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Deerbrook by Harriet Martineau

Deerbrook (1839)

by Harriet Martineau

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1841290,893 (3.68)1 / 97

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Deerbrook by Harriet Martineau; (3*);

As I read Deerbrook I found the book read more like a study on certain social mores for the women of the day rather than as a novel. That was my take on it, at least. It was pretty dry reading for me.
The three women of the novel, Hester, Margaret and Maria, and their life choices, or the lack thereof, are described as they go through their lives. For these three, their choices are few: to marry, become a governess or to live life out as a spinster.
The change in Hester after she wed was a bit difficult for me to understand but I was not walking in her shoes. The wickedly evil & ugly gossip within the community after Hester & Edmund wed and Margaret moved in with them practically destroys all relationships in the household.
While I cannot say that I enjoyed this novel I did appreciate it for the writing, the research & the obvious passion with which Martineau wrote. ( )
  rainpebble | Feb 11, 2017 |
Deerbrook reminded me of a 19th century soap opera. Like Dallas or Dynasty, there are rival families (or, at least, rival women) who use local gossip to promote themselves and denigrate their rivals. The arrival of the Grey's city cousins, Hester and Margaret, provides new fodder for the local gossip mill. It doesn't take long for the two most eligible bachelors, physician Edward Hope and law student Philip Enderby, to seek out the sisters' company. The gossips assume that men will naturally prefer the beautiful elder sister, Hester, but both men are attracted more by Margaret's personality. This will lead to worlds of trouble, particularly since Mr. Enderby is the brother of Mrs. Grey's social rival, Mrs. Rowland. Mrs. Rowland has other plans for her brother.

The novel's main purpose is didactic, and the entertainment value is secondary to this purpose. Also, Margaret may come across as a Mary Sue to modern readers. However, many of the issues raised in the novel are still problems today. What are unsubstantiated rumors or false reports if not “fake news”? And don't we still see people shunned and businesses boycotted because they voted for a candidate that others don't like, even when that candidate won the election? This novel will still speak to today's readers who are willing to tolerate the heavy-handed dialogue. ( )
1 vote cbl_tn | Jan 18, 2017 |
How far would your sense of duty take you? Would it cause you to subordinate yourself to the good of others, to what other people expect you to do based on their misperceptions of your deeds and words? Duty and the distinction between duty to oneself and duty to others is one of the major dilemmas at the heart of Deerbrook.

Dearbrook was a rural English village, reasonably prosperous, reasonably pretty, and oh so mundane. The two major merchant families were headed by Mr Rowland and Mr Grey: business partners, neighbours and friends. Their wives, however, were a completely different matter. Mrs Rowland and Mrs Grey were rivals in everything, but somehow managed to have their small children educated together by Miss Young, whose salary the families paid.

Into this claustrophobic world came the Misses Ibbotson. Hester and Margaret were recently orphaned and had come to visit their only relative, Mr Grey, "...while their father's affairs were in course of arrangement, and till it could be discovered what their means of living were likely to be." Naturally the two eligible young women became an instant source of speculation and gossip. Mrs Grey was convinced that all eligible young men would be captivated by Hester, as dazzled as she herself was by her beauty. Margaret was lauded for her intelligence and quiet manner. Mrs Grey particularly championed the aptly name Edward Hope, the village doctor, as a match for Hester. Mrs Rowland couldn't tolerate the idea of anybody from Deerbrook marrying into the Greys, in her mind Greys should leave Deerbrook upon marriage.

The interfering machinations, the use of manipulations and innuendo by both Mrs Rowland and Mrs Grey would result in one potentially vey unhappy marriage, one emotionally devastated sister, a promising career put on the skids, a mob attack, and one aborted engagement.

Honesty emerges as the other major dilemma for Martineau's characters. Some have no regard for it, committing outright acts of deception to mold the world to their wishes, no matter the pain it caused or how close to home it fell. Others used truth selectively, pushing matters here, holding back there. Still others struggled to find the truth, within themselves and in others.

Truth and duty, no longer fashionable in some circles, were major moral concerns in much of nineteenth century English literature. Martineau cloaked some of her discussion in religious terms, which might not necessarily resonate with today's readers, but which do give insight into the thought of her contemporaries. She is perhaps a bit too comfortable with the idea of adversity as something which can be overcome and thus make us stronger and so closer to the deity. However, that takes nothing away from her skill at characterization. The sheer egregious audacity of Mrs Rowland creates one of Victorian literature's best evil women. Children are convincingly portrayed, their prattle showing them unconsciously developing into little miniatures of their parents complete with their points of view. Martineau's sly descriptions of social visits show that she was not only an astute observer, but also a victim of the tedium induced by middle class convention.

Deerbrook is a first novel, but Harriet Martineau was already an established writer. She was the author of a series of popular articles, "Illustrations of Political Economy" and three books on American life written after two years of travel in North America where she spoke in support of Abolition. Chronologically, Martineau fills the gap between Jane Austen and George Eliot. Stylistically, she would be looking ahead to Eliot, but there are definitely echoes of Austen here. The Athenaeum reviewer felt her superior to Austen, while Blackwood's compared her to Madame de Stael. Martineau wrote one more novel before abandoning fiction and returning to essays and articles.
5 vote SassyLassy | Jan 18, 2017 |
Orphans Hester and Margaret come to the village of Deerbrook to stay with their cousin, Mr Grey, while he settles their late father's estate. Mr Hope, the village apothecary, falls in love with Margaret, but Hester falls in love with him. When Mrs Grey tells him the whole village is expecting him to offer for Hester, he does indeed marry her, despite the fact that this will mean Margaret living with them.

This took me to about 40% of the novel and after that I skimmed, so the precise details of the rest of the plot escape me. I found this novel long and, in the main, humourless. On the other hand, I very much enjoyed sections of it. The feud between Mrs Grey and Mrs Rowland was an excellent plot strand which (I think) took on darker and more dramatic proportions in the second half of the book. The insularity and lack of privacy in a small village is made very clear. One thing that puzzled me was the way, after Hester's marriage, everyone suddenly agreed she had character defects. Apart from being jealous of her sister's friendship with the governess Maria, which is surely quite natural - they were all alone in the world otherwise and Hester tried to overcome this - she seemed perfectly amiable to me. Then, after her marriage she is irrational, whiny, depressive, moody - a bit of everything really!

It was, of course, a very Victorian book; Mr Hope faints at one point through pure excess of emotion, all the characters speak matter-of-factly about what God expects of them and God does indeed come through for the mismatched Hester and Hope.

I wouldn't read it again. ( )
  pgchuis | Jan 15, 2017 |
Harriet Martineau lived from 1802-1876 and was a well-respected writer of sociological and economic articles and was admired for her only novel, [Deerbrook]. I don't believe this book is widely read these days, but for admires of Austen and George Eliot this book holds a lot of interest as a sort of bridge and also in its own right as a novel.

Martineau sets up a situation where two sisters go for an extended visit to Deerbrook to stay with relatives, the Greys, and end up finding love interests. The love stories are very messy, but present some interesting situations. There is also lots of gossip and meddling from several of the characters which harms the lives of many people in the book. Also present is interaction with the poor and a disease epidemic that explore some of the class divides of the day.

Although some of the longer didactic passages got annoying, I enjoyed this novel and am so glad to have been introduced to it through LT! ( )
1 vote japaul22 | Jan 14, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Martineau, Harrietprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sanders, ValerieEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weiner, GabyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Every town-bred person who travels in a rich country region, knows what it is to see a neat white house planted in a pretty situation,--in a shrubbery, or commanding a sunny common, or nestling between two hills,--and to say to himself, as the carriage sweeps past its gate, "I should like to live there,"--"I could be very happy in that place."
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The Grey family live in the tranquil English village of Deerbrook, to which, one summer, come their distant cousins from Birmingham, Hester and Margaret Ibbotson. The arrival of the recently orphaned cousins causes a sensation in the small community. The twenty-on-year-old Hester has the gift of great beauty and the terrible fault of jealousy, while Margaret, a year her junior, is her inferior in looks, though vastly superior in intelligence and disposition. Finding themselves the object of curiosity, admiration, and pity, they are quickly absorbed into the intricacies of village life: we enter the world of Jane Austen and the Brontës as we watch the two sisters fall in love with the two most eligible men in Deerbrook.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141439394, Paperback)

When the Ibbotson sisters, Hester and Margaret, arrive at the village of Deerbrook to stay with their cousin Mr Grey and his wife, speculation is rife that one of them might marry the local apothecary Edward Hope. Although he is immediately attracted to Margaret, Hope is ultimately persuaded to marry the beautiful Hester. The unhappiness of their marriage is compounded when a malicious village gossip accuses Hope of grave-robbing.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:34 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The Grey family lives in the traditional English village of Deerbrook in the early 1800s. The arrival of their two orphaned cousins, beautiful Hester and bright Margaret, causes a sensation, as the two girls fall in love with the two most eligible men in the community.… (more)

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