A refreshing Christian Historical Fiction Romance, She Walks in Beauty examines the societal role of a debutante in the gilded age of 1890, New York City.
Seventeen year old Clara Carter begins her debutante preparation at the insistence of her prickly aunt.
Motherless Clara dreams of going to Vassar College, but feels compelled to follow the prodding of her father and aunt to snag the heir to a fortune in order to rescue her family from ruin.
Clara resents putting aside her studies in Latin, mathematics and Italian for lessons in deportment, dance and singing. Endless instruction in appropriate conversation topics, use of tableware are nothing compared to the torture of wearing her corset to bed to trim her waistline to eighteen inches.
Her friend, Lizzie Barnes, on the other hand, longs for the debut as much as Clara dreads it. Lizzie’s utter acceptance of the “coming out” process provides a stark contrast to Clara’s reluctance.
Mitchell’s depth of historical detail is impressive and she paints a clear picture of 1890’s society. Clara’s character has many dimensions. “Why do we have to pretend to be people we aren’t?” reveals her dilemma. Her social concern for those in the slums of New York is admirable, but these plot threads are thin. Clara’s struggle between accepting the superficial requirements of society and doing what she deems honorable is the most compelling story in the book.
The book is full of description: the aunt’s three fat, fluffy Pomeranians, dance steps, use of the correct fork, gown design and fabric. Short on character development, She Walks in Beauty does give us a clear picture of the trials and triumphs of young girls entering their debut. A most interesting character is “The Tattler,” the author of the society page of the city newspaper.
She Walks in Beauty is a light and an easy read, and seems best suited to young adults. Young people will enjoy the endless discussions of dresses, private balls and buttoned gloves. They will relate to the fear of not fitting in and being snubbed at parties. The School Library Journal approves the book as appropriate for Grades 8 and above.