The Awakening of La Muse

Written by S. R. Strickland
Review by Susie Pruett

Six-year-old Muse, a house slave on a plantation owned by the Hallisburgs in Virginia, innocently observes life around her, not questioning her world. While she is shut away in a shack while recovering from a contagious disease, she discovers a way into the plantation schoolroom and is discovered by the teacher. He recognizes an intelligent little girl who wants to learn, and after explaining to Muse the risk they both take, he agrees to teach her. By the time Muse is sixteen, she is reading and writing. She has also developed into a pretty girl.

The Hallisburgs decide their daughter, Cassandra, will learn the finer points of society in Paris. Muse is brought along in order to learn to be a ladies’ maid, “à la française”. While in steerage on the ship, Muse meets two women. One is the first free black woman Muse has ever met. The other, Claire, a white governess, is instrumental in Muse’s future.

In Paris, Muse finds a world where slavery has been abolished. Claire encourages Muse to escape her masters. Muse has a talent for sewing and design, and she and Claire decide to open a dress shop. With a plan to meet Claire, Muse escapes. When her plan goes wrong, Muse must find her way alone in a strange city.

This is a great read with insights into the heart of a young woman born into slavery who has no concept of what it feels to be free until she is introduced to the wider world. She makes friends and even has a romantic interest. Ultimately, however, her life is in her own hands and the choices she makes to live as a free woman. Highly recommended.