REVIEW - JESSIE

Wyatt, Betty, Jessie: the Story of a Genteel Lady in Frontier Alaska. Self published. www.lulu.com. Soft bound. 191 pages. Some black-and-white photographs, 3 maps. $14.99.

The author took on a formidable task when she decided to write the life of Jessie Elizabeth Mather. This began rather romantically when she acquired a trunk at an Alaska State surplus auction sale in 1970 after Mather's death in the Pioneer's Home in Sitka. Wyatt was fascinated with the objects she found that indicated a woman of refinement; a true English lady. There were also some fragmentary journals and other papers.

Instead of using the clues and building a likely life of Jessie, Wyatt decided to write as Jessie herself. It is dangerous to do this if you didn't grow up in the native country. However, there's a credible picture of an English childhood in a rich household of the late Victorian period.

Things start becoming strained for the reader when Jessie takes a long trip around the United States with only her maid (who had been her nanny, then her tutor; highly unlikely). A young woman of that period would have been accompanied by a male relative or close family friend. Then there was a rather casual marriage to a young rotter who abandoned her. Not unheard of, but why not a formal wedding? There were only the two children.

Back to the story. Her beloved brother Albert headed for the Yukon, married, and had a baby. All right; the family came to visit. Mother became very ill in Eagle, so the three of them settled in. When more money was needed, a telegram informed them the world was in turmoil and funds were frozen. This was in 1913, so fair enough. But there is no real explanation of why Mother, Father, and Jessie stayed in Eagle rather than moving to Dawson City to join Albert and his family. Why are they staying in American territory rather than going to friendly Canada where their English citizenship will be honored? There's also no reason given for still being short of funds in 1922. C'mon; the war was over in 1918.

The romance becomes totally out of hand when Jessie begins cleaning house for others to make some money. No respectable middle-class father, let alone a higher station in life of that era would allow any female of his family to work for others, let alone clean house. The reader is also beginning to wonder about Jessie. She's made much of how independent she has become and how attracted she is to a handsome young trapper (her marriage to Bertie had been annulled), but why does she now obey her father and marry an older man who has a bad reputation because that would give her U.S. citizenship? She doesn't like him; why should her father? Why is she cooking at the mine? This has all descended into melodrama, saved only by the fine description of Eagle of the early 1920s.

If you haven't thrown the book across the room yet, you can persevere or I can tell you it has a happy ending. Somehow we knew it would.

Since Jessie was a real person, it would have been a great service to let her tell her own story.

D. L.

                    

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