The Daring Ladies of Lowell
Typifying the experiences of Lowell’s mill girls in the 1830s, Alice Barrow leaves her restricted farm life in New Hampshire, hoping to make her way in the world by taking a job working the looms in a Lowell, Massachusetts textile factory. There, she experiences relentlessly long hours and dangerous work conditions and, over time, comes to represent the working girls’ grievances with the mill owner’s family. Through her boldness, she soon catches the eye of the mill owner’s son, Samuel, and becomes wrapped up in the murder trial of her closest friend – an event that is based on a real-life situation.
Alcott’s second novel under this name (she has previously written as Patricia O’Brien) explores the harsh life that these young women have chosen, as well as the promise of freedom. I felt the descriptions of the lifestyles, housing, and working conditions of Lowell’s mill workers were apt, having visited the Lowell mills myself and been fascinated with the harshness of this life. However, the book offered a taste of the details I have been craving but did not completely fulfill my expectations. The novel could have used stronger character development – it seemed there was just enough to keep the reader engaged – such as more detail wrapped into the plot and expanded sensory descriptions. The smell of the mills lingers to this day in Lowell, a powerful reminder of the claustrophobic conditions, yet this kind of detail is not conveyed here. This novel had the potential to be excellent but sadly fell short.