19 March 2016

Celia Garth

Synopsis from Goodreads: This is a story about a girl who wanted things to happen to her.

Celia Garth lived in Charleston, South Carolina, during the American Revolution. She had blond hair and brown eyes and a sassy face, and she worked in a fashionable dressmaking shop.

Things did happen to Celia, but not as she had planned. The king's army captured Charleston. The ravisher Tarleton swept through the Carolina countryside in a wave of blood and fire and debauchery. Caught up in the ruin were Celia and her friends -- the merry-minded Darren; Jimmy, whose love for Celia brought her into his tragedy; the fascinating Vivian, five times married; Godfrey, rich and powerful, who met disaster because he could control anything in town but the weather; the daredevil Luke.

Most people thought the Revolution was lost. Many Americans, like Celia's handsome cousin Roy, joined the king's side. Then out of the swamps appeared Francis Marion.

Marion was a little man. Marion was also crippled. But as Luke said of him, "When that man's leading a charge, he looks nine feet tall."

In the dressmaking shop, Celia became a spy for Marion. She sewed, she smiled sweetly, and in secret she risked her life sending information to this man that the king's whole army could not catch, the mighty little man to whom Tarleton angrily gave the name 'Swamp Fox'.

Stats for my copy: Hardcover, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1959.

How acquired: Library sale.

First line: Celia Garth had blond hair and brown eyes.

My thoughts: As I started CELIA GARTH, I felt that the writing was a bit simplistic. The first paragraph is a description of Celia's looks, and I was almost reminded of a child's chapter book. But it didn't take long for me to be drawn into Celia's life, and either the writing got better or I stopped noticing it.

When we meet Celia, she is a twenty-year-old apprentice at a sewing shop in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1779. The country is at war with the British, but Celia is busy living her life and not really involved in politics or completely aware of what's going on around her. She often made me think of Scarlett O'Hara, except where Scarlett was selfish and spoiled and only grudgingly did the right thing, Celia is sweet and good-natured and happy to help others, a “poor relation” who is hoping with all her might that when her apprenticeship is over she'll be given a permanent job and won't have to rely on her rich cousin to support her.

But when the town you live in and love with all your heart is invaded by the enemy, you can't stay unaware. Still, for the first 100 pages or so the story was focused more on Celia's day to day life, as her friend Jimmy arranges for her to meet Vivian, who is looking for a dressmaker, and as Celia becomes embroiled in Vivian's life. There are lots of secondary characters, and at times I had a little trouble keeping all of them straight, including Vivian's sons, with the exception of Luke, the son of her favorite of her five or six husbands.
But I'm not just anybody!” protested the unblushing cavalier. “I'm me. Me. Luke Ansell.”
Luke-?” Celia repeated. She was taken aback, and she had forgotten the surname of Vivian's hot-headed son. He took quick advantage of her hesitation.
Ansell,” he repeated firmly. He began to spell, counting off the letters on his fingers. “Not just anybody, Ansell. A for anybody, N for nobody, S for somebody, E for everybody, two L's for-” This time he was the one who hesitated.
Celia was laughing. “Yes?” she teased him. “Two L's for what?”
Two L's for-” he pointed his finger at her and ended triumphantly – “for like-a-body, twice! I've seen you twice, I've liked you both times. So now won't you like me and let me walk with you to Mrs. Thorley's?”

When the British attack Charleston, many townspeople escape the city to the relative safety of the countryside, including Vivian and her household. Celia, now engaged to Jimmy, refuses to leave, feeling that she needs to be near her fiance. And at this point the story became very tense and gripping, as the two women find themselves alone in the house, at times hiding in the cellar from the guns and cannons firing across the town, at times rushing outside to stamp out a fire started by a shell hitting one of the outbuildings or the porch railing.

I've read a lot of books set during the Holocaust and the Civil War, but I realized that I haven't really read anything set during the Revolutionary War. I can't say that I know a lot about it, but I feel that Ms. Bristow did some meticulous research while writing this book. She brings the plight of the rebels, the day to day life of surviving in the middle of a war, the horrors that families faced, to vivid life.

A very compelling story, and a new author whose other books I'm now going to have to track down. 

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