Monday, April 4, 2022

The Bound Girl by Nan Denker, set in Colonial Boston

Title: The Bound Girl
Author: Nan Denker
Publication: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, hardcover, 1957
Genre: Juvenile Historical Fiction
Setting: Colonial Massachusetts, 1712
Description: Félicie Charreau fled France with her father, an affluent textile merchant, and uncle when the persecution of Huguenots under Louis XIV became too intense for them to ignore. But when her father dies on the voyage and her uncle hears there are French agents waiting to arrest him in Boston, he slips away and the kindly sea captain promises to place the girl with a good family. With no options, Félicie becomes an indentured servant, renamed Felicity, to the Todd family: affable Ephraim, his repressed wife Hannah, their son Nathan, three-year-old daughter Faith, and listless niece Patience. Mistress Todd despairs of getting Felicity to behave like a proper Puritan maiden and no one makes allowance for the fact that the girl just lost her father, is in a strange country, and has always had servants of her own – yet now she is one! Despite her sorrow and confusion, Felicity works hard to master the tasks assigned to her and her appreciation of the beauty of the new world helps her cope with the restrictions of the Puritan lifestyle. However, she makes an enemy her first day, Tither Stoneman, who disapproves of her lighthearted ways, and seems determined to prevent Felicity from becoming a true member of the community.

My Impression: This is a charming historical novel for middle graders that is very reminiscent of Gladys Malvern’s books. It also reminded me a little of Dawn’s Early Light, in which Julian Day, some 60+ years later, also loses his father on the sea voyage as they traveled to the New World for a better life. Julian, about seven years older than Felicity – and male, is able to take the teaching job that was to have been his father's and thrive, due to new friends who help him. Felicity, although she may not realize it at first, is very fortunate to have been taken in by a family that is caring and comfortably off. She may have to work hard and put away her pretty French clothes but she is safe and receives good training from Mistress Todd, despite the woman’s disapproval of Felicity. The support of Ephraim and Nathan is also crucial to Felicity’s feeling of security in her new home.  Ephraim tries to make Felicity welcome by telling her how his grandparents came on the Mayflower and made new lives for themselves.  

Naturally, I enjoyed the Massachusetts setting and wished there had been some clues to indicate where exactly Denker had set the story.  The Todds live walking distance from Boston Harbor but through the woods: "Ephraim Todd's house was one of the best in the settlement that lay on the outer fringe of Boston." I am guessing it was South Boston or Dorchester. The colonists make candles from bayberries, which I thought grew on the coast; however, Felicity and Patience have been bayberrying when they detour into a forest and meet a charismatic young frontiersman in a coonskin hat. Patience knows they should not speak to strangers but Felicity is outgoing and enters into a conversation, telling him her story in the hope he might have seen her uncle:
“I don’t even like the word ‘bound,’” the trapper said. He turned again to Felicty.

“Must you work hard?” he asked.

“Yes,” Felicity answered, “but I don’t mind that. I am trying to learn to do everything so I may be a real help. Everyone must work in this new country. It is so big and there is so much to be done.”

“You are a good maid,” the man said, gentle compassion in his tone. “Some day you will be free, and I hope you will have a fine piece of this grand country to call your very own, and be the proud mistress of a home.”

“Felicity is trying to overcome pride,” Patience said. “It is one of her greatest sins.”

The trapper laughed again, white teeth flashing.

“Sins? What do you lovely girls know about sins? Don’t let these Puritans tell you that you are wicked and condemned.”
The trapper is a breath of fresh air compared to the locals who are under the thumb of the church leaders and Tither Stoneman.

Considering Felicity had led a life of privilege in France, I think she developed housewifely skills with amazing speed and competence. By the end of the book, Mistress Todd says proudly, “Felicity has learned to cook and bake and clean better than many half again her age, and her sewing and weaving is finer than any woman’s in the colony, no one excepted.” I would have liked more detail on the acquisition of these skills, something like the description of Martitia’s painfully learning to weave and bake bread in They Loved to Laugh. The evolution of Felicity’s and Mistress Todd’s relationship is the heart of the book: as they learn to appreciate and love each other, helped by Felicity’s devotion to little Faith, Felicity realizes this new country has become her home and she does not want to return to France.

I did wonder why this wealthy family didn't bring enough money with them so the captain could have paid someone to take Felicity in, instead of making her an indentured servant; however, she was better off being trained in household management and she could have wound up somewhere dreadful if the Todds had not given her a home.
This is my twelfth book in the 2022 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader. I don’t remember who recommended this – was it you?

Source: InterLibrary Loan from Buffalo


Lark said...

I love this book! I own a used library copy of it and have read it many times. :)

CLM said...

Could I have read a review on your website, Lark? I've been wondering who recommended this!

Lark said...

I wish I could take the credit, but I've never reviewed this one for my blog.

CLM said...

I found it - it was on Jennifer Lee's blog: