Ishmael by E.D.E.N. Southworth - A Book Review
A year from today; today, the 21st of January; I found this amazing website, ApricotPie. I cannot believe a year has gone by so quickly, but it has. A year ago from today I would not have even imagined that I would be allowed to be a part of this encouraging community of home-schooled writers...but because of my parents' permission, I am! I am so incredibly blessed. God Bless You all!
*For Arthur and Mrs. Miller for advising me to read this book and for many others in hopes that they will read this book.
*May Contain Spoilers
Ismael, or in the Depths by Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth is set in Maryland during the pre-Civil War and is based on true events of a gentleman who was born in the depths of poverty, prejudice, and despair, but rose to greatness because of his perseverance, gentleness, honesty, and self-control.
This novel begins with the story about the marriage of Nora Worth and Herman Brudenell, which crumbles when conflicts arise. This situation forces Nora and Herman to separate and keep their marriage a secret. But when Nora dies from giving birth to Ismael—who is the main character of this story, many people gossip that Nora had a child out of wedlock. Despite these cruel assumptions, Hannah, who is Nora’s older sister, raises Ismael. Notwithstanding their poverty, Ismael, determined to be educated, chooses to attend a school when he is rewarded for rescuing two boys from death. At the school, he meets Mr. and Mrs. Middleton along with their family and niece, Claudia Merlin. They begin to love him and admire him for his good qualities: self-control, patience, gentleness, and perseverance. Soon, his perseverance in his education is rewarded as he influences the judges of the Supreme Court. But when he begins to love Claudia Merlin, conflicts rise and gradually, he realizes that his dreams of marrying her are slowly slipping away from his grasp.
I would like to describe my thoughts of the characters, starting with Herman Brudenell. From the beginning of this story, I thought Herman was kind. But when he left Hannah all by herself to raise his son, I hated him for his insensitivity. Although he gave Hannah money to raise Ismael, I thought that at least he could have secretly visited Ismael if he did not want to openly visit him. But later on, when Herman appeared at a court case where Ismael was representing a woman, my heart rose. Since this event occurred so far into the book, I had already lost hope of reading about the father-son reunion but this happening sparked hope and I was completely satisfied with the conclusion of their reunion.
Nora Worth was one of my favorite characters. I liked her a great deal better than Hannah and she seemed like an angel. When Southworth said that Nora had died, I was so sad.
At the beginning, I did not like Hannah Worth. There are four reasons. One, she hated Herman, second, she would not forgive Herman, third, she hated Ismael, and four, for such a long time, she refused to marry Reuben. But Southworth gradually developed Hannah’s character and I was happy when Hannah became patient and loving towards Ismael and finally married Reuben. At first Hannah was very rude to Herman when he visited her to ask about Ismael, but despite her flaws, in the end she really became a loveable character.
Beatrice Middleton was an angel. She absolutely deserved Ismael and in my opinion, it was more appropriate for Ismael to marry her than to marry Claudia. First, she was a Christian and Claudia was not. Second, Beatrice loved children while Claudia only loved beauty and attending balls.
This is where we come to Claudia Merlin. We are introduced to Claudia and as quick as lightning, she loves Ismael just as much as she loves Fido (her dog) and cares for him like she cares for Fido. Just like anyone pats a dog’s head and caresses its body, Claudia caressed Ismael’s head and wrapped her arm around his shoulders (at their very first meeting, mind you!). Thus, I was startled to find out afterwards that she was fifteen years old because her behavior was as if a child. This is one of the reasons why she did not appeal to me. She seemed so immature, spoiled, demanding, and foolish. She was foolish to marry someone for the title even though she did not love him and at the same time, love someone else. But despite her flaws, I truly felt sorry for her.
Finally, I will share about the main character of this story—Ismael Worth. During a most of this book, I just could not feel the reader—character connection between Ismael and me. Of course, I loved reading about how he handled his enemies with love, how he was so patient with his aunt Hannah, how he desired to repay evil with good, how he desired to improve his knowledge, and so on. Yet there is one quality of Ismael that bothered me—his thoughts were too passionate. He could not handle his love for Claudia properly and so he suffered from its many consequences.
Now that I have covered the characters, I want to talk about my negative thoughts about the book. Southworth’s writing style was not the best and there were times that I thought she could have described things better. For example, to describe tears, she says “a mist fell before his eyes” which is a good metaphor and a unique one too, (I have never heard anyone else describe crying as a mist which fell over someone’s eyes) but I thought that Southworth could have just mentioned the word ‘tears’. I prefer reading that a tear slipped down someone’s cheek rather than a mist fell before someone’s eyes…but this is so minor that it does not detract from the story.
The major problem I had with this story is that throughout most of this novel, I could not identify with Ismael. I did cheer for him, but I could not identify with him. I cheered when he achieved excellence simply because I appreciated him, and not because I felt as if I were a part of him. This is what I think makes an excellent book—when the reader becomes a part of the character.
Also, throughout 50 to 75 percent of Ismael, I was questioning why everyone was saying that Ismael is “one of the greatest books ever”. I thought that the circumstances were too ordinary and a great deal were “Ismael did this and then he did that’’, which can get tiring after a while. I am not interested in reading a detailed view of Ismael putting away the books in the library for Reuben. Tell me that he put away the books and was rewarded for it, but please, skip the details.
I am not saying that I disliked the 50 to 75 percent, in fact, there were sections in that part of the book that I really appreciated, but I thought it could have gone faster. But after reading past the 75 percent, my doubts ceased because I finally got it—Ismael was not like any man and there was something special in this young man. I began to love Ismael for who he was and what he did. I began to grasp the reader-character connection. Whomever Ismael loved, I wanted him to marry…who was, in this case, Claudia. Whomever Ismael disapproved of, I disapproved of. Anything Ismael thought, I thought.
Another problem was that Southworth only hinted at Ismael’s realization that his passion for Claudia was wrong. I wanted to see a more clear “Yes, what he did was wrong”. In my opinion, it was just vague. But I understand that there is a sequel for this novel and perhaps Southworth will make it clearer in her sequel.
But do not take this the wrong way. I am not trying to say that I wished that the flaws of each of these characters were not shown in this story; no. In fact, I am glad they are in this story. The impatience of Hannah, the foolishness of Herman, and the passionate feelings of Ismael only deepen this novel and act as an excellent sub-plot. With them, when we finish reading the book, we can see how they have all grown by the ways they now act, speak, and think.
Nevertheless, I loved so many things in this novel. I loved the well-chosen poetry before each chapter. The lessons displayed in this book were excellent—perseverance, patience, kindness, and self-control are quite good qualities that always are difficult to achieve. The characters were very well-developed. I can see maturity in each of the characters. Ismael, in the beginning of the story, was always thinking of what his hero George Washington would do, but later on he began to think of what Jesus Christ would do. Hannah was impatient towards Ismael and resented him at first, but then she softened and realized that he was special. In the beginning, Claudia acted like a child, but later grew into a woman.
I was impressed that after reading Ismael, I truly knew each of the characters. I knew even before situations were concluded how each character would respond. It was as if I had lived with the characters my entire life!
One of my favorite chapters was “Claudia’s Woe”. This intense chapter forced me to hold my breath from one sentence to the next. It was full of realistic dialogue, agony, and secrets that were revealed. Another chapter that I very well remember was “The Marriage Morning”. I was in disbelief that the worst nightmare was happening—Claudia was really getting married to Vincent. But when Claudia came up to Ismael to bid farewell for the final time because she was sailing for England, I could not help but cry.
“But there was Ishmael.
As she went up to him slowly and fearfully, every vein and artery in her
body seemed to throb with the agony of her heart. She tried to speak;
but could utter no articulate sound. She held out her hand; but he did
not take it; then she lifted her beautiful eyes to his, with a glance so
helpless, so anguished, so imploring, as if silently praying from him
some kind word before she should go, that Ishmael's generous heart was
melted and he took her hand and pressing it while he spoke, said in low
and fervent tones: "God bless you, Lady Vincent. God shield you from all evil. God save you in every crisis of your life."
And she bowed her head, lowly and humbly, to receive this benediction as
though it had been uttered by an authorized minister of God.”—Ismael, Or In the Depths
That was the part where a tear rolled down my cheek because I felt torn for both of them—Ismael and Claudia. Even though Claudia was hurting, Ismael was able to bless her and that was the moment that I knew that this book was “one of the greatest ever”. This book had so many different plot twists timed just right that it made this book interesting.
Also, I loved the great hook that Southworth created for the sequel and anyone who finished reading Ismael cannot resist wanting to read the sequel.
In conclusion, I loved Ismael, Or In the Depths. It is now one of my favorite books and reading it has been worth my time. The biblical truths that are weaved into the story, the godly characters that are displayed in this story, and the astounding incidents that occur in this story surely make this one of the greatest books ever. However, because it was not as captivating in the 50 to 75 percent of this book as it could have been—keeping in mind that there are much greater aspects of the book that overrule this factor, out of five stars, I rate this book a satisfied 4.5.