The Inno­cents

Car­o­line Seebohm
  • Review
By – November 14, 2011

On the sur­face, Car­o­line Seebohm’s nov­el, The Inno­cents, is the sto­ry of twins, Dorothea and Iris Cros­by, who seek per­son­al ful­fill­ment in a mate­ri­al­is­tic and priv­i­leged world. Mem­bers of high soci­ety, they live among the promi­nent and wealthy, sur­round­ed by expen­sive­ly fur­nished man­sions. The nine­teen-year-old iden­ti­cal twins are altru­is­tic, exquis­ite, intel­li­gent, and devot­ed to one anoth­er. But some­thing is miss­ing for, despite their posi­tion in soci­ety, they often feel dis­af­fect­ed and uncom­fort­able in their sur­round­ings. As See­bohm would have it, they are the inno­cents about whom she writes. Or, are they? 

In lan­guage that is descrip­tive, intri­cate, and evoca­tive of Edith Whar­ton, See­bohm mag­ni­fies New York’s upper class life as she details the inte­ri­or and exte­ri­or of their homes and makes clear their pen­chant for France and all things French. In the pure and uncor­rupt­ed voic­es of Dorothea and Iris, See­bohm express­es con­cern for such issues as vac­u­ous moral­i­ty, social ambi­tion, World War I, vol­un­teerism, and a woman’s role in soci­ety. It is the tragedy of the Tri­an­gle Fac­to­ry fire of 1911, how­ev­er, that See­bohm uses to mark the begin­ning of the twins’ jour­ney toward self-real­iza­tion, as it is here that they learn the truth and the mean­ing of class. And, as World War I grows worse, it is the twins’ deci­sion to serve as Red Cross nurs­es in France and their ulti­mate ser­vice on the front lines that brings them the sense of worth they have been seeking.

Malv­ina D. Engel­berg, an inde­pen­dent schol­ar, has taught com­po­si­tion and lit­er­a­ture at the uni­ver­si­ty lev­el for the past fif­teen years. She is a Ph.D. can­di­date at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Miami.

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