As the great-granddaughter of Welsh immigrants to the Pittsburgh area, I enjoyed Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict, about a young Irish immigrant working for a highly successful Pittsburgh family of Scottish immigrants. Benedict’s heroine, Clara Kelly, is a strong woman endeavoring to make enough money in America to save her family from the plights of Irish tenant farm life.
She lands in Philadelphia, planning to head to family in Pittsburgh and immediately gets caught up in some unexpected untruths. However implausible this situation might be, it gets Clara to the Carnegie household as the matriarch’s lady’s maid. Considering her lack of experience in this work, Clara is plucky and resourceful.
Benedict follows the historical events of Andrew Carnegie’s career and personal life, detailing his early accomplishments through the eyes of Clara. Clara and Andrew strike up their unlikely friendship, and the story progresses from there.
Clara stays in touch with her family through infrequent letters. But those letters and the ensuing dramatic moral dilemmas give Benedict a chance to highlight the perils of the time. It was quite normal to face unrest, poverty, risky jobs, and rich men who controlled other men’s lives. Some families never climbed out of their difficulties, and many descended deeper into despair.
And yet, even a recently emigrated family such as the Carnegies tended to forget these realities. Clara tries to keep Andrew aware, even though telling her truths is hard. Benedict imagines that perhaps this is why he began his extensive philanthropy.
In so many ways, Carnegie’s Maid is a typical historical fiction romance. The younger woman and older man meet, no matter unlikely the meeting seems. They have mild to moderate conflict, but over time develop feelings of love and desire. That’s when they start sneaking around to see each other! He teaches her things, and she makes him into a better version of himself. The relationship might work, or it might not. Carnegie’s Maid certainly follows this pattern.
I don’t mean to sound overly critical, because I did enjoy Clara’s story. She’s a pleasant heroine who’s easy to admire. The story’s well-paced and not overly long. The audiobook is well-narrated by Alana Kerr Collins. But it didn’t have any characters or plot lines that I found unexpected or groundbreaking. I liked it quite a lot, but I doubt that I’ll rush to read more Marie Benedict.
Many thanks to NetGalley, Sourcebooks Landmark, and the author for access to the digital ARC in exchange for my honest review.
Photo credit of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library to Wikipedia Commons