Wealth and Privilege by Jeanette Watts

wealth and priv
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Money. Family. Love. Hate. Obsession. Duty. Politics. Religion – or the lack thereof. Sex – or, once again, the lack thereof. Thomas Baldwin finds himself married to a woman he can’t stand, while head-over heels in love with another woman he can’t have. Talk about bad planning. He feels like a kite, buffeted by circumstances which blow him not only through personal crises, but also through some of the most significant events in Pittsburgh during the late 1800s, including the railroad riots of 1877, the creation of the Homestead Steel Works, the assassination of President Garfield, and the Johnstown Flood. Over time, and with the help of his muse, who dances maddeningly just beyond his reach, he takes control of his life, wresting it from the winds attempting to control him. A carefully-researched historical novel about life among the privileged class of Pittsburgh during the Industrial Revolution.

Publisher and Release Date: Authorhouse, May 2014

Time and Setting: Pittsburgh – late 1800s
Genre: Historical Fiction
Heat Rating: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Lizzie English

Wealth and Privilege is told from the perspective of one man, Thomas Baldwin, but he is not so much the center piece of the novel as the narrator who brings the character of Regina into the picture. It is through his eyes that she develops and the reader is able to fall in love with her the way he does. The only unfortunate part of this is that Thomas is rather tunnel-visioned. He’s doe-eyed and enthralled with Regina and in his eyes, she can do no wrong. Which puts Regina in a good light for the reader, as without Thomas, she would be a pretty flat character. Through him we see her faults as well as her positive qualities. Regina’s a bit ahead of her time, and is a likeable character, although some of her actions make the reader question her motives and how blind she is about the true nature of Thomas’ feelings for her. But any female reader will appreciate the light in which Regina is cast.

Thomas meets Regina at a birthday party. It’s love at first sight for him, and his entire night is consumed with trying to find out more about her. Thomas knows from that first moment that Regina is the woman for him. She is everything he isn’t; relaxed in a crowd, well spoken, flirtatious and – as he comes to find out later – a wonderful businesswoman. There’s just one thing wrong; she’s already married and deeply in love with her older husband and business partner. Thomas doesn’t fare well after he learns about Regina’s life and he gets trapped in his marriage to Meredith, a woman he despises. The novel spans a period of about ten years, with Thomas always focusing on his business and trying to make it better in spite of his father – and trying to make Regina his.

Thomas lives a hard life, what with his loveless marriage and the way his parents always compare him to his deceased brother; and on top of that, there are the strikes and debts that pile up during the Industrial Revolution. Thomas stays strong, a redeeming quality to his constant fawning over Regina. A lot of luck seems to fall into his lap, however, which is good enough for the plot but not his development. He pretty much stays the same person until the very end of the novel, when he finally finds the strength he has been missing for the last decade. It’s just enough to redeem him in my eyes; he finally becomes the man that he really should’ve been all along.

I’d categorise Wealth and Privilege as historical fiction, as the romance is slight and rather staid. The story takes place during the Industrial Revolution with the steel companies taking center stage. Pretty much nothing happens in the town without first thinking of what is going on in the steelworks and how it will affect them. The novel also goes through the major turning points of the Industrial Revolution, from the strikes of the steel workers to the strikes of the railroads and a devastating flood. It’s a fascinating story, and reader can get easily lost in it, never knowing what will happen next. The end is a real surprise.

If you are interested in learning about the Industrial Revolution, this is an informative read. The author puts a lot of effort into getting the time period right, especially when it comes to the business aspect of the novel, and the whole thing is obviously well-researched. I enjoyed the historical aspects of the story, although can’t deny that I would have liked a little more focus on the romance.

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