Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The House of Love, by Elizabeth Cheney

The House of Love
by Elizabeth Cheney
Rating:  6 out of 10 stars

    Doris Avery is a lonely orphan, quite plain, and without a friend in the world.  She is sent to earn her keep at the house of a well-to-do farmer, whose wife aspires to worldly greatness for her daughter.  The daughter, a pretty child, has been entirely spoiled by having her every whim gratified by her doting mother, and is selfish and jealous of her little maid.  She is unscrupulous, cruel, and exacting, but finds Doris useful sometimes as a playfellow, and gradually even comes to like her a little, as Doris is unfailingly kind and loving to her.

    Doris is upheld in her hard life by her trust in her heavenly Father's protection and blessing.  She does her best to be kind to the family, and even to love them.  This is not hard as regards the kind old grandmother, and most of the other members of the farmer's household, but it is difficult to love the exacting mistress and her spoiled daughter.  She comforts herself with Psalm 23:6 “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever”, and reminds herself that as long as she loves others, and returns good for evil, she will be blessed.  She calls this living in “the house of Love”, and finds her every desire granted as she shows love to her enemies.  If she wants to play with the dollhouse, she prays about it, and keeps on loving the family she is placed in, and pretty soon, she is playing with the doll’s house.  She desires piano lessons, and when the teacher finds what an apt pupil she is, he insists
    After living with the family for some time, Doris attracts the attention of the ladies in an upper class community nearby.  Through a surprising sequence of events, it is discovered that she is the daughter of an old friend of one of these ladies, who was disowned by her family when she turned Methodist.  The farmer’s wife is devoured with jealousy at the discovery of Doris’ higher class parentage, and conceals the fact as long as possible, even resorting to deceitful means to keep Doris from being recognized and claimed by her new friends.
    She is foiled in this wicked attempt, and Doris, delivered from her dominion, grows up to be a useful, influential, and wealthy lady; married to a wealthy, good man.  She later returns to the farming community where she began her life as a drudge, to live nearby with her husband.  She is in time to bid farewell to the kind old grandmother before she dies.  The farmer’s wife goes from bad to worse, as her idolized daughter runs away to be married below her station in life, and good triumphs as Doris lives “happily ever after”.’

My Thoughts:
    While overall this is a good book, because of the message it presents, it has a few issues.
    Doris’ idea of “the House of Love” (i.e. loving one’s enemies and thus dwelling in the love of God) is a very good feature of this book.  It presents the idea of dwelling in love in a sound, yet interesting way, and provokes self-inspection in this area.  However, the story is not realistic or very well written.  The bad characters are overdrawn, and Doris attracts too much attention from others.
     By saying that the bad characters are overdrawn, I mean that they are too bad; they are not a realistic example of persecution (like Aunt Fortune (in The Wide, Wide, World)), but are instead overly dramatic and exaggerated examples of domestic cruelty (similar to Cinderella’s stepmother and sisters).
   Another problem is that throughout the book, Doris is attracting a surprising amount of attention from others.  It seems that everyone who meets her, excepting Mrs. Wilde and her daughter, is convinced she must be of high birth, and is irresistibly drawn to her.  While there have been instances of this happening in the lives of people, we want to be careful not to create the expectation in a child’s mind that if they do good, they will attract notice, and all trials will disappear.  This is very often not the case, and it is not realistic to present this idea to them as an accurate picture of life.
    The other problem I have noticed in both of Elizabeth Cheney’s books that I have read is that there seems to be a strong emphasis upon the blessing of wealth.  Money can be a great blessing, but it is not the goal, and this may need to be clarified after reading this book.

Overall, I think this is a pretty good book, as far as the message it is presenting, but it has very little educational value, and is merely an interesting story with a good message in the first half.

The House of Love is available through Google Books

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