Rebecca Wentworth’s Distraction

Written by Robert J Begiebing
Review by Janette King

When Englishman Daniel Sanborn takes his first portraiture commission in Portsmouth, Virginia, he doesn’t expect his subject, a mere child, to be an even more accomplished artist than himself. Rebecca Wentworth’s instinctive talents with pigment and brush capture the essence of truth to the canvas, whatever her subject. But her imaginative renderings of landscape often possess disturbing qualities, and her portraits are disarmingly invasive. Her guardians forbid her to paint, fearing this outlet exercises harm to her mental self, for distraction has visited the family before. They send her away to be with relatives on the frontier where chores and expectations leave her little opportunity to engage in creative pastimes.

Although he does not see Rebecca for two years, Daniel cannot put aside his concern for her welfare, nor can he explain – even to himself – why he must see with his own eyes that she is all right. He discovers her whereabouts but his interference will alter the course of Rebecca’s life.

Set in the 1740s, Rebecca Wentworth’s Distraction is an interesting and detailed glimpse into the attitudes of the times. While Rebecca’s character rings true, Sanborn’s character lacks passion, almost as though he is one of his paintings; the reader can see what is on the canvas but cannot feel emotions engendered from it. It is a detached quality shared by the novel – a well-rendered image observed from a distance.