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.