Class distinctions make The Valley of Decision

photograph,  Wharf at Pittsburgh, 1890
Pittsburgh’s three rivers play an important role in The Valley of Decision.

In 1873, Mary Rafferty goes to be ’tweenmaid in William Scott’s Pittsburgh home.

Her patience, humor, straight-thinking, practicality, and unswerving loyalty win the entire family. For nearly 60 more years, Mary remains in the Scott household, neither fully family nor fully employee.

When Paul Scott choses Mary as his bride, William father sees no reason to object to his son’s choice.

Mary, however, had other ideas. She feels her working class origins (both her father and brother worked in the Scott steel mill) make her unfit to marry into the family.

She refuses to marry Paul and pushes him into an unhappy marriage that ends in his wife’s suicide.

Afterward, Mary returns to bring up Paul’s children, run his house, help his grandchildren, keep his mill intact for the family.

Mary’s refusal to marry the man she loves was bizarre to her contemporaries. But Marcia Davenport makes Mary’s reasons so much a part of Mary’s essential character that she’s entirely believable, even admirable, in spite of her rigidly absurd social class standards.

By the time she puts the kettle on for tea in the last paragraph of The Valley of Decision, you’ll like Mary as much as the Scotts did.

The Valley of Decision
By Marcia Davenport
Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1944
790 pages
1944 bestseller # 2
My Grade: B-

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni


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Linda Aragoni

I'm passionate about helping people learn through the medium of nonfiction writing. Although I occasionally have an idea of my own, I mostly build education tools by recycling and repurposing other folks' ideas.

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