One of the curses of being a Brit and living in America is that many people assume you have a great interest in, or knowledge of, the Civil War. I have to admit that prior to moving here, the most time I had spent engaged in anything to do with this piece of US history, was when my mother during the 1980s believed that North and South, starring Lesley Anne-Down, was truly unmissable TV. It wasn’t. Growing up in a country that has seen multiple invasions (think Romans, Vikings, Normans), was home to the Tudors, saw the rise of the Industrial Revolution and was part of two World Wars there are a lot of historical choices to pursue and I’m afraid that the Mayflower and everything following just didn’t make the cut.
Nowadays, living here, I do feel a little guilty about this gap in my historical knowledge. Not guilty in a sense that I actually try to do much about it, but guilty enough to purchase a piece of fiction which might teach me more. The Second Mrs Hockaday by Susan Rivers is just that.
Set during the Civil War, The Second Mrs Hockaday, tells the story of Placidia, a young girl, who marries a much older officer, Major Hockaday. Hockaday has recently been widowed and left with a young son. Whilst attending a wedding at Placidia’s home the two meet, form an instant connection and within a few hours are themselves married. The Major is then called back to his troops, leaving the teenage Placidia in charge of his farm, slaves and baby son.
Written as a series of diary entries and letters, it soon becomes apparent that whilst the Major is away Placidia becomes pregnant via a man who is not her husband. The baby dies within a few days, but in that time word has spread to the immediate community and Placidia is to be held accountable upon her husband’s return. What is not certain and forms the mystery of the novel, is how did this pregnancy come to be?
Without question the novel is beautifully written in the language of the time and the plot engaging enough, but for some reason, I didn’t really enjoy it. I think that when it comes down to it, the format didn’t work for me. There was too much dotting around and not enough getting to the point of the action. I would also admit that perhaps, just perhaps, I wasn’t fully engaged in the subject matter. Sadly Mrs Hockaday you were not my North and South!