Carnegie’s Maid

Written by Marie Benedict
Review by Ann Pedtke

Clara Kelley finds her way from an impoverished village in Galway to the bustling streets of Pittsburgh, determined to secure a position in America and send money home to her struggling family. Mistaken for another Irish girl of the same name, she is offered a coveted position as a lady’s maid in the home of the Carnegies—an up-and-coming family soon to be among the wealthiest in America.

But as Clara adapts to her new duties, she must maintain her false identity as a Protestant with experience serving in the elegant homes of Dublin. And as the dashing son of the household, Andrew Carnegie, begins to take an interest in her, Clara must decide whether she is willing to risk her position – and her family’s safety—for a chance at something more. Andrew Carnegie may have come from a modest immigrant background like her own, but he is quickly becoming one of the most ruthless industrialists in history. And as the household cook warns her, “[I’ve] seen too many masters and servants crossing the boundaries… It never ends well for the servant.”

Benedict paints a chiaroscuro picture of 1860s Pittsburgh, with the opulence of fine gowns and banquets alternating with the black soot of poverty. Occasionally the moral lines become a little too tidy and character motivations a little too noble. Several chapters drop off at cliffhanger moments—will the illicit relationship be discovered?—only to skip ahead weeks or months with little resolution. The relationship between Clara and Andrew Carnegie never quite moves into the realm of real equality, or real love. But in the end, Benedict salvages this with a refreshing dose of reality, reminding us that some unfortunate truths of history cannot be rewritten.