May 6, 2009

How Do I Love Thee by Nancy Moser

My most recent read has been How Do I Love Thee by Nancy Moser from BethanyHouse Publishers.  To be released June 1, 2009 in Trade Paperback. I received an ARC copy from LibraryThing's EarlyReviewers program.
The year is 1845. Elizabeth Barrett is a published poet--and a virtual prisoner in her own home. Blind family loyalty ties her to a tyrannical father who forbids any of his children to marry. She has resigned herself to simply existing. That is, until the letter arrives... "I love your verses with all my heart," writes Robert Browning, an admiring fellow poet. And as friendly correspondence gives way to something more, Elizabeth discovers that Robert's love is not for her words alone. Could it be that God might grant her more than mere existence? And can she risk defying her father in pursuit of true happiness?
Nancy Moser has crafted a romantic, emotion-charged novel based on the true story of beloved poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
This is an inspirational historical fiction novel based on the life of the poetess Elizabeth Barrett Browning. There are elements of Christian faith within the story - being inspirational fiction - and being a not very religious person I did not find it overwhelming. Elizabeth and her Father pray together in one scene and I did have a twinge of uncomfortableness but otherwise I thought these elements enhanced the story because Moser uses faith as a tool for comparing different types of love. 
When we first meet Ba (as Elizabeth Barrett was called throughout her life by close friends and family) she is introspective, living through her writing, rigid and martyr-like, with aspects of her character forced upon her by a restricted existence but otherwise a tacit willfulness to be obedient. Her father has dictated no child of his shall marry and Ba never thinks of defying her father. Ba allows her life to wither away until the persistence of Robert Browning awakens her to the possibilities of happiness and love.  
The novel reveals Ba's complex emotional the beginning she is nervous, weakhearted, cowardly, unwilling to defy her father's iron hold over her and smothered by fear of the unknown. She wills herself, step by infinitesimal step, to change, take risks and step outside the cage she lives in, as for most of her life she confines herself to her room. We see her joy as she discovers a world of possibilities and overcomes all obstacles. Eventually she escapes to Italy with Robert, becomes a mother and lives a fulfilled life.
At the beginning of the book I did not like Ba at all. It is so hard to relate to someone who has no sense of independence and it is the strangest thing in the world for a father to deny his child love, marriage and for a child to be complacent and accept these dictates. How Do I Love Thee presents many lessons. We can be mired in despair and loneliness, yet the next day can be brighter if we embrace change. At its essence this novel is about a woman's struggle to be more courageous, break free of self-imposed bonds, fulfill her destiny and experience life and love. 
The book contains excerpts of the love letters between E.B.B. and R.B. and also stanzas of their poetry throughout, with Moser helping to reveal  the meanings behind their discourse and literature by expressing their thoughts and feelings. Additional content includes a Dear Reader letter from Nancy Moser, Fact or Fiction chapter by chapter, Discussion Questions, and Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  Here is a great quote from the book:
I shook my head, needing to continue. "You own a past full of love and happiness, Robert, but past is a drop if ink in a pool of clear water. It radiates outwards, seeping into every droplet, coloring the clearness with dark. The stain cannot be removed."
"But surely if more clear water is added, the darkness can be diluted."
I smiled and cupped his face with a hand. "You are my clear water, Robert. Refreshing and brilliant."
My Rating: 3.5

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