Seven Brides: Lily by Leigh Greenwood
Seven Brides: Lily
By Leigh Greenwood
Published by Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc. (1998)
There were seven books in this Seven Brides series by Leigh Greenwood, and as it turned out, Lily was the last book in the series. Set in 1800s America, the series revolved around the seven Randolph brothers, who, one-by-one had fallen for girls named after flowers (Rose, Fern, Iris, Laurel, Daisy, and Violet – so far) and had settled down in marriage.
Lily Sterling was a distant cousin of Zac Randolph – they were connected through Lily’s grandmother, who was a Randolph. Lily was the daughter of firebrand Reverend Isaac Sterling, who always gave out religious lectures to people whom he considered to be needing it. Lily was brought up to be the wife of a preacher: apart from being taught to run the household, she was also taught the Bible.
As a country girl, at 19, Lily’s father had arranged for her to marry a minister named Hezekiah, who had very much the same worldview as Lily’s father. Lily believed that she would never be happy with Hezekiah, and vice versa. But both men would never listen to her opposition to the arranged marriage.
Desperate to find a way out, Lily then remembered her distant cousin Zac, whom she had met about four years ago during an extended family reunion. She had talked to him, and Zac had invited her to visit him in San Francisco someday. Lily had taken Zac’s invitation seriously and eventually, left her home in Virginia to embark on a long journey to San Francisco.
Lily was trusting and naive, and never did it cross her mind that Zac was only trying to be nice when he said she could come visit him in San Francisco. Zac was not really serious with his invitation then. He knew a respectable girl like Lily would never fit in San Francisco.
When Lily showed up at the Little Corner of Heaven, the saloon Zac operated, the man was obviously displeased. For one, his saloon – where men came to gamble and drink, and where young women serve drinks and dance on stage – was no place for someone like Lily. Zac was also apprehensive to the fact that Lily was named after a flower. Remembering his six older brothers, Zac was afraid Lily would be his downfall; another girl with a flower name to fall a Randolph and brought him down to the bounds of matrimony. Zac had so far loved his solo life, and could not imagine sharing his life with anyone else.
Zac had thought about putting Lily on a train back to Virginia soon – but Lily was not planning on just a short visit. She was determined to settle down in San Francisco and find employment, too! For a naivete like Lily, who was not even able to discern between a hotel and a brothel, this decision could spell trouble. However, Zac eventually cancelled his plans of returning Lily to Virginia after he learnt what had made Lily left in the first place.
Lily was extremely beautiful, with apparently no match to her beauty. She attracted a lot of attention from men in San Francisco. Dopey men of all characters and background followed her like a train wherever she went, trying to vie for her attention.
Lily managed to get employed as a shop assistant, but she was dismissed not long after questionable men began to frequent the shop she worked at. It gave a bad reputation to the business, and her employer had to dismiss her. It happened several times and Lily was afraid she would turn out to be an embarrassing failure in the end.
Eventually Lily made her way back to Zac’s saloon and presented herself as a singer there. Zac initially disapproved, but she has gotten Zac wrapped around her fingers that he had allowed her to get almost everything she wanted: she got to sing, she was allowed to wear prettier dresses and had her face painted with make up. She got it all, but it always left Zac having to deal with whatever troubles that arose from her actions. Zac’s customers to the saloon increased, as were the fights that ensued between patrons who wanted to win Lily’s attention.
One day, Zac was caught with Lily in a compromising situation. They were both innocent, but to the eyes of witnesses, they had done something which had obviously tarnished Lily’s reputation. Zac had no choice but to marry Lily to shut down all possible rumours.
Deep inside her heart, Lily had always wanted to marry Zac. She had fallen in love with him madly, and the reason she did all that she ever did was because she wanted to impress Zac. She wanted to prove herself useful and not just some troublemaker whom he had to rescue each and every time. But then, things happened and all she had done only brought trouble to Zac. And now, Zac was forced to marry her when he had, all these while, cherished being single. Lily felt terrible for getting Zac into this rut, but at the same time she was determined to prove her love for him and to win his heart as well.
Meanwhile, Zac was in too much shock over what had befallen him so suddenly. He was angered by his unfortunate fate of getting dragged into marriage, but at the same time he could not get angry with Lily or blame her for everything that happened. Zac soon realized that he had actually fallen in love with Lily, too, hence his inability to be furious with her. He suddenly felt a strange addiction and wanted Lily to be by his side.
One of the main reasons for Zac to be enchanted by Lily was her purity, in which she was the only person in his whole life who saw only the good in him. Zac was the owner of a gambling parlour and had been subjected to negative stigma by the more respectable society. Even his own siblings and sisters-in-law had thought he was a hopeless cause. But Lily saw him as a kind and caring man, and she even defended him with passion whenever she heard anyone badmouthing Zac. That had won Lily a soft spot in his heart.
There was a lot of merry-go-rounds in Zac and Lily’s relationship – with Zac not knowing how to fit Lily into his lifestyle (Lily had stopped singing and became a hostess at the saloon after she became Zac’s wife), and Lily having doubts about whether it had been a right choice to marry him in the first place.
Lily loved Zac dearly, but the nature of their marriage, which was forced upon him, made Lily wondered if Zac might not marry her at all if given the chance. She doubted he loved her as much as she did, and had thought if it was better if she leave him so he will be able to one day find someone whom he could truly love. The debate with her conscience took some time to settle down, but in the end Lily decided to stay married to Zac. Zac had, in fact, willing to do everything to make her happy and had risked his life numerous times to save her from unruly men.
“With ninety-nine percent of their relationship nearly perfect, it was foolish even to think of rejecting it for the one percent that was missing.” (page 366)
On the other hand, Zac had, in fact, fallen head-over-heels for Lily. But he was not used to showing affection because he never understood the meaning of love before he met Lily. But he knew Lily meant very much in his life. To accommodate Lily into his life, he eventually decided to sell off his saloon, find a proper home and taken a more respectable job with one of his brothers so Lily would not be ostracized from society for being a gambler’s wife (although, Lily loved him too much to care about what people said).
Meanwhile, the man who had been intended for Lily back in Virginia, Hezekiah, had turned up in San Francisco one day to take her back. When Lily arrived in San Francisco some time ago, she had written to her father telling him that she was there under the care of Zac Randolph. Despite her father’s pushy behaviour, Lily still loved her father very much that she still wanted to write to him. Lily had also hoped for a reply, but it never came. Although, her father’s response was apparently in sending Hezekiah to collect her back home.
But it turned out Hezekiah was more open-minded than Lily had thought him to be. Hezekiah did not make too much fuss over her marriage to Zac after getting to know everyone at the saloon, some of whom were, unfortunate and abused women who had nowhere to go but work at the saloon to make ends meet. It also helped that the women at Zac’s saloon did not offer sexual service, otherwise Hezekiah might have second thoughts about it. Hezekiah had even fallen in love with Julie, a girl who worked at the kitchen of the saloon, and they were to get married soon.
And it was not long before Lily’s family appeared in San Francisco – her mother was happy that Lily got married in the end, and her father – although furious at first – also eventually accepted her marriage to Zac. Despite his temperament, Isaac Sterling did love his daughter very much, and vice versa.
A FEW PONDERINGS...
I was aware that many novels of this genre would portray women who defy the social norms of that past era, which had mostly been patriarchal in nature. It was good to see women trying to gain equal rights, but the keyword here would be EQUAL. When the balance had tipped and the women held more power than the men, it could possibly backfire because, as in the case of this novel, it had made me seriously consider supporting men’s rights groups instead!
This novel preached about men feeling superior to women and the unfairness of it all. However, that was clearly just something only in theory, because what really happened in this novel was certainly the other way round: the women did most of the manipulations to get something their way. Men were led around by women who believed they knew what’s best for the men.
The most glaring example was Zac, who had been trapped into a marriage when he did not even want to get married. Dodie, who was most persistent to get Zac and Lily married, had said that if Zac was not trapped, he would never know what was best for him. It was also ironic that Lily’s decision to escape an arranged marriage seemed to be a right choice, whereas Zac did not have the same rights to choose to remain unmarried all his life.
Another disturbing message in this novel was about how men will turn into complete idiots where a beautiful woman was concerned. Lily’s exceptional beauty had helped her get most of what she wanted, and no hot-blooded man ever find fault with her.
I also saw no equal give-and-take in Lily and Zac’s relationship, where Zac seemed to be giving much more by tolerating Lily’s behaviours and getting her out of troubles. Even though Lily vouched that she did not care being a gambler’s wife, she still wished a change in Zac’s lifestyle so that she could have a normal marriage where she got to see her husband at more regular hours, among other things. Zac made further sacrifices when he had to forsake his successful business in order to accommodate a wife into a new lifestyle. But despite the many sacrifices Zac had taken for her, Lily was still being petulant about Zac not loving her as much as she loved him. Lily’s childish stubbornness almost made me stop reading halfway, but I pressed on, and this post was the proof of my perseverance. 😅💪