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Review: "Olive" by Dinah Maria Craik

Olive is available in both free and illustrated editions from our ebook catalog.

First published in 1850, Olive is a variant on the story of Jane Eyre. The titular character is not an orphan, but she suffers from a physical deformity that acts as a similar social impediment. Upon learning of her deformity, Olive's parents react with disgust that grows to tolerance and eventually (and very belatedly) to love. In society Olive is at first sheltered by an overprotective nursemaid and grows up thinking absolutely nothing is wrong with her. When the nursemaid dies, Olive eventually discovers that she is different. It is a great shock to her, foremost to know that she is not attractive to men and will probably never marry. But she handles it gracefully and is determined to blaze another path in a society that left women few options.

As the plot progresses, there are other similarities to Jane Eyre, though Craik's story takes some definite twists and turns of its own. I was reminded of another book with a deformed main character, Fanny Burney's Camilla. Camilla's sister Eugenia is deformed, but she is also an heiress. Eugenia therefore has a one-up on Olive in that should Eugenia never marry, her money will still give her a place in society (though it also left her open to fortune-hunting scoundrels of which she saw many!)

Even though Olive is determined to support herself and be happy in spite of her hardships, she does find love in a very unlikely person. I was surprised when this love story popped out of nowhere, but not unhappily so. The last third of the book is dedicated to this romance, and there is enough "he/she loves me, he/she loves me not" to make Fanny Burney proud.

Discussion

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