Lucy Stone

I recently read a book,  Leaving Coy’s Hill: A Novel by Katherine Sherbrooke which is a fictionalized  account of Lucy Stone’s life. Lucy Stone was an abolitionist and suffragette who also promoted marriage equality. She was the first woman in Massachusetts to obtain a college degree. She attended Oberlin, graduating in 1847.

She eventually married but kept her birth or “maiden name”. Today about twenty-five percent of women keep their own names. Since the 1970s, women, whether married or no,t have the option of calling themselves Ms. This was not available to Lucy Stone.

I liked the book, but I had some issues with it. I think there are inherent problems with writing fiction about a real person. If the author fictionalizes or imagines thoughts and feelings of the subject, the reader wonders how they could know.

Since Lucy Stone was an amazing person that many people know nothing about, my concern is that the novel’s version of her life may be the only information the reader receives. They may think it is all true when it is not.

Following the Civil War, the suffragist movement split, with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony advocating for the vote for everyone; leading them to oppose the 15th amendment which gave black men the vote. Lucy Stone took the opposite position supporting giving the franchise to black men; thus delaying the same opportunity for all women.

Leaving Coy’s Hill presents this controversy and division from Lucy’s point of view. With historical hindsight, we can see that there wasn’t a good choice. Given Sherbrooke’s approach, Susan B. Anthony becomes the villain of the story which may surprise people.

Reading Leaving Coy’s Hill made me think about winners and losers in history and who becomes the face of a political or social movement for subsequent generations. Stanton and Anthony won the suffragism history war while Lucy Stone lost. The women I write about in Dames, Dishes, and Degrees are the losers in a historical narrative that places second wave feminism front and center.

 

Book Review: Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

As I wrote in a previous post, I took a five-week class on submission for potential publication from writer’s digest university. One of the books I am using in my revised book proposal as a comparable title is Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez.

Because I had COVID, I had a lot of time on my hands. I watched a lot of television and read Invisible Women in three days. Although it is filled with statistics and analysis of data, it reads like a thriller. Perez is an excellent writer and has a crisp style in presenting the material.

She layers the information, one level of society upon another, so by the end you are left with the firm conviction that misogyny is embedded in every aspect of our lives.  Male is the default for everything ranging from safety net benefits to military armor. Women are at best an afterthought and at worst an aberration.

Invisible Women is a meta-analysis while my manuscript is more micro in its approach because I look at both individual and small groups of women who struggled to define themselves within this misogynistic, patriarchal world.

I highly recommend this book and encourage all of you to read it. It has renewed my commitment to feminism and strengthened my desire for a more equitable world.

Sense and Sensibility

As some of you may know, in conjunction with the Jones Library, Amherst, I run the Jane Austen’s Regency World book club. We meet six to seven times a year starting each February. We have just finished the fourth year. Each year, we read one of Jane Austen’s novels, then we read books by other authors that relate to the Jane Austen work.

This year we read Sense and Sensibility. I decided to structure the other readings around the theme of sisters. The bond between Eleanor and Marianne in Sense and Sensibility is strong and complex. I wanted to look at other authors’ explorations of relationships between sisters. I have a sister and many participants in the club do as well.

For the final book of the year, we read Ladies of the House by Lauren Edmondson. It was not great. I have read several modern retellings of Jane Austen and most of them have not been great. Jane Austen’s novels are both timeless and dated. Her tremendous skill as an observer of human nature and her great writing make the books readable after over two hundred years. The setting of her books in the English countryside, Bath, and London, are specific to the time she was writing, in the late 18th and early 19th century. It is this aspect of Austin’s writing that is hard to update. Ladies of the House transplants the story to modern day scandal ridden Washington DC.

My favorite adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels are those that take an aspect of the book to tell a different story. Longbourn by Jo Baker looks at the servants in Pride and Prejudice. The Clergyman’s Wife: A Pride and Prejudice Novel by Molly Greeley looks at Charlotte Lucas’ marriage to Mr. Collins. Both are particularly good books with original, new interpretations of Pride and Prejudice.

For the seventh meaning of the book club, on January 19th, we will discuss the Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility. It is one of my favorite movie adaptations of a Jane Austen novel. Although Thompson is  almost twice as old as Eleanor is in the book, the movie is a beautiful, heartfelt telling of the story. Next year, we are reading Emma and the other books all have matchmaking in the plot. We will also have a seventh meeting this coming year to discuss Clueless, another one of my favorite Jane Austen movie adaptations.

If you are interested in what we have read in the past, what we are reading this year, or you want to attend the meetings which are on Zoom, please message me.

Happy Holidays!

Happy New Year!

 

 

Angela Lansbury

My original plan for today’s post was to update you about progress on my book. However, on Tuesday, Angela Lansbury died,so I have decided to say something about that today. Tomorrow, which will be the last day of my latest self-initiated NaNoWriMo, I will post about that process.

As my faithful readers will remember, from the end of 2021 to the beginning of 2022, I watched every episode of Murder She Wrote and read a book by Angela Lansbury. More recently, I read a book that had Jessica Fletcher as the heroine.

When Angela Lansbury died this Tuesday, the New York Times ran an obituary which included  a mini documentary about her life. It featured her speaking. Something she said was very meaningful. “I’m an actress not just a pretty face.”

She was a woman of character and immense talent, and I really admired her. You can read my post about Murder She Wrote here.

Taxes and Inflation

Two things I read recently reminded me of the central argument of my dissertation and Brewing Battles. At the beginning of the month, I read a review of Roger Lowenstein’s new book Ways and Means: Lincoln and His Cabinet and the Financing of the Civil War. Eric Foner wrote the review. Eric is a very prominent historian and was my dissertation sponsor.

The other thing I read was from a newsletter I get from the New York Times DealBook. DealBook which is about business and economic news had a post that Roger Lowenstein wrote discussing inflation and how war can affect the economic climate of the country.

Both Eric’s review and Lowenstein post talked about the need of the north to finance the war which resulted in a myriad of taxes being a placed on a variety of objects and activities. Many years ago, I discovered that Salmon P. Chase, Treasury Secretary, and the Lincoln administration established taxes on alcohol and tobacco as well as creating an income tax. Although Congress repealed almost all the other taxes from following the end of the war, the Internal Revenue taxes on liquor and tobacco remained. These taxes provided over 50% of the federal government’s revenue until the enactment of the Internal Revenue tax in 1913.

What follows is an excerpt from Chapter Two of Brewing Battles that describe the efforts by Chase and the Lincoln administration to finance the war.

“From the moment Southern troops fired on Fort Sumter the Federal government required large sums of money to finance the Civil War. A Special Session of the Thirty-Seventh Congress (July­–August 1861) attempted to meet this need by increasing certain customs duties, imposing a direct tax of $20 million on the States, and instituting an income tax.[1]

It soon became clear that these measures alone could not relieve the country’s financial burdens. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase was hoping to raise $85 million and sent a bill to the Thirty-Seventh Congress. Congress, which reconvened on December 2, 1861, reviewed his request for a small increase in the income tax and excise taxes on manufactured goods. Distilled spirits, malt liquors, cotton, tobacco, carriages, yachts, billiard tables, gross receipts of railroads, steam boats and ferries, and playing cards all became taxable items. Signed by President Lincoln July 1, 1862, the measure became effective the following month.[2] By the 1870s Congress had repealed most of the excise taxes; the liquor tax, however, has remained in effect until today. The Internal Revenue Act of 1862 marked the entrance of the federal government into the affairs of the liquor industry; it has never left.

The federal government did not regard the liquor industry as an ordinary business. Alcohol was more than a manufactured item — officials saw drinking as a luxurious, even evil, habit that deserved a heavy tax. Ignoring the mixed history of ante-bellum attempts at taxation, collection, and sumptuary legislation, Civil War legislators assumed that an excise on distilled and fermented beverages would raise a large amount of much needed revenue.

Civil War legislation of 1862 established the federal system of taxation of alcoholic beverages. At that time, the government instituted excise taxes on liquor, tobacco, and other items as well as imposing an income tax. Most of these Civil War taxes were short lived; the liquor and tobacco taxes were permanent. Until the imposition of the federal income tax in 1913, liquor taxes generated a significant portion of the nation’s internal revenue and played an important part in maintaining the economic health of the country.

Taxation provided the context for an explicit relationship between the state and industry, a pattern that would become more common later in the century. For the liquor industry as a whole the relationship did not develop smoothly. Throughout the nineteenth century, mismanagement and politicization of the Bureau of Internal Revenue led to fraud and corruption. The government did not seek and could not maintain regulatory power over the liquor industry. Although several individuals devoted themselves to reform efforts, officials failed to develop or maintain long range plans for efficient tax collection. Within this context, the brewing industry developed a good working relationship with the Bureau of Internal Revenue and was able to hold the line on tax increases”

[1] U.S. Department, Internal Revenue Service, History of the Internal Revenue Service 1791-1929, prepared under the direction of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, (Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1930), 2.

[2] Ibid., 3; Charles A. Jellison, Fessenden of Maine: Civil War Senator (Syracuse, N.Y: Syracuse University Press, 1962), 149; Leonard P. Curry, Blueprint for Modern America: Non-Military Legislation of the First Civil War Congress (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1968), 149–181; Bray Hammond, Sovereignty and an Empty Purse: Banks and Politics in the Civil War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), 52; Charles Estee, The Excise Tax Law (New York: Fitch, Estee, 1863), passim.

©All Rights Reserved. Do not reproduce without the permission of the author. Amy Mittelman, 2022.

 

NaNoWriMo Day 12

Before I started NaNoWriMo, I  talked to myself about keeping my expectations in check and realizing that life happens and I would have to roll with the punches. It is good I worked on that because today we had another flood.

All of Amherst had a flash flood . The water was coming in so quickly that our sump pump couldn’t keep up and, once again, my office flooded. I had written about 150 words when this happened but I had to stop, basically in mid sentence.

I could see the water coming up through cracks in the unfinished part of the basement. It was very frightening, so we called the fire department. They came quickly and at first they could not figure out where the water was coming from. They concluded that it was coming up through the basement floor. They tried to pump the water out, using a  hose that they snaked through the downstairs bathroom window. To get the hose through the window, one of the firemen put his fist through the screen.

Their pump didn’t work because the waters had started to recede and wasn’t high enough to trigger the float. They advised us to get an external floor pump. Fortunately one of our lovely neighbors had such a pump. Anther neighbor lent us a shorter hose than the one we have and we pumped the water into the toilet.

We then used towels and our water vac to get up the rest of the water. This was particularly discouraging because last weekend we put back all the stuff from one of the rooms downstairs that we had moved out when we had the flood from Tropical Storm Ida.

It was about three hours of solid work and we still will have to put the rooms together again, probably next weekend.  The firemen said to throw out one power strip that got wet. That and the screen is really  the only damage, which is fine. My papers were all safe.

I was able to come upstairs and write a little more for a total of 319 words today. I feel that was an amazing  accomplishment. I am so grateful that we are okay and for the wonderful help from our neighbors. The firemen were very solicitous and understanding and I plan to make a donation in their honor.

As climate change increases, there will only be more of these floods and violent rain storms. The Democrats must pass true climate change legislation for the planet’s sake.

Book Review: Death in a Tenured Position

As part of my summer reading which you can find about here and here, I finished Death in a Tenured Position by Amanda Cross. Cross was the pseudonym of Carolyn Heilbrun, feminist and noted scholar. Heilbrun taught, as a full professor, at Columbia University for many years. She was also a faculty wife. Her husband,  James Heilbrun, was an economics professor Fordham University. You can find out more about Carolyn Heilbrun here.

I read it because it took place at the Radcliffe Institute which I am writing about in my current chapter. Another book that I read this summer was The Equivalents which is a study of some of the women who were in the first group at the Radcliffe Institute. You can read my review of it here.

As Amanda Cross, Heilbrun wrote fourteen Kate Fansler mysteries from 1964 to 2002. I read several of them when they first came out. I’ve also read Heilbrun’s Writing Women’s Life which is excellent. If I had enough room, I would write about her in my book. Unfortunately, she doesn’t quite fit and I’m running out of room.

I enjoyed reading the book. It was entertaining enough that I also read her collected stories which has several Kate Fansler stories in it. I had some mixed feelings about Death in a Tenured Position. In a way it represented the bad aspects of second wave feminism which many people claim was only about white cis gendered middle-class women’s goals and aspirations and did not include women of color or poor women. Kate Fansler, a professor like Carolyn Heilbrun, is a privileged person and her opinions about lesbians, working class feminists, and other groups seem dated.

Book Review: Act Your Age, Eve Brown

I read Act Your Age, Eve Brown, by Talia Hibbert because Amazon gave me a Kindle credit. The book is the third in a series about three sisters. At first I thought I would read all three books. I was thinking of using at least one for my Jane Austen Book Club. A new season will be starting in February; I plan to have the club read Sense and Sensibility and then have the rest of the readings be about sisters.

Once I finished Act Your Age, I was not that interested in reading the other two. I do not plan on using the book for the club. It was interesting, however to read it and think about it in the context of what Austen wrote.

Many modern Romance novels uses the basic plot from Pride and Prejudice where two people meet, dislike each other but then realize that they have a lot in common and fall in love.  A variation that Hibbert employed is that the two people, after the initial dislike,  have fallen in love but there is a misunderstanding that pulls them apart until the final resolution where they are reunited. To some extent this plot twist is derived from Persuasion, my favorite Jane Austen book, where Anne Eliot and Captain Wentworth  face many misunderstandings over a ten year period before they finally declare their love for each other and presumably live happily ever after.

Act Your Age uses these plot structures but with less writing skill and much more sex than either Jane Austen novel. Eve Brown is a twenty something young woman who has not yet figured out what she wants to be when she grows up. She falls into a position cooking at a bed and breakfast where the owner becomes her love interest. The formulaic nature of the book is reduced somewhat by Eve being a person of color while the owner is not. Locating the book in Britain also adds some interest. The book was an easy read and enjoyable but not particularly noteworthy.

 

Summer Reading Recap

Here it finally is – my long-awaited recap of my summer reading plans. In my original post of July 2, I outlined 5-6 books that I wanted to read this summer. Part of my motivation was to participate in the Jones Library Summer Reading Program. I turned in my log on Aug. 27. At that time, I had read five books; three of them were books I mentioned in that original post.

Since summer doesn’t actually end until Sept. 21, I am counting two more books that I read after I turned my log in as part of my summer reading achievement. Seven books in three months is not bad. I am currently reading Alison Lurie’s Love and Friendship. If i finish that in the next 5d days, I will have read eight books for the summer.

Books I Read this Summer

Maggie Doherty, The Equivalents 

Zadie Smith, White Teeth

Sara Fitzgerald, Conquering Heroines: How Women Fought Sex Bias at Michigan and Paved the Way for Title IX

Molly Greeley, The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh

Amanda Cross, Death in A Tenured Position

Amanda Cross, The Collected Stories of Amanda Cross.

Talia Herbert, Act Your Age, Eve Brown

I liked all the books but Greeley’s second book, imagining the life of Anne de Bourgh from Pride and Prejudice was not as good as her first book, The Clergyman’s Wife about Charlotte Lucas. I will have a separate review of Herbert’s book next week.

I didn’t read the book about training your cat, Wayward Lives or Butler’s Parable of the Talents.  I hope to read them all, but it will have to be part of my ongoing reading schedule.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Equivalents

I finished the book The Equivalents while we were in Florida. it is the first of the books I plan to read for my summer reading. You can read about that here. The book, by Maggie Doherty, tells the story of five women who were in the first two groups of Fellows at the Radcliffe Institute.

Mary Bunting,  president of Radcliffe College from 1960 to 1972, established the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study as a way to provide opportunities for married women with children who may have delayed or stopped their study or profession because of  marriage and children. Maggie Doherty  chose to focus her book on five women who all were accepted to the Radcliffe Institute but did not have advanced degrees. They received the term. “Equivalents” because they did not have advanced degrees but their experiences as writers, poets and artists counted as equivalent. to advanced degrees.

The women were the poets, Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, the writer Tillie Olsen who started in the second year,  the artist Barbara Swan and the sculptress, Marianna Pineda. Sexton and  Kumin had a relationship that began before their time together at the Institute, 1961-1963, and lasted until Sexton’s suicide in 1974.

The parts of the book where Doherty explores the lives of her five main characters and their relationships while they are at the Institute are well-written; this is the strongest part of the book.

During the first few years of the Institute, all of the Fellows were white. Although the story of the five “equivalents”  is the main part of the book, she tries to place their experiences within a larger societal context. To do this she introduces other characters, such as Alice Walkers, Institute Fellow 1966-1968, so Doherty can talk about issues such as race which her main actors didn’t experience.

Alice Walker is a compelling figure but Doherty should have written about her with more nuance. I find it problematic that she does not even mention Walker’s later career and controversies over her perceived anti-Semitism. A few sentences would have sufficed.

Doherty tries to position the women as precursors to second wave feminism. Although the bond between the five “equivalents” was very strong with elements of later consciousness raising sessions, I feel this is overstated. None of the women expressed overtly feminist ideas while they were at the Institute.

I read the book because the topic interests me and has something to do with what I’m currently writing about in my own manuscript. Because I am taking the PVWW writing class I read the book both for what it said about these women who were in the first group of the Radcliffe Institute and also how it is written, what kind of techniques and craft skills she used in writing it. Doherty does a good job with scene setting and uses quotations judiciously (both craft techniques)

I enjoyed the book and it did give me ideas about how to strengthen scenes and reduce my use of quotes, by putting more things into my own words. I am off to a good start with my summer reading. If any one else has a summer reading plan, I would love to hear about it.