-by Philip Lee Williams
494 pages (2001) paperback, University of Georgia Press
MY RATING: 5 /5 stars
Williams delivers a classic of our day!
Williams’ impressive loveable tale — The True and Authentic History of Jenny Dorset: Consisting of a Narrative by a Retainer, Mr. Henry Hawthorne, Along With the History of Two Households, That of Dorset and Smythe: A Novel — is a more enjoyable and descriptive read than its lengthy title. A refreshing medley of life in 18th century Charleston, it is seasoned copiously with charming wit, sprightly comedy, and intriguing memorable characters. A truly captivating read, this pleasing narrative is written with a sincere heartfelt timbre and comes alive with animated anecdotes that will evoke chuckling, and searing wit that will leave its mark.
As Jenny Dorset, the household’s beautiful but unruly daughter, develops into a resolute rebel against authority as the American Revolution advances, the account charts her maturation, along with the raucous goings-on of the Dorset and surrounding households.
Penned from the observant perspective of Henry Hawthorne, the Dorset’s discerning and subdued family man servant who cares for the family loyally throughout the years, the reader will undoubtedly find the rich storyline highly entertaining, and written in a gratifying dynamic manner. The dedicated retainer, Hawthorne, patiently abides by the Dorset family’s rather eccentric and unruly lifestyle, and writes about his experiences first-hand, in perceptive memoir-like style. Hawthorne, loosely reminiscent of Wilkie Collins’ Mr. Gabriel Betteredge, the Moonstone’s elderly garrulous manservant, will surely entertain with his clever maxims, razor-sharp observations, and proverbial quotes. Also noteworthy are the narrator’s observations of the turbulent ‘timescape’ of the pre-revolutionary period, as war loomed on the horizon. (Williams’ tireless research is palpably evident!)
Most remarkable is the method in which Williams characterizes each member of the families involved in the story’s captivating plot — from the oddball dueling plantation patriarchs, Mr. Dorset and Mr. Smythe, hell bent on out-doing one another; to Old Bob, eldest of the family’s service staff, in his comedic stages of senility; and the spirited and ostentatious Jenny Dorset herself. Insertions of correspondence between characters, candid glimpses into their lives, and even excerpts of sheet music penned by the fictional Mr. Dorset, brings this beloved story alive and lends a realistic feel to the personal accounts.
Indeed, Williams’ novel is a great story-tellers’ delight! The True & Authentic History of Jenny Dorset manifests very engaging humor with every flip of a page. A classic of our day, it will quickly ascend as one of your favorites. Highly recommended.
Buy at The True & Authentic History of Jenny Dorset Amazon.com
orginally reviewed 10/28/2000
- reviewed for University of Georgia Press