Carnegie's Maid: A Novel
By Marie Benedict
The identity of Clara Kelly is all too easy to assume, and as just another immigrant girl from Ireland, our “Clara Kelly” takes the ride offered to her intended destination – Pittsburgh. The opportunity is too good to pass up, providential it might be said, and impossible to dismiss out of hand. Clara is intended to serve as lady’s maid to Margaret Carnegie, mother of the up and coming Andrew Carnegie himself. Clara soon finds herself more at ease in her role, although she can’t help but worry if her identity will someday be revealed to her mistress.
Clara has not gone unnoticed by Andrew, and during their meetings in a local park they forge a bond over discussions focused on Andrew’s plans. His thirst for knowledge – and his willingness to share his knowledge and bounce ideas off Clara seals their relationship. Clara knows that they can never take Andrew’s desire for marriage any further, but the decision is taken from her hands after a chance encounter by Mrs. Carnegie. A poor immigrant girl has few choices and even fewer opportunities, but Clara must find her own way – and her own destiny.
Although Carnegie’s Maid could appear to be a simple romance story, it most certainly is much more than that. While Andrew Carnegie was known to be a strong-willed tycoon, this story shows a gentler side of the steel magnate, and highlights the man’s deep interest in and respect for knowledge and education. The impact of his access to a “reading library” does not go missed in terms of Carnegie’s funding of over 2500 public and university libraries throughout the United States in a span of over 40 years, an idea spurred by his (fictional) discussions with Clara Kelly.
Carnegie’s Maid is fast-paced and interesting, blending the reality of the immigrant experience with the industrial age, contrasting a Scottish man with an Irish farm girl who are both driven to succeed yet limited in quite different ways. “Clara Kelly” can be any immigrant girl from the early twentieth century, sent by her family to help earn money to send home and forge a path to a better life for herself and her family. While Andrew Carnegie’s storied history is well known, this glimpse into a more personal appreciation of his earlier days is fascinating. Fans of historical fiction will enjoy this unique and well written story told from a fresh and captivating perspective.
Joyce Greenfield, ReaderToReader.com