Harriet and Isabella

Harriet and Isabella

by Patricia O'Brien

Overview: It is 1887, and Henry Ward Beecher lies dying. Reporters from around the world, eager for one last story about the most lurid scandal of their time, descend on Brooklyn Heights, their presence signaling the beginning of the voracious appetite for fallen celebrities we know so well today.

When Henry Ward Beecher was put on trial for adultery in 1875, the question of his guilt or innocence was ferociously debated. His trial not only split the country, it split apart his family, causing a particularly bitter rift between his sisters, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Isabella Beecher Hooker, an ardent suffragist. Harriet remained loyal to Henry, while Isabella called publicly for him to admit his guilt. What had been a loving, close relationship between two sisters plummeted into bitter blame and hurt.

Harriet and Isabella each had a major role in the social revolutions unfolding around them, but what happened in their hearts when they were forced to face a question of justice much closer to home? Now they struggle: who best served Henry the one who was steadfast or the one who demanded honesty?

Judy Stanton (02/01/16): One way to gauge the success of a book in peaking your interest is whether after reading it you immediately want to go on the internet to learn more. The book Harriet and Isabella did that for me. It is the interesting story of the Beecher family, whose most famous sibling is Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. But this story centers on Henry Ward Beecher, the brother who took up his father's role as a clergyman. In 1875, Henry, who leads a huge church in Brooklyn and is well known for his oratory and his abolitionist views, is accused of adultery, and his once close sisters - close both with him and with each other - Harriet and Isabella Beecher Hooker -- find themselves on opposing sides of the question of his innocence/guilt. The author provides interesting details on the women's suffragist movement and shows Isabella's involvement with the more well known Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. While the historical fiction account is interesting in and of itself, anyone can relate to the the emotional ups and downs experienced in the Beecher family between siblings, spouses, children and parents. Well written.
Rating: ****

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