This is the second novel that I’ve read by Nebraska author Bess Streeter Aldrich (1881-1954). The first was one that I’ve read several times, A Lantern in her Hand, the novel for which Aldrich is best known.
Post Civil War Omaha
The Lieutenant’s Lady is about a young woman from the East named, Linnie. She’s visiting relatives in Omaha in the late 1860s shortly after Nebraska gains statehood. The Civil War is over, Omaha is booming, and the US Army has turned its attention to making western lands safe for white settlement/colonization.
After a not very pleasant visit with her know-it-all-money-and-business-obsessed uncle, her invalid aunt, and shallow cousin, Linnie begins her journey back home to the East. She doesn’t tell her relatives that first, she is going to travel up the Missouri River to tell her shallow cousin’s fiancee, a lieutenant in the Army stationed at a remote fort, that he has lost his betrothed to another man.
His betrothed was Linnie’s shallow cousin who is now on her to Chicago for her honeymoon with the man her father wanted her to marry (a businessman with potential and not some guy rotting away in the army). The cousin asks Linnie to write the good lieutenant a Dear John letter for her. Linnie said she would, but couldn’t bring herself to do it. Linnie is secretly smitten with the young lieutenant. He is understandably upset when Linnie shows up rather than his bride-to-be, but he marries Linnie the day she arrives for the sake of her safety and to save face. They eventually fall in love while dealing with the hardships and dangers of Army life on The Plains.
From diary to fiction
The Lieutenant’s Lady is based on the diary of an Army wife that someone had sent Aldrich, who was known for collecting pioneer stories to make her pioneer fiction more authentic. I’d love to read the original diary to see what Aldrich made up, what she may have left out, and how she transformed the woman’s personal writing into fiction.
The novel was published in 1942 and I wonder if Aldrich chose this story as a subject at that time (WWII) because the novel has a pro-army vibe.
I enjoyed The Lieutenant’s Lady and recommend it to readers who are interested in the historical time period and/or western literature. It isn’t a particularly sophisticated story and the writing is not graceful, so literary fiction readers might scoff. This is the kind of novel I loved to read and deconstruct as an undergraduate because racial attitudes, gender issues, and themes like service vs greed are plentiful.
Title: The Lieutenant’s Lady
Author: Bess Streeter Aldrich
Originally published by D. Appleton-Century Company, Inc., 1942
Edition read: 1987 Bison Book
This post updated on February 17, 2022