· ‘Adelaide talked slowly at first, and then soared into a region where I had never seen a woman - an intellectual one.’
Having never heard of the book or the author before, I read The Morgesons by Elizabeth Stoddard for my nineteenth-century American literature module at uni this week. I was excited to start it when I discovered that it was a female bildungsroman as I always love books with well-developed and strong female characters, and it did not disappoint. The Morgesons is a really poignant coming-of-age novel that doesn't get nearly enough attention in the literary world as it deserves.
The novel follows Cassandra Morgeson from childhood to adulthood, recounting her exploration of knowledge, desire and the role of women in the nineteenth century. Throughout the book she travels to different settings, each one reflecting another stage in her intellectual and personal development.
I really liked Stoddard's writing style in the first half of the novel and was racing through it because I was enjoying it so much, but somehow I felt the pace started to wane in the second half of the book and it seemed to have lost some of the magic it held in the first half. That said, I did finish it and still really enjoyed it overall. There are lots of really beautiful passages in which Cassy's sense of identity seems to be connected to the scenery and I always love a bit of nature imagery in literature!
I personally really liked Cassy as a character as I thought she was really well-developed and often confounded the expectations of how women should behave at the time. I found myself really empathising with her as she faced isolation in school, and grief for various reasons later in her life. I know this is probably an unpopular opinion but I often find female characters in novels from around the same time period to be a bit silly and underdeveloped so I think Stoddard did really well in fleshing out the female characters in this.
Overall, I really liked The Morgesons and would highly recommend it to anyone who likes strong female characters, coming-of-age novels and beautiful prose.