by Marie Benedict
Carnegie’s Maid, a work of historical fiction, attempts to explain what could have caused Andrew Carnegie, a ruthless businessman, to become a philanthropist and founder of the Carnegie Libraries. As a former impoverished Scottish immigrant, he fights his way to the top echelons of America’s monied, sometimes stepping on the backs of other immigrants to get there. Author Marie Benedict has created a lady’s maid from Ireland who is on a mission to support her Irish Catholic Fenian family. Her Clara is hard-working, smart, and focused. An opportunist, she takes the place of another Clara becoming a lady’s maid rather than a scullery maid making herself privy to the family’s secrets and business machinations.
As seen in Benedict’s other excellent work of historical fiction, The Other Einstein, the novel Carnegie’s Maid demonstrates the author’s intensive research and attention to detail. As I read I found myself wishing for a main character based on an actual person as in The Other Einstein. I assume the details and records of Carnegie’s life are just too sketchy to provide such a character. Benedict has taken the immigrant culture of the times, the certainty that Carnegie’s mother would have had a lady’s maid, the mystery of Carnegie’s altruism, and his delay in marriage as the basis for her fictional Clara. There is much more supposition in this book, but it is well written and not outside the realm of possibility.
I enjoyed the tale with its details about the difficult lives of the Irish both in Great Britain and in the United States. It paints a picture of the U.S. as a very difficult land of opportunity, with no handouts, and even fewer options for women. Gender, ethnic background, religion, money, family, and education all play a role in the highly stratified, unofficial class systems of the time.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Sourcebooks Landmark for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Historical Fiction
Notes: by the author of The Other Einstein
Publication: January 16, 2018—Sourcebooks Landmark
“These Catholic Irish running from the havoc wreaked by their famine and pouring onto American shores are not like the hard-working Protestant Irish who immigrated in earlier years. This new Catholic crop is rough and uneducated, and they’ll destroy the fabric of this country’s shaky democracy if we let them, especially in these days of Civil War unrest, just like they did back home in Scotland when they stole factory jobs away from Scottish men and women. An Irish Catholic servant might suffice as a scullery maid but not as my personal maid.”
For whom was I crying? for all the immigrants like the Lambs, who came to America seeking a better life but settled instead for a soot-infested home and dangerous work in the mills and gave thanks for it?
For the first time, I realized how alike my situation was to that of Mr. Carnegie. Although the scale was quite different, the stakes were not. The well-being of both our families rested on our success.