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A Private Hotel for Gentle Ladies


A Private Hotel for Gentle Ladies

Former invalid Charlotte Heath runs away from home when she finds her husband with another woman. She seeks and finds refuge in a most unusual hotel in Boston --- a reverse brothel. There she eventually comes to terms with what it is she really wants out of life.

The story begins in the early twentieth century at the Heath estate, which is located near Boston. The Heaths are a wealthy and very-well connected family, and they all reside in one huge compound. Charlotte, who came from an impoverished background, finds this family togetherness stifling at times, especially since her husband Hays often seems to prefer the company of his family over spending time alone with her. Hays is very controlling and is always watching Charlotte as though he doesn't quite approve of her. Charlotte continually feels that she doesn't measure up to the Heaths' expectations.

Then Charlotte contracts polio and is quickly and conveniently whisked away, out of sight, to a sickroom that further isolates her from Hays, the Heaths, and the outside world. She spends most of a year bedridden. During that long confinement Charlotte learns to be very still and wait, though she is uncertain just what it is she expects to occur. Mostly, she imagines what might be going on in the outside world. She has a rather peculiar imagination and often imagines events from two completely different perspectives as though she can't really make up her mind which one might be correct.

Once she has recuperated from nearly a year in her sickbed, she is out one brisk, snowy day with her buggy and favorite team of horses. She accidentally spots Hays across the street having a rather intimate, stolen moment with a strange woman. Charlotte is bewildered and upset. Determined not to return to the confines of the Heath estate or to her husband, whom she believes has betrayed her, she literally runs away to a hotel in Boston she had heard of from the family cook who sometimes worked there. Charlotte knew the name of the hotel but not its secrets.

The Beechmont is a classy Boston hotel with a definite aura of secrecy about it. The staff is sworn to silence so the guests can enjoy their much-sought after privacy. Besides the maids and a rather eccentric doorman, most of the rest of the "staff" are handsome young men who entertain the Beechmont guests according to the whims and pleasures of those guests.

Charlotte becomes acquainted with a few of the hotel residents and is quite surprised that the doctor, Hays's aunt, who treated Charlotte during her period of confinement, is actually a regular guest at the Beechmont. Aunt Lily promises to keep Charlotte's whereabouts a secret. Charlotte meets a few of the "staff" and comes to know one of the young men, a medical student who is working his way through college at The Beechmont, rather intimately. She also gets involved in the personal lives of some of the peculiar occupants of the hotel.

There is a detective-type outside, across the street, watching the hotel and the comings and goings of its staff and occupants. The detective, Dickie, is someone Charlotte previously knew. Dickie is now in the employ of Boston Society for the Suppression & Prevention of Vice. The members of the Society know there's something odd going on inside The Beechmont, but proving it is an altogether different matter.

The early twentieth-century setting of a very proper-seeming Boston hotel provides the perfect stage for this story to play out. Charlotte's many musings and deliberations will keep the reader guessing just how this most unusual tale will end.

Reviewed by Carole Turner on January 23, 2011

A Private Hotel for Gentle Ladies
by Ellen Cooney

  • Publication Date: November 22, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon
  • ISBN-10: 0375423400
  • ISBN-13: 9780375423406