Obsessions In Fiction

When I was eleven, my favorite books were a series of Christian historical romances by Judith Pella and Michael Phillips. Set in Russia during the late 19th century, the main character is a shy, pious peasant girl named Anna who traveled to St. Petersburg from her little country village to work as a kitchen maid in the home of a wealthy nobleman. In the first book, The Crown and the Crucible, Anna gets lost and accidentally ends up in her employer’s private gardens, where she meets Katrina, the daughter of the family, who decides that the unworldly peasant girl would make a great ladies’ maid. Anna is a familiar anachronism in historical romances, the poor girl who just loves books and reading more than anything, and is able to breach massive class barriers thanks to her literacy, moral certitude, and unassuming manner. When she meets Katrina’s brother, Sergei, an aspiring novelist, the two fall rapidly in love. The turbulent political backdrop of Russia during the reign of Alexander II serves as excellent fodder for the plot, when Sergei’s novel upsets the imperial censors, who drive his noble father out of the tsar’s favor and get Sergei exiled to Siberia. Not to worry, though: he escapes, and is reunited with Anna at her father’s peasant hovel, where they live happily for many years, raising a large family in well-educated destitution.

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