Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1841. Well-educated for a woman (perhaps too educated), Abigail Taylor rejects a boring suitor and goes to work as a maid in the household of Ralph Waldo Emerson, a man famous as far away as Boston. Abigail has no illusions about conversations with the great man; she hasn’t read his essays. She hopes for some quiet and, ideally, a chance to borrow a book. Within weeks, she learns better.
The Emerson house is anything but quiet. Visitors like Henry David Thoreau and Margaret Fuller come and stay. Talk is constant and, ignorant of how a servant behaves, Abigail speaks up. Emerson picks Plutarch for Abigail to read, she carries notes between him and his neurasthenic wife, and meets David Thoreau on the stairs. Despite David’s disinterest, Abigail begins to fall in love and to dream of marriage—but she’s not the only one in the household with eyes for young Thoreau. Mrs. Emerson looks daggers at Abigail; the new governess spends hours with David and the children, formerly Abigail’s duty. Jealousy distorts Abigail’s judgement, leading to rash behavior that upsets the balance in the household, something Emerson cannot condone.
As you may deduce from the illustrious characters, Dearest David is not just a love story. Abigail is a beautiful representative of her generation. The author suggests that realistic women with romantic longings tended to gravitate toward certain occupations in the late 19th century; to say more would be a spoiler. Whether you accept the premise or not, this is 120 pages of reading pleasure. Ebisch (The Open Window, 2017) writes beautifully, his words keeping up with Abigail’s imagination, drawing her picture of all around her. Dearest David is highly recommended.