The Forgotten Daughter is an outstanding book by an author who was well-known for her dedication to historical accuracy. Caroline Dale Snedeker (1871-1956) wrote numerous books for children and this book is a fine example of the research she undertook to produce an historically authentic work of fiction.
The Forgotten Daughter is a captivating story, an adventure, and a powerful tale of love, loss and forgiveness. It plunges the reader into the Ancient World; into the second century before Christ when Tiberius Gracchus was Tribune in Rome.
As I was reading this book, I felt a certain familiarity with the background historical narrative but I couldn’t remember where I’d heard it before. And then the author mentioned Plutarch. Yes! We’d read about the Gracchi and Cornelia, their mother, who devoted herself to her sons’ education:
Those she so carefully brought up, that they [became] more civil, and better conditioned, than any other Romans in their time; every man judged, that education prevailed more in them than nature.
We’ve been reading two to three selections from Plutarch’s Lives each year for the past six years, although at first I wasn’t convinced he was worth it. I wrote a post for Afterthoughts: 31 Days of Charlotte Mason relating to this and we have continued with studying the Lives because Plutarch really is worth it. Reading Snedeker's book, which was published in 1933, just made me all the more aware of how highly regarded Plutarch has been in the past.
Plutarch’s Life of Tiberius and Gaius (Caius) Gracchi is the basic material out of which The Forgotten Daughter is fashioned, and Snedeker intertwines Plutarch’s observations into her narrative to flesh out her story. This makes for a high interest story with a sense of authenticity.
The Forgotten Daughter tells a beautiful story that concerns a young girl named Chloe, the daughter of a noble Roman. Chloe’s mother and her companion, Melissa, both Greeks, had been captured by Laevinus, a Roman centurion, when their town was raided. Laevinus was so taken by Chloe’s mother that he was willing to marry her, and afterwards took her to live on a farm in the country as his wife.
Everything went well for a time, but one day Laevinus left for Rome to take some produce to market, and he didn’t return. Chloe’s mother was certain he would return and worried that he had become ill or had been involved in an accident. She was later informed that her husband had married another woman in Rome, and before long she was reduced to servitude and banished to a hovel with Melissa as her only company.
Inside the hut all the hill beauty was quenched like a candle - windowless, dim...
There, unknown to Laevinus, she gave birth to his daughter, Chloe, and not long afterwards she died, leaving Melissa to take care of the child.
Melissa and Chloe were mistreated by the supervisor of the farm and suffered a great deal.
As Chloe grew, Melissa passed on in song their Greek origins, the meeting of her mother and father, his desertion and her mother’s anguish. Chloe imbibed the atmosphere of her mother's homeland and a rich cultural heritage through these songs. This was to serve her well in time to come.
For these two there were no books or the knowledge to read them. So the sweet source of song was open to them. That source from which all books are taken, but from which no book is able to gather all the living sweetness. Melissa’s song was rude and simple, but it had that power.
Chloe grew up with a seething hatred of the father she never knew. She was beaten by the farm supervisor and lived a life of misery, and all the while Melissa strove to comfort and protect her for the sake of the friend she had loved.
In such a life there was no hope; no use to save or build up. Why they lived at all is strange. They simply awoke, worked, ate, slept, and awoke again. They were indeed the machines which the Romans thought them.
Forever besetting mankind is this temptation - to make other men into machines. Always in a new form it comes to every generation, and always as disastrous to master as to slave...
The life of a slave in the Roman Republic was keenly portrayed and Snedeker had some very insightful observations to make on Rome and Roman philosophy.
...in Roman days, after every victory, thousands of slaves were sold on the battlefield to speculators for the equivalent of eighteen cents each. They were cheap because so many of them died on the long march to Rome. So many committed suicide. So it was with slaves. But in the end Rome died itself because of them - rotted to the heart.
And this gem:
Despair in the old is a grievous thing, but not so bad as despair in the young. The young have no weapons, no remembrance of evils overcome, nor of evils endured. They have no muscle-hardness from old battles. They see only what is present, and they believe it to be forever. And they are very sure.
The Forgotten Daughter is recommended for ages 12 years to adult. I’d add, a mature 12 year old, not so much for content but Snedeker’s style is so lyrical and her comments on human frailties and philosophy are likely better suited to a young person who is thoughtful about this type of thing. But then again, the story also has action, danger, suspense and romance, which would appeal to a wide audience.
It is strange how people will try to mend their lives when the garment is torn to shreds. It is strange, too, how life’s garment, unlike human weaving, grows whole with the mending. It is as if some invisible kindness out of the air had set to work with you - here a little and there a little.
If your child has been studying Plutarch’s Lives, this is a wonderful book to further expand their pleasure in looking at the lives of the Gracchi, Crassus, Scipio, Marcus Octavius and also Ancient Rome.
The Forgotten Daughter by Caroline Dale Snedeker is my choice in Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 for an Award-winning Classic