Friday, January 22, 2010

Virginia Ellis (The Wedding Dress)

The Wedding Dress is a heartwarming story about the Atwater sisters whose lives were devastated by the war, as if they themselves had taken positions at the battlefront. Victoria and Julia had not been wives for very long when they lost their husbands in the war, and subsequently, both their parents. With a plantation to run and supplies and morale running low, the youngest, Claire, despaired of never marrying. Julia, urged by her love for and her desire to give Claire a chance for a future that did not hold much promise, convinced her sisters that sewing a wedding gown for Claire would somehow change her obvious fate. Just as the dress comes together panel by panel, so does their future and they are drawn ever closer to one another.

Though the whole idea of making a wedding dress despite the absence of even a prospective groom was a bit ridiculous, it felt perfectly logical that this should inspire hope and faith in the Atwater sisters. It was not that they were irrational or had finally gone batty; it was because they had nothing else on which to hitch their dreams. And, from the images Virginia Ellis painted of life after the war, one feels that this was not foolishness but utterly necessary.

There are, certainly, paragraphs depicting the horrors and wastefulness of war, but many of these are fashioned by the reader's imagination rather than an unpalatable chronicle of blood and gore. There were also a few hilarious scenes, my favorite being one wherein their house guest, Sergeant Monroe Tacy, had gone deer-hunting with a very stubborn mule. When Julia asked if the gunshots that had awakened them were his, Tacy replied:

"Yes, ma'am. [...] I thought you ladies could use some fresh meat to smoke or dry for the winter. As long as I'm your guest, I feel I should provide what I can." He shook his head, disgusted. "But I should have shot the mule and made the deer haul him back." He gave the animal in peril a dark look. "When I tried to tie down the buck, that mule went bone-jarrin' crazy. I almost lost him altogether, which would have been all right if I wasn't as stubborn as he is."

It's a romance novel with a predictably happy ending, but I was surprisingly entertained.

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