Beth's Book Review

Maisie Dobbs by Jacquelline Winspear

6021059f2336fd0b9a16_Maisie_Dobbs.jpg
6021059f2336fd0b9a16_Maisie_Dobbs.jpg

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear (Soho Press, 2003)

In the song “The Schuyler Sisters” from the Broadway musical Hamilton, sister Angelica sings, “ I've been reading 'Common Sense' by Thomas Paine. So men say that I'm intense or I'm insane, You want a revolution? I wanna a revelation . . .” because she and her sisters are “looking for a mind at work, work.” It was this iconic lyric that continued to play in my brain as I relished Jacqueline Winspear's novel, Maisie Dobbs, first published in 2003, and now the first of ten books in this fascinating series. The Schuyler sisters are a strong example of women in contemporary literature who are played with intelligence and curious, vibrant minds, just as Maisie Dobbs is in the early 20th century.

Although contemporary writers are trying to write stronger and more interesting female protagonists, many of those women fail as role models for a multitude of reasons. We've all heard the complaints of how difficult it is for actresses to find weighty roles in film today (and I'm not talking about Gal Godot's Wonder Woman here). While women have been given some super powers via comic book vehicles, finding a woman of conviction and intelligence, who is more passionate about the study of philosophy rather than finding a man to support her in comfort and style, is rare indeed. And that is precisely why Maisie Dobbs is a fascinating and satisfying novel.

Sign Up for E-News

The novel opens in the spring of 1929. Maisie is establishing herself as a private investigator, having arrived at her chosen profession through a series of events that reveal the strength of her character; her lifelong pursuit of learning and intellectual stimulation, her advocacy for women's rights, her patriotism for her British homeland, and her passion for other people who are important in her life.

From humble beginnings as the daughter of an industrious widower, who gets up in the middle of the night to peddle his fruits and vegetables to illustrious customers, such as Lady Rowan Compton of the Belgravia section of London, Maisie cannot help but let her keen mind shine even from her earliest years. Of his only daughter, Frankie Dobbs muses, “Oh, there was so much that they had wanted for Maisie, the child that had come to them later in life, and who was, they said, the answer to many prayers. She was a bright one, they knew that almost from the beginning. In fact, people would remark on it, that even as a newborn it seemed that Maisie could focus on a person and follow them with her eyes.” (p.73)

But Frankie's meager savings and hard economic times force Maisie to set aside her dreams of attaining higher education and, instead, Maisie goes to work in Lady Rowan Compton's household, doing menial labor. Drawn to the extensive library in Lady Compton's home, Maisie devises a plan whereby she can study secretly in the middle of the night before she is due to begin her chores. When discovered at her nocturnal studies one night, Maisie expects to be sacked, but Lady Compton has other ideas in mind for Maisie. Like the Schuyler sisters, she respects a mind at “work, work,” and devises a plan that changes the course of Maisie's life trajectory.

When World War I breaks out, the dutiful Maisie chooses yet a different path for herself, and enlists as a Red Cross nurse, traveling to France to tend to dying and wounded soldiers. During her courageous work as a surgical nurse, Maisie also finds love with a dashing British doctor named Simon. Putting passion aside for duty, Maisie puts off making promises to her young man until the war is over and she is free to figure out her priorities as she moves forward with her life.

Like many of the shell shocked young men who are maimed during the horrific first World War, Maisie must fight to put aside the sadness and stress of the battlefield as she opens her practice as an investigator ten years after the war. Ironically, her first case, is looking into a convalescent home called the Retreat, which has been established by a former British officer to see if something irregular is occurring in the home. As Maisie conducts her investigation, she is reunited with a former patient, Billy Beale, whose bettle shattered leg had been saved by Simon's surgical skills and Maisie's determined bedside manner.

When Billy and Maisie meet again, Billy expresses his gratitude to Maisie for helping him through his darkest hours, but he confides that even now, ten years after the Great War, there are many who suffer. Billy states, “I get up, so's not to wake the missus. Then I go out. Walking the streets. For hours sometimes. And you know what miss? It's not only me, miss. There's a lot of men I see, 'bout my age, walking in the streets. And we all know, miss, we all know who we are. Old soldiers who keep seeing the battle. That's what we are, miss.” (p, 236) In the character of Billy Beale, Winspear touches the reader by reminding us of the suffering of the battle scarred, and how difficult it is for many of them to move forward with their lives.

By meeting Billy and conducting her investigation into the Retreat, Maisie must rip open her own suppressed memories in order to confront her past and face her future. The ending of the novel is poignant and powerful, well worth the time to read and share with other people. Maisie is a character whom you will be compelled to discuss with others, and certainly as you close the last page of the first book in the series, if you are anything like me, you will be opening to the first page of Birds of a Feather, the sequel to Maisie Dobbs.

 

Beth Moroney, former English teacher and administrator in the Edison Public School District, specialized in teaching Creative Writing and Journalism. Recently Moroney published Significant Anniversaries of Holocaust/Genocide Education and Human/Civil Rights, available through the New Jersey Commission on the Holocaust. A passionate reader, Moroney is known for recommending literature to students, teachers, parents, and the general public for over forty years. Moroney can be contacted at trackdak19@hotmail.com.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Roselle/Roselle Park

Union County’s Free Summer Concert Series Launches Fri, June 22

June 22, 2018

UNION COUNTY, NJ -- The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra kicks off Union County’s 57th annual Summer Arts Festival series of free outdoor concerts sponsored by the Freeholder Board with an evening of Broadway favorites, beloved opera overtures and more on Friday, June 22, at 7:30 p.m. at Echo Lake Park in Mountainside.

Attendees are also invited to bring a mat or beach towel and join ...

Register by June 18 for Summer of Fun Camp in Roselle

ROSELLE, NJ - Get your kids ready for best eight weeks of their young lives, as Roselle presents the 2018 version of its summer fun camp for borough youngsters.

Under the direction of Recreation Director Donald Shaw, borough officials have put together eight weeks of fun, from outdoor adventures, to movies, to arts and crafts, to bowling to swimming. There are also visits to a lake and to a ...

Vitale Family to Hold “Alex's Lemonade Stand” Fundraiser

ROSELLE PARK, NJ - The Vitale Family in Roselle Park will be participating in "Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer" this Saturday, June 16. 

The Vitale family has a son Matteo who has pediatric cancer and they want to help raise awareness.

The family will have a lemonade stand in front of there home at 718 Chestnut Street in Roselle Park, to raise ...

Roselle Park Bulk Collection Company Experiencing Significant Delays

ROSELLE PARK, NJ - The Borough of Roselle Park's Bulk Waste Collection contractor is experiencing significant delays at the solid waste transfer station designated by the Union County Utilities Authority. 

Due to these disposal delays, residents should expect delayed pickups today and Friday, as applicable, and potentially through the weekend.

The Borough remains in close ...

Roselle PBA to Host 2nd Annual Free Softball Clinic

ROSELLE, NJ - The Roselle PBA will be hosting their 2nd Annual Free Softball Clinic at Sylvester Land Field for all ages and skill levels.

The clinic will be held on Tuesday, July 10. Youth ages 5 to 11 will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and ages 12 to 18 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

While the event is primarily for girls, boys are also welcome to join in on the fun that will ...

Make Music Roselle Park Lineup Includes Rock Bands, Singer-songwriters, Free Harmonica Lesson

ROSELLE PARK, NJ - The lineup for the first-ever Make Music Roselle Park will include two rock bands, a pair of singer-songwriters, a free beginner harmonica lesson and more.

The event being held on June 21, Make Music Roselle Park is part of Make Music Day, a global music celebration that takes place on the summer solstice each year and brings people of all ages and skill ...

Linden Man Arrested After Explosion in Cranford

June 22, 2018

CRANFORD - On Wednesday, June 20, 2018 at 7:06 p.m. the Cranford Police Department received
information that an explosion was heard in the area of Raritan Road and Summit Terrace. Through
a joint investigation with the Union County Prosecutor's Office and Linden Police Department, the
Cranford Police Department Detective Bureau identified a suspect through surveillance video ...

Gov. Murphy still pushing a millionaire's tax, won’t say when he'll sign sports betting, weed bills

June 11, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - With a showdown on the state budget looming just 22 days away, Gov. Phil Murphy today re-emphasized his call for a tax on the state’s wealthiest households while hoping to avoid another shutdown of state government.

“Do I still want a millionaire’s tax? The answer is ‘yes,’ “ Murphy said at a press conference at the John ...

Register Today for Summer Youth Courses Offered at Union County College

June 22, 2018

CRANFORD – This summer the Office of Continuing Education at Union County College is expanding its course offerings for youth ages 11-18. Classes are taught by NJ-certified teachers and subject matter experts that specialize in delivering high-quality youth programs. Classes begin the week of June 25 and run through August 23.

Classes offered include Introduction to Musical Theater, ...

'Half Time' delivers with sterling cast

MILLBURN, NJ – The Paper Mill Playhouse is putting on a smashing new production of “Half Time” to round out its current season.

With actress Georgia Engel in an engaging performance, the cast also features Donna McKehnie, Andre De Shieilds and Lilias White, among a host of other talents.

The musical centers on an effort to have seniors perform a dance number during ...

'Half Time' lights up Paper Mill stage

‘Half Time’ turns the tables on aging in gleeful production

By Liz Keill

MILLBURN, NJ – The Paper Mill Playhouse is putting on a smashing new production of “Half Time” to round out its current season.

With actress Georgia Engel in an engaging performance, the cast also features Donna McKehnie, Andre De Shieilds and Lilias White, among a host of other ...