House of Secrets

A historical novel depicts a wealthy and reticent Bostonian


The House at Lobster Cove by Jane Goodrich
Published by Benna Books, 377 pages, $25

With its graceful and sensitive observations of life in Boston in the mid-19th century through 1928, Jane Goodrich’s historical novel reads like it was written in that era. The quiet hero, George Nixon Black, and his many Brahmin friends were real people, and his house, Kragsyde, was an unforgettable mansion on the North Shore.

But George’s story begins in Ellsworth, Maine, where among vivid descriptions of thousands of logs sent roaring down the river for construction in the mills, he also witnesses the horrifying tar-and-feathering of a Catholic priest. His family relocates to Boston where George goes to Harvard, basically flunking out before going to work for his well-to-do father. As George steps into the footprints of Boston privilege during the early days of the Museum of Fine Arts and Trinity Church, he meets the young Isabella Stewart Gardner and observes the attitudes of the time. Goodrich conveys the secret tenderness of love as George’s gentle heart falls for Frank, who fights in the Civil War and returns wounded.

After Frank dies, the younger, dapper Charles becomes George’s lover in a relationship that is again developed with enticing subtlety. Without scandal, they float through Boston’s society together as Charles’ mischief complements George’s melancholic reticence. Goodrich, who recreated the demolished Kragsyde on a piece of property in Maine, carries the story along beautifully, describing George’s inner life while mixing her imagination with historical research.

Page 220: “Inside, in the vast oaken waiting rooms, a new immigrant would cower in bewilderment, standing beside a Boston merchant consulting his watch and counting the minutes until his train for Providence. A husband would abandon his family here, a young bride begin her journey to her home away from her mother; a freshman scholar would arrive for his first term at Harvard, a soldier be waved away to a future war. ◆

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