Candle in the Darkness

Written by Lynn Austin
Review by Meredith Campbell

What’s a girl to do when she desperately loves a man fighting for the wrong cause? Why, keep on loving him, but follow her conscience, of course. Such is the story of timid, devout Caroline Fletcher, wealthy belle in Civil War Richmond.

Written in first person, the novel opens, 1853, with twelve-year-old Caroline witnessing slave traders dragging away her childhood playmate to sell him at Richmond’s infamous slave market. This act sets the tone and reason for the story, for Caroline develops an intense hostility to slavery. This attitude intensifies as she and Cousin Jonathan stroll the grounds of the family’s plantation near Richmond and she experiences the deaths of slave babies because of disease and filth. When she is 16 her mother dies, and Caroline’s father sends her to Philadelphia to live with an aunt. Philadelphia is an abolition hotbed that feeds Caroline’s anti-slavery predilections. Home two years later, she brings back abolitionist tracts in a fruitless attempt to change southern hearts and minds. She meets and becomes engaged to Charles St. John, psychologically chained to the slave economy. Regardless of political differences, the couple passionately loves one another. This relationship tests to the utmost her commitment to end slavery. By novel’s end June 1865, Caroline has sacrificed all, bowing to God’s will. Although all ends are not completely unraveled, the conclusion leaves one with a lump in the throat and a smile on the face.

Although the novel is of Christian genre, Austin doesn’t overly evangelize. Austin brings the reader into the lives and feelings of the slave characters as they loyally confront the war’s hardships and dangers while rejoicing at their coming freedom. Accurate down to the buttonhole, the era and Richmond itself come alive.