Archive for the ‘Book Beat’ Category

“a gifted storyteller”

“A gifted storyteller” David McCullough called THOMAS FLEMING who died on July 23 at the age of 90. McCullough added: “He was a man of natural ease with people and with stories.” A prolific novelist and historian, Fleming’s favorite subject was the American Revolution, the struggle he considered essential to understanding the history that followed. I couldn’t agree more.

Of particular interest to readers of this blog is The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers (2009) in which he focuses on the women in the lives of Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, John Adams and Madison. The book provides a wonderful and eminently readable introduction to the often neglected influence of mothers, wives, and lovers of our nation’s founders. To quote Fleming: “Knowing and understanding the women in their lives adds pathos and depth to the public dimensions of the founding fathers’ political journeys. We do them no dishonor when we explore how often public greatness emerged in spite of personal pain and secret disappointment. Far from diminishing these men and women, an examination of their intimate lives will enlarge them for our time. In their loves and losses, their hopes and fears, they are more like us than we have dared to imagine.”

posted August 3rd, 2017 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Book Beat

I, Eliza Hamilton

Two Nerdy History Girls is a blog I subscribe to. The bloggers are two women, Loretta Chase and Susan Holloway Scott; the former writes historical romances and the latter historical novels and, under the pen name Isabella Bradford, historical romances. They both pride themselves on doing extensive background research for their books. Their blog posts often feature information they have come by as a result and are always fun to read. A bonus: every Sunday they present a roundup of other blog posts they find interesting.

Susan has a new book coming out in September, a historical novel called I, Eliza Hamilton. I suspect she got her inspiration from the highly successful Broadway play Hamilton. Eliza Schuyler was the wife of Alexander Hamilton. I look forward to seeing what Susan does with her story.

For my posts on Eliza, her sister-in-law-Angelica Schuyler Church, and Hamilton’s mistress Maria Reynolds see here, here, here, and here.

posted February 23rd, 2017 by Janet, comments (2), CATEGORIES: Book Beat,Church, Angelica Schuyler,Hamilton, Alexander,Hamilton, Elizabeth Schuyler,Reynolds, Maria

“All the Single Ladies”

Women’s HIstory Month may be past but the subject of women’s history is always relevant. I recommend to your attention a new book All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister (New York City: Simon & Schuster, 2016). The author traces the history of “the unmarried state,” changes in attitude toward it over time, and what those changes have meant for women as well as for the nation. As she points out, the “vast increase in the number of single women is to be celebrated not because singleness is in and of itself a better or more desirable state than coupledom. The revolution is in the expansion of options.”

For women in the New World the road to independence began with the Revolutionary War and the birth of the nation as evidenced by In the Words of Women and many posts in this blog. Many began to push back against the constraints of marriage and the concept of couverture under which a woman’s identity—legal, economic, and social—was subsumed or “covered” by her husband. Women proved to themselves and to others that they could raise children, manage farms, and conduct business affairs while the menfolk went off to war. Traister’s book takes the movement forward. Well worth a read.

posted April 4th, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Book Beat,Women's Rights

Hercules and the Birthday Cake for Washington

In the news recently is the recall by Scholastic Publishers of A Birthday Cake for George Washington by author Ramin Ganeshram and illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton which was released on January 5. The story is about Washington’s cook, a slave named Hercules, and his daughter Delia who bake the cake of the title. The book for young readers has been criticized because it depicts slavery in the Washington household as rather benign.
Hercules was an accomplished chef who served the president in Philadelphia and was accorded privileges denied other enslaved workers. A bit of a dandy, he ran a tight ship lording it over his underlings in the kitchen and was able to accrue a considerable amount of money by selling leftovers from the presidential table.
Washington regularly rotated his slaves back to Mount Vernon from Philadelphia because of a Pennsylvania law that allowed them their freedom after six months residence. When Hercules was returned to Mount Vernon early in 1797 and was assigned duties as a laborer, which he must have considered beneath him, he ran away.
George Washington was angered and mystified by his action just as he and Martha never could understand why Oney Judge, a slave who was one of Martha’s personal maids, also ran away in 1796 when she was in Philadelphia. In both cases Washington attempted to recover the slaves, but his efforts failed. See recent posts about Oney here, here, and here.
Although notes in the Birthday Cake book do say that Hercules ran away, that fact and his desire to escape are not dealt with in the story itself, nor are the evils of slavery. These are unfortunate errors in judgment on the part of the author and illustrator who are both African Americans. The Washingtons did not comprehend that being “well treated” is not the same as being free. And readers of the book need to understand that too. Oney said “she did not want to be a slave always.” And when asked whether she regretted her decision to run away replied “No, I am free, and have, I trust, been made a child of God by the means.”

See the article on Hercules in George Washington’s Mount Vernon, also J.L. Bell’s blog post on the subject.

posted January 21st, 2016 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Book Beat,Hercules,Pennsylvania,Philadelphia,Staines, Ona "Oney" Judge,Washington, George,Washington, Martha

Fanny Burney’s “Evelina”

Literate upper class American women often occupied their time in the latter part of the eighteenth century in reading romantic novels. See previous post on this subject. One popular novel making the rounds was Evelina by the Englishwoman Frances “Fanny” Burney. An epistolary novel, it tells the story of a young lady’s entrance into the world through a series of letters. In the original preface the author describes her purpose and method.

To draw characters from nature, though not from life, and to mark the manners of the times, is the attempted plan of the following letters. For this purpose, a young female, educated in the most secluded retirement, makes, at the age of seventeen, her first appearance upon the great and busy stage of life; with a virtuous mind, a cultivated understanding, and a feeling heart, her ignorance of the forms, and inexperience in the manners of the world, occasion all the little incidents which these volumes record, and which form the natural progression of the life of a young woman of obscure birth, but conspicuous beauty, for the first six months after her Entrance into the world.

Burney goes on to defend her own and other novels that had become so popular with young women.

Perhaps, were it possible to effect the total extirpation of novels, our young ladies in general, and boarding-school damsels in particular, might profit from their annihilation; but since the distemper they have spread seems incurable, since their contagion bids defiance to the medicine of advice or reprehension, and since they are found to baffle all the mental art of physic, save what is prescribed by the slow regimen of Time, and bitter diet of Experience; surely all attempts to contribute to the number of those which may be read, if not with advantage, at least without injury, ought rather to be encouraged than contemned.

Let me, therefore, prepare for disappointment those who, in the perusal of these sheets, entertain the gentle expectation of being transported to the fantastic regions of Romance, where Fiction is coloured by all the gay tints of luxurious Imagination, where Reason is an outcast, and where the sublimity of the Marvellous rejects all aid from sober Probability. The heroine of these memoirs, young, artless, and inexperienced, is “No faultless Monster that the world ne’er saw; but the offspring of Nature, and of Nature in her simplest attire.”

In the preface to The Journals and Letters of Francis Burney Burney describes what she tried to do (pages 2-3).

Perhaps this may seem rather a bold attempt and title, for a female whose knowledge of the world is very confined, and whose inclinations, as well as situation, incline her to a private and domestic life. All I can urge is, that I have only presumed to trace the accidents and adventures to which a “young woman” is liable; I have not pretended to show the world what it actually is, but what it appears to a girl of seventeen; and so far as that, surely any girl who is past seventeen may safely do.

Why not click on this link to Evelina and sample what so interested women readers of the time. Burney’s portrait ca. 1784-84 is at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

posted November 26th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Book Beat,Burney, Frances "Fanny",Entertainments

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