Wednesday, April 03, 2019

An uncommon 19th-century marriage: Thomas and Beal in the Midi by Christopher Tilghman

Third in his acclaimed Mason saga, Tilghman’s (The Right-Hand Shore, 2012) beautifully contemplative novel observes his protagonists’ uncommon marriage, showing how each must come into his and her own separately before they can flourish as a couple.

In 1892, since their union is frowned upon in Maryland, Thomas Bayly and his African American bride, Beal, arrive in France to begin a new life together, leaving behind their disapproving families and his substantial inheritance.

Amid Paris’s upper-class art crowd, the sheltered, 19-year-old Beal attracts rival portraitists and the romantic advances of a Senegalese diplomat, while Thomas meets a comely Irish librarian while researching future prospects. He settles on winemaking and purchases an estate in the Languedoc, which obliges Beal to abandon her newly cosmopolitan lifestyle to follow him.

Alongside Beal and Thomas and their skillfully delineated journeys to maturity, many secondary characters also stand out, including a kindly nun and a difficult Jewish painter with unique insight into Beal’s state of mind. Belle Époque Paris and the southern French countryside are described exquisitely, as is the rich terroir that shapes the human heart.

Some notes:

Thomas and Beal in the Midi is published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux this week; I reviewed it for the 3/15/19 issue of Booklist.  The other books in the Mason saga are Mason's Retreat (1996) and The Right-Hand Shore (2012), and I've only read the last two, but I believe they can be read in any order.

While this entry takes place in the 1890s, the first book is set much later, during the Great Depression, and The Right-Hand Shore takes place in both the 1920s, during the last years of Thomas's sister Mary, and the 1850s, during the youth of Mary, Thomas, Beal, and her brother. A focus on race and class, and a strong sense of place, permeates through each of the narratives, particularly the rural countryside of Maryland's eastern shore and France's Languedoc region, in addition to the art scene of 1890s Paris in this newest novel.


  1. Hi Sarah - Just a quick note that I am unable to "like" your blogs anymore. I see others can, so maybe it's on my end. I can "like" other Facebook items, so I'm not sure what the problem is. Let me know if you have a suggestion! Thanks.

  2. Hi Katharine, thanks for letting me know about the problem. I can see that others Liked various posts, too. When I hit Like at the end of this post, it brought me to a screen that said "You previously turned off platform apps, websites and plugins. To use this feature, you need to turn them back on, which also resets your Apps Others Use settings to their default settings." I had set up my Facebook privacy so that other apps couldn't see what I was doing - maybe that has something to do with it?

    Does it work if you go onto Facebook directly and Like the post from the blog's page at, or is that where the problem is? If the Like button doesn't appear there for you, hopefully it's a temporary glitch because everything looks OK on FB itself, as far as I can tell.

  3. I just "liked" the post on FB without any problem, so I guess it's here on your blog. Again, it could be on my end - not sure!

    1. Sorry about the continued trouble with the blog, but glad that it worked on FB itself. I'll keep looking around!