Capitola, an Unusual Heroine

I was introduced to a duo of novels by E.D.E.N. Southworth years ago. In case you’re wondering, her name is not Eden but Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte. Sure enough, E.D.E.N. fits on the cover a book much better. Nevitte is her maiden name, Southworth her married name. She has an interesting history and made a living for herself and her two children after her husband abandoned her, by writing.

The books I had read are Ishmael, or In the Depths and it’s sequel Self-Raised, or Out of the Depths, written in the mid 1800s. My friend Velma lent them to me when I was living in Canada and had long winter evenings to read. 🙂 There are tragic circumstances over and over and you think the hero will never be able to crawl out of the slog of life. Eventually things end on a positive note. I liked the books so much that I bought my own set. I should re-read them because I’m a little fuzzy on the details.

Recently I had was looking for an audiobook to listen to for mundane tasks such as treadmills and found another book by Mrs. Southworth titled The Missing Bride. Again, a novel where it seems like one tragic event after another happens and there are twists and turns to the story and eventually truth (and love) win. I decided to go hunting for more books by here and stumbled on The Hidden Hand.

While The Missing Bride was harder for me to listen to as an audio book (keeping track of names, nicknames, French names, etc). With a physical book, you can easily flip back and forth for clarification. Also, the Missing Bride audiobooks is narrated by multiple people and I find that it takes me a few minutes to get used to a new voice.

The Hidden Hand (written in 1859, serialized in a newspaper, and then later published as a book in 1888) brings us Capitola, a girl with a most mysterious background. She brings the street smarts of NYC to the hills of VA and becomes a most interesting heroine. I’ll try not give many details away because they really must be discovered in the setting of the novel. Capitola is bit unusual for a woman of the 1840s and you can’t help but cheer for her! What stood out most to me was a point in the book where I was relieved that a villain was likely to be captured and she showed him mercy and offered him every chance of repentance.

Another was this story stood out is that while it does have it’s “slogs of life” for characters here and there, there were small victories along the way here and there for characters. There is mystery galore! And villains by the pound, although it’s possible that you may be mistaken for a while about who the worst villain is.

One thing to note: Old Hurricane, another main character has a habit of name-calling and verbally abusing his servants, as well as other characters including Capitola. He threatens them constantly with getting rid of them with no intention of doing so. Reading a story like this in 2022, I believe evokes a different reaction personally than reading it in 1980s or for those reading it in the 1800s. I mention this part in case you’re thinking of young listeners. Compared to today’s street language it is mild but you might not want your young son or daughter walking around saying, “what the foul fiend?” 🙂

If you prefer to read this book online, here is a link for that. I also just discovered that Lamplighter Theater did an audio drama of this book a year or 2 ago. Here is a video clip of Katie Leigh (voice of Connie on AIO) who plays Capitola in the drama. Lamplighter also sells a printed version of the book.

If you decide to read it or listen to it, I’d love to hear what you think. 🙂

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