The Measure Of A Lady
Rachel Van Buren’s Victorian morals are challenged when she and her siblings arrive in San Francisco during the Gold Rush in 1849. They discover that she and sister Lissa are the only “sunbonnets” (respectable women) for miles, and they are forced to accept the offer of saloon owner Johnnie Parker’s private shack for lodging. Johnnie agrees to let Rachel clean his saloon in exchange for room and board. Then Lissa, seduced by the women-hungry miners’ constant attentions, shocks the family by running off to live with one of them. Rachel was brought up to believe that respectable women do not associate with the “fallen” kind. She must decide the true measure of a lady – adhering to society’s morals, or doing what one’s heart says is right.
I enjoyed Rachel’s struggle against her deep-rooted beliefs, which gives depth to her character. Her romantic scenes with Johnnie push the envelope of the Christian fiction genre without getting graphic. While Gist used period diaries as sources, she got some facts wrong, such as placing Samuel Clemens in San Francisco years too early. Nevertheless, the book enlightened me about life in the Gold Rush, and entertained me with rounded protagonists.