Tuesday 20 January 2015

The Forgotten Daughter

Author:  Caroline Dale Snedecker

Illustrator:  Dorothy P. Lathrop

Era:  2nd century B.C. (around 113 B.C.)

Published:  1933 (Doubleday)

Award:  Newberry Honor (1934)

Age Range:  8 - 14 years old

Review:  ★★★★

Twelve year old Chloé lives with her companion, Melissa, in a shack in the mountains of Samnium outside of Rome.  The daughter of a Greek slave and a Roman centurion, at her mother's death she is abandoned by her father to her fate, which is that of a slave.  As Chloé grows to womanhood, she draws from the animals and nature around her as companions.  Her character is as lovely as the woods surrounding her, yet still she nurses an abiding hatred for the man who should have loved, nurtured and raised her as his own.  When a young Roman nobleman arrives at a neighbouring villa and encounters the young woman, Chloé's circumstances appear destined to change for the better, yet her past finally catches up with her and Chloe must decide whether she will hold on to the ghosts of the past or reach forward into a new future.

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Background:  The main story is woven around a true one, events surrounding Tiberius Gracchus, a man who was born to a noble family in Rome, yet one who ended up struggling for the rights of the lower classes. He managed to get an agrarian law put through the senate which would return land expropriated by wealthly Romans back to the peasant population.  This law stirred dissention in political circles and when Tiberius decided to run for re-election as a tribune, a group of irate Senators set upon him, clubbing him to death.  Cornelia Scipionis Africana also appears as Tiberius' mother and the daughter of the hero Scipio Africanus who defeated Hannibal in the Second Punic War.

Setting:  Most of the story takes place in the mountains of Samnium, outside of Rome.  Melissa and Chloé live in a hut up the hill which is separate from the country villa.

Samnite Soldiers from a tomb frieze in
Nola, Campania 4th century BCE
source Wikipedia


Chloé:  A girl who is half Greek and half Latin.  Her mother was taken in a raid on Lesbos, by her father, Lavinus, a Roman nobleman.

Melissa: Chloé's companion, who was also taken in the raid.  She was the daughter of a priest of the temple.  She is Chloé's surrogate mother.

Aulus Cornelius Maro:  A Roman nobleman who is a friend and supporter of Tiberius.  When Tiberius is killed Aulus is exiled to his country villa and meets Chloé.

Davus:  A Roman slave who oversees Lavinus' country estate early in the book.  He is harsh and cruel to Chloé in particular.

Bion:  A Greek slave who takes over management of the estate when Davus is sent to Rome.  Because of his nationality and kind heart, he becomes a benefactor to Melissa and Chloé and assists them whenever he is able.

Robina:  The villa's cook and a little bit of a gossip.

Lavinus:   Chloé's Roman father.  He is rumoured to have abandoned Chloe's mother and Chloé, and married another woman, for which Chloe holds intense antipathy toward him.

Historical characters:

Tiberius Gracchus:  A Roman tribune and a cousin of Aulus.  Though coming from a rich family, he struggled to improve the lot of the lower classes of Rome.  (see background)

Cornelia Scipionis Africana:  the mother of Tiberius


What does the central character want?

  • Initially Chloé wants revenge, or at the very least to hold on to her hatred for her father.  She also deeply wishes for something different than her life as a slave, but because of her sheltered situation, she is not quite sure what she wishes for.

What keeps her from getting what she wants?

  • As for slavery, the situation of slaves in Rome was governed by strict laws and the only way to escape it was to be freed by a master.  There does not look like there is much hope for Chloé's situation, even though Aulus believes that he can convince his family to accept her as his wife. Also, the anger and hostility that Chloé harbours towards her father prevents her from moving forward.

How does Chloé finally get what she wants?

  • With regard to her father, his return gives Chloé new information and allows her to re-examine her prejudices and conclusions.  Chloé's father accepts her as his rightful child and her days of slavery are no more.  Chloé also learns that love is better than hatred, and after realizing that she has based her feelings of anger towards her father on lies, she surrenders her heart to him.  Hatred is a type of slavery that will not only harm the one that it is directed against, but the person himself; it not only affects the relationship with that person, but because of its corrosive nature, can affect other relationships as well.  In letting go of her hatred, Chloé sets herself free.


  • Man vs. Man   Chloé is in conflict with her father, angry at his perceived abandonment. 
  • Man vs. Society  Chloé is in conflict with the Roman system itself that devalues a man and allows a human being to be treated as an animal.
  • Man vs. Himself  Chloé struggles within herself with negative feelings toward her father that, without her realizing it, prevent her from moving forward in life.                  

  • Hatred
  • Cruelty
  • Identity
  • Judgement
  • Acceptance
  • Love
  • Politics
  • Nature
  • Understanding
  • Forgiveness

Snedecker was known for her extensive research using only primary or secondary sources, and The Forgotten Daughter sings with a melody of the past.  Snedecker's writing brings Roman life to the reader in vibrant colours and poignant emotions.  The descriptions of the setting are beautiful and living and, as a reader, you feel that you have stepped right into the story.

Quotes from The Forgotten Daughter:

  • Forever besetting mankind is this temptation --- to make other men into machines.  Always in a new form it comes to every generation, and always as disastrous to master as to slave.
  • Despair in the old is a grievous thing, but not so bad as despair in the young.  The young have no weapons, no remembrances of evils overcome, nor of evils endured.  They have no muscle-hardness from old battles.  They see only what is present, and they believe it to be forever.  And they are very sure.  Besides, joy and up-springing are the right of youth, and without it youth falls to the ground.
  • It is strange how people will try to mend their lives when the garment is torn to shreds.  It is strange, too, how life's garment, unlike human weaving, grows whole with the mending.  It is as if some invisible kindness out of the air had set to work with you ---- here a little and there a little.
  • We folk of the modern day can, with a touch of the finger, flash a whole city into light; we can plunge through clouds faster than any bird; we can soar above the very atmosphere of earth.  But we have lost the sweet informing companionship of animals which was the daily life of men of old.  Animals as pets are not the same.  They are not these ancient vital companions.  These ancient animals were in equal partnership with men, gave as much as they took --- gave somtimes more. ...... Life could not go on without them; and with them life was sweet, warm, responsive.
  • One wonders how the people of the ancient world met their griefs.  These griefs were of more cruel nature than ours, and the people had, so it seems, less spiritual weapons to meet them.  That they did meet them and bear them in all those deep and long-lost centuries is a keen comment on the intrinsic worth of men.

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  1. Yes, this is definitely a book I want to read - thanks for writing about it :)

    1. You're welcome, O. It definitely surpassed my expectations.