Smith is an historian or, at the very least a history buff, as well as a native New Englander. He goes into a fair amount of detail about the Colonial way of life, and this was pretty interesting – in a limited sense. Smith spends much more time and loving detail on how the Frankland’s house was constructed than he does on how their relationship was formed. He writes about what happened to them, but not too much about how they felt about what happened.
And while it is obvious that Smith was fascinated by the Franklands’ story, I more than occasionally wondered why. Granted, their meeting was rather fascinating. And, it had all the elements of a fairy tale: the rich, well-favored gentleman and the poor, good-hearted beautiful girl. But after that initial meeting, their story follows a predictable route. She winds up in his bed, and her reputation suffers. He is allowed to do what he wants with little to no consequences. Even the circumstances that led to their marriage, though fantastical, are hardly romantic. The overall impression I got of both of them was rather poor. Harry comes off as a callous rake, and Agnes as rather spineless. She never gives any consideration to any plan for herself other than continuing as his mistress.
I don’t know how to grade this book, really. It can’t be successfully categorized as pure history; it’s not a romance or a biography, and it’s not straight fiction. So I’ll just say this: if you want to pick up a little New England history or liven up a Colonial lesson plan Yankee Cinderella would work just fine. But if you’re looking for much more, I’d pass on this one.