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[San Diego/New York/London: Gulliver Books, Harcourt Brace & Company; 1998]
Set around Camden during the Carolinas campaign, Cast Two Shadows is the story of Caroline Whitaker, a fourteen-year-old quadroon who is the daughter of a powerful Whig plantation owner and his mulatto cook. Due to a seriously improbable chain of events, she is publicly accepted as a child of his wife and has been raised with his legitimate offspring. Supposedly, this is a deep family secret, talked about only in whispers, yet Caroline blithely blurts out the genealogical details to Lord Rawdon the first time she meets him, not to mention providing the Reader's Digest version to just about every stranger she meets. However, since the race relations and master/slave dynamics of this book are as nicey-nice and unrealistically Politically Correct as The Patriot ever thought of being, this revelation never causes her a problem.
The Whitaker home has been taken over by Lord Rawdon for use as regional headquarters, and Caroline's father tossed in jail for openly supporting the rebellion -- i.e., the Whitakers are essentially fictionalized versions of Joseph Kershaw and his family, with their residence shifted from the town of Camden to a plantation in the neighborhood. (Kershaw's wife and children continued to live in their house in Camden while it was used as British headquarters.) I know nothing about the Kershaw family as people, but given the name change and her comments in the afterword, I assume Rinaldi made no attempt to base her characters individually on their real-life counterparts.
The story follows Caroline through the period of British presence in Camden, while her half-sister coquettes her way into Rawdon's bed, various people around her jump from one political alliance to the other as the plot requires1, and events force Caroline into leaving "the big house" to build a far-too-modern relationship with her African-born slave grandmother.
Having read Rinaldi's Finishing Becca, I anticipated that I would hate this book even before I picked it up at the library. (What can I say? I'm a masochist.) Ms. Rinaldi certainly did not disappoint me. Cast Two Shadows is a distasteful mixture of 21st century political correctness and preachy 19th century jingoism. I'm not fond of either.
It would take a while to list everything I don't like about the book, from its trite manipulation to its blind narrow-mindedness. There are elements which should counterbalance some of those complaints...but they don't. On the surface, the author appears to be trying to steer the same course as Celia Garth -- i.e. presenting the anger and hatred of individual characters caught up in a war without claiming it as objective truth. But whereas Bristow differentiates between the subjective beliefs of individual characters and the objective truth of the world around them, Rinaldi does not. The result is a pretense of impartiality laid as a thin veneer over an amazingly bigoted message. She gives lip service to looking at the war in the Carolinas as a civil war. She even represents one Loyalist, Henry Rugeley, in a positive light. But at the same time she is carefully manipulating events and characters to produce a world view as slanted as Bruce Lancaster's. Lancaster was writing fifty years ago, and had a strong, innate storytelling ability to act as a sugar-coating. Rinaldi possesses neither excuse.2
Let me give one example of manipulation so subtle it may as well have been applied with a sledgehammer. Cast Two Shadows opens with a scene of Caroline and two male friends hiding in the woods, watching Cornwallis and his forces march down the road. And what do our stalwart young men decide to do? They pull out their weapons, dash out of hiding and ride helter-skelter into the amassed British army, shooting wildly. We are then expected to become righteously indignant at the "injustice" of them being taken prisoner and one of them hanged. Do you suppose Rinaldi honestly believes that armed civilians can run around taking potshots at military personnel in any wartime situation, modern or historical, without the perpetrators being apprehended and served up with an appropriate punishment? The definition of "appropriate punishment" may change over time -- hanging was considered a perfectly appropriate punishment by both sides of this conflict -- but the basic combination of action and reaction would not. Personally, I think Lord Cornwallis did great service to the human gene pool. Born two centuries later, these idiots would have been prime contenders for the Charles Darwin Award.
Which brings up another core problem with the book. While it is theoretically set in the 18th century, there is not even a token attempt to present the mind set of the period. Even when the events Caroline is reacting to are historically accurate, her responses to them ring false. She judges people, politics and events like a true child of the 21st century, and so do all the rebel characters around her.
For instance, every single one of them reacts with horror and outrage when the British prepare to flog one of the plantation slaves. The message is very clearly that this is a level of wickedness to which only the British would sink -- the kind-hearted and benevolent American slave-owners would never dream of such a thing. Throughout the book, Rinaldi locks tenaciously onto one specific blot on the interaction between African-Americans and the British, and repeatedly flings it in the reader's face. Meanwhile, she chooses to blithely ignore the other side of the situation. There is no room in her twisted world view for the fact that thousands upon thousands of slaves escaped their American masters, sought refuge with the British forces, and were evacuated as free men and women to places like Nova Scotia after the war.3
Of the real-world cast, Francis, Lord Rawdon is Rinaldi's prime victim. She presents him as the Hollywood stereotype of an effete British aristocrat crossed with a red-coated Nazi. (The riding crop is a particularly nice touch.) One hilarious note about her version is that she apparently missed the joke that he was "the ugliest man in the British army" -- or perhaps she felt that, to be a proper villain, he needed to be more seductively attractive than Mother Nature allowed. Her introductory description of him may be the only time in either real or fictional life that poor Frank's name has occurred in the same paragraph as the word "handsome" without there being a qualifying "anything but" close at hand. [I've always been fond of Rawdon's goofy, vaguely Neanderthal looks, but the kindest thing that can be said about his physical appearance is that he looks amiable. Check out a couple of his portraits.]
Rawdon gets the lion's share of the villainous air time, with Chris Huck hobnail-booting his way through second place, but Ban Tarleton has no reason to feel slighted. He never appears on screen, but his stock myths are lovingly paraded by in their very worst colors. He killed everyone at Waxhaws, of course. (Heck, he probably dragged the squirrels right down out of the trees and massacred them with his teeth.) He hanged half the population of South Carolina. (And that was just Tuesday. On Wednesday, he got really mean.) Until I read this book, I did not know that Tarleton was so horrible that his old college buddy, Frank Rawdon, was secretly terrified of him. (Sheesh!!!)4
And I do believe this is the nastiest version of Lord Cornwallis that has been trotted out since around 1822. Even The Patriot didn't do this badly by him. On top of everything else, Agnes of Glasgow has a small role, but with a straight face Rinaldi presents her as Cornwallis's discarded mistress! Agnes was a young woman who lies buried in a Camden cemetery. The version of the legend I heard when I saw her grave is that she drifted into Camden during the war, suffering from malaria. She could provide no coherent information about herself beyond the fact that she had come from Glasgow and was in search of her lover, who was with the British army. She died soon afterwards. Even that version is highly improbable, given that the date on her grave is four months before the British first arrived in Camden. The suggestion that her lover was the Earl Cornwallis may, indeed, date back to scurrilous contemporary rumor -- after all, scurrilous contemporary rumor claimed that Thomas Brown was the bastard son of Lord North -- but it is ludicrous in the extreme. Unlike many of his free-wheeling contemporaries, Cornwallis made a love match with a genteel commoner named Jemima Jones and I have yet to see so much as a hint of scandal suggesting he was unfaithful to her. She became terminally ill while he was in America, whereupon Cornwallis promptly left the army and returned to England to be with her. She died on Valentine's Day, 1779, and her death devastated him so completely that his friends and family feared he might go insane. He came back to America to serve in the Carolinas campaign purely because he needed something to focus on besides grief. Does this paint the picture of a man who would be leaving behind him a trail of carelessly discarded women only a few months after his wife's death?5
I say again, "Sheesh!"
Gee, do you get the notion that I don't like this book? If it were fifty or a hundred years old, I wouldn't think twice about encountering this type of nonsense, but nowadays? Give me a break! I suppose it could be argued that the flaws are really simplifications due to it being aimed at young adults. We wouldn't want to confuse the kiddies with anything complex, right? Well, I was only fourteen or fifteen when I first got interested in the Revolution, and I regularly chat online with teenagers who are following the same route. In my experience, young adult readers have no trouble handling the concept that real-life wars are never simple. If anything, its intended audience makes my disgust with this book even stronger.
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1 In Ms. Rinaldi's viewpoint, betraying your sworn oath to the British/Loyalist side to join the rebellion is an act of purest nobility. However, as I recall from another of her novels, Finishing Becca, to move the other direction is evil, wicked and reprehensible to the max. [ back ]
2 Though, of course, he is merely a name, never actually appears on screen, and is justly punished after the war by the triumphant Patriots. [ back ]
3 In his marvelous commentary on the Revolution, Norman Gelb offers this related comment: "Washington considered the evacuation of runaway slaves by the British so serious that he stooped to a personal meeting with the British commanding officer to try to convince him it was wrong. He was, however, embarrassingly obliged to concede that the British, having offered freedom to slaves to joined their ranks, couldn't really be expected to go back on their word." Norman Gelb, Less than Glory; A Revisionist's View of the American Revolution (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1984), p185n.
It is not at all my intention to suggest that all the British were wonderful, modern-thinking liberals where slaves were concerned. They, too, were products of their time period and culture, so of course many of them as individuals were anything but. But even so, they offered by far the best of the two alternatives available to American slaves. For every African-American who chose of his own free will to fight for the rebel cause, somewhere between ten and twenty of his peers (depending on whose numbers you believe) opted to side with the British. American slaves had to wait another eighty years for the concept of "freedom for all" to progress as far at home as it already had in Britain itself. By 1772, any slave who set foot on English soil was automatically free. The slave trade was abolished by British Parliament in 1807, and slavery was outlawed in the last British colonies by 1833.
On the other hand, a typical American loyalist from the southern colonies was as strongly in favor of slavery as his rebel counterpart. In fact some loyalists turned rebel because they feared the British would put an end to slavery after the war. As one historian notes, "By using slaves as soldiers with the promise of freedom in payment, they [the British] simultaneously threatened the slave system and evoked the specter of insurrection." See Rachel N. Klein's essay, "Frontier Planters and the American Revolution" (in Ronald Hoffman, Thad W. Tate, and Peter J. Albert, ed., An Uncivil War: The Southern Backcountry during the American Revolution (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, for the United States Capitol Historical Society, 1985), pp65-69) for a succinct analysis of the connection between a desire to maintain the slave system and support for the rebel cause in the Carolinas. [ back ]
4 Tarleton and Rawdon were the same age, and attended Oxford together. Rawdon may have encouraged Ban to join the army. If their friendship suffered after the war -- I've seen conflicting reports -- it was due to the Clinton-Cornwallis controversy, in which they were in opposite camps. [ back ]
5 I'm taking Barefoot's word on the date of Agnes' death. See Daniel W. Barefoot, Touring South Carolina's Revolutionary War Sites (Winston-Salem, North Carolina: John F. Blair Publisher, 1999), p264-265. He also recounts a couple of other variations on the legend, and others appear in various books on local Camden history. [ back ]
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