Originally published in 1865, Two Men begins when Jason Auster, a carpenter, leaves home to start a new life. His stagecoach makes a stop in Crest, a seashore village in New England where he decides to settle. Finding work at a local church, he meets dark-eyed Sarah Parke, a woman of wealth and social standing. He learns she is the granddaughter of the well-known Squire Parke. Despite their class differences, Jason soon becomes a frequent visitor at the Squire’s home, playing whist with Sarah’s grandfather and backgammon with her. They marry and have a son, who they name Parke.
A stroke takes the Squire’s life, and fate puts Jason in control of his estate. Some years later, Osmund Luce, Sarah’s co-heir, shows up with his daughter, Philippa, who he intends to leave with Sarah. Upon learning of his grandfather’s death, Osmund gives Philippa his inheritance. The novel continues as a complex story of love and romance, relationships left unsatisfied, and surprising, difficult choices.
Two Men takes place during the antebellum period, when men, not women, were allowed to express passion, and marrying beneath your class, interracial relationships, and choosing to be a single woman were all considered taboo.
This is not a Civil War novel. It is a period piece that gives a sense of what it was like to live in mid-19th century American society. The language is indicative of the period, and today’s audience won’t find it shocking. Yet, reading the book I kept wondering what the Victorian attitudes of Stoddard’s readership would think. No doubt there were many whispers and raised eyebrows. Stoddard was an author ahead of her time; her portrayal of strong women seems almost anachronistic, her descriptive writing flows, and she conveys much of her characters’ thoughts through dialog. Two Men is a remarkable tale; highly recommended.