In the late Victorian era, there were few chances to be a woman in any position of power. Perhaps the “Angel in the House” was not as strong an idea as it had been a few decades before, but it was nevertheless a lingering ideal. Ironically, it was harder to have any power outside the house when one was a woman with any wealth. Lower-class women were often forced to work outside the house in order to make ends meet, though whether they held power is a matter up for debate.
Then, of course, whenever a woman did hold power, there was always a chance that a man would try to wrest it from her. That is exactly what happened to Mary Pigot, Lady Superintendent of a mission in India.
Based on historical events, Two Coins relates the conflict between Mary Pigot and Reverend William Hastie, the new Principal of the Scottish College in Calcutta. From the first, the two clash. Rev. Hastie is a picture of the stiff, proper Victorian man, while Miss Pigot is rather more lax in her approach to practically everything. Even the way she sits on a sofa is an affront to his sensibilities, and the pride each of them shares means neither can back down when a battle of wills inevitably arises.
The author’s meticulous research shows in the vivid world she presents. Details are presented only as they are needed, but a glossary is provided in the back (though reading it as an ebook makes it a little harder to reference), and the story shines through without being lost in an overly-described setting. Calcutta is presented as straightforwardly as London might, and while I was occasionally confused by a reference, on the whole it speaks well of the writer. The city would not be exotic to most of the characters, and it need not be to the readers. With the exception of Rev. Hastie, the central characters have spent enough time in Calcutta to be familiar with it. Anyone seeking exotic tales of missionaries will want to look elsewhere. This book is for those interested in historical truth.
It is also a book for any who enjoy strong-minded characters. Both men and women have their strengths and foibles, and I found all equally compelling and exasperating. In other words, I found them all perfectly human. I don’t know that I could have enjoyed this book more, and I feel I learned a great deal. A work of historical fiction that is both entertaining and informative is a rare treat, and this is not one that should be passed by.
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