Pink Chimneys could well be the quintessential “Maine” historic novel in that it describes life in the Bangor region in the early 1800s when the city was being developed as a primary port for shipping and other businesses. Originally released in 1987, Islandport Press has released the 30th-anniversary edition of Pink Chimneys with a new forward by the author, who states:
“I don’t know what has given Pink Chimneys its longevity, but I believe readers find in the story something that moves them, that makes them care about Maude, Fanny and Elizabeth…..Something in the story stirs in readers a sense of historical place, particularly as it concerns women and the Bangor region. Perhaps the story reveals to them how history flows around, away from, and toward us in a never-ending stream, inundating us whether we know it or not, in an aura of the past.”If Pink Chimneys were to be written today, it might well be considered a “feminist” novel in that all the main characters (Maude, Fanny and Elizabeth) are strong (or become strong) in the face of adversity living in the man’s world of the time. Maude, the only living child of a doctor, takes up midwifery (most babies were delivered by a midwife at the time) and is non-judgemental when it comes to rendering her services, even attending to the birth of illegitimate children.
Fanny, rather than turn to a life of prostitution when she finds herself pregnant by the man she loves, but who soon ships out leaving her destitute, allows herself to be a kept woman of a wealthy man, Joshua Stetson, who has plans to open a high-class brothel in Bangor (Pink Chimneys), setting Fanny up as the manager. She soon discovers she has good business sense and uses her money to invest in merchandising and property. Elizabeth, who is left without family and home when her aunt Mercy dies and the farm is sold, goes to Bangor (and catches the eye of Abner Giddings, the ship’s widower captain) to eventually become the in-house seamstress at Pink Chimneys.
The storyline is sprinkled with descriptive images of farms along the Penobscot as well as city life in Bangor with its large stately homes on Broadway as well as the seedy underside of the city in the waterfront area called Joppa. The real strength of the book (and likely its enduring appeal) lies in the story’s turns as well as its likeable characters and their abilities to endure and cope with life’s adversities and the consequences of the choices they have made. However, Pink Chimneys is not a hard, gritty novel, nor is it a romance novel either. Ms Hamlin manages to craft a good story, firmly based in history without resorting to detailed descriptions of what goes on up on the second floor at Pink Chimneys. Nor does she resort to affected wordings of love and romance. In doing so, she has written a timeless novel that was entertaining to read.
Currently, there are two sequels to Pink Chimneys: Abbott’s Reach (2011) and The Havener Sisters (2015), both from Islandport Press.
Pink Chimney house image by Patmcalex (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons