Joy in the Morning: Book Review

Betty Smith wrote Joy in the Morning in 1963. She was the author of the very well known, A Tree Grow in Brooklyn. Joy in the Morning is about Annie Brown and her first year of marriage.  Only eighteen, she moves from Brooklyn to marry Carl Brown who is a law student at a midwestern state university.

The book is semi-autobiographical. As a newlywed, Betty Smith moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan where her new husband was studying law at the University of Michigan.

I was interested in Joy because the book I am working on looks at the wives of students, both graduate and undergraduate. The University Of Michigan had a National Association of University Dames (NAUD) chapter well as a Faculty Women’s Club, which still exists.

Annie does not belong to any of these groups but Smith movingly conveys her sense of being an outsider. Annie, like Smith, wants to write and eventually audits a playwriting class.

The book is lovely and very sweet in a non-sentimental way. Smith depicts the struggles that Annie and her husband Carl have, dealing with money, adjusting to marriage, and the birth of their son, honestly, in an authentic voice.

Carl eventually gets a job as a night watchman at a nearby factory.  He is able to get this job because the previous guard died. Annie feels badly about their good fortune resting on the death of someone so she decides to write about it.“

Annie spent the night writing the story. She wrote under great compulsion. She couldn’t stand it that a human being had lived and died and that there was no record that he had ever been. She felt that writing about him she was establishing the fact that he had lived and walked the earth and had once been a man.” 1

The women I am writing about had families and people who knew and now remember them, yet this sentiment spoke to me because I want to give then back their identity and humanity.

Betty Smith
Betty Smith

Academic Couples

This post is an expansion of a comment I made to Tenured Radical’s post, “Never Mix, Never Worry: A Brief (and incomplete) History of the Academic Couple”. She wrote the post in response to Caroline Bick’s  essay in the Sunday New York Times, “Is the Husband Going to Be a Problem.”

That question arose in the mind of a professor interviewing Bick for her first academic position. Bick’s essay mentions this sexist thinking about her husband potentially being a hiring issue. However, this is not really the main point of the article, which is not about sexism in academia but is about the intersection of careers and relationships.

Her advisor reassured her potential employer, not Bick as Tenured Radical indicates. Bick wishes she could have responded. She would have told them that it would be no problem because she planned to chain him under the bed. Bick does acknowledge that the “adult” behavior expected of her in the moment would up influencing her choices for many years.

Tenured Radical and many of the commenters felt that Bick’s story had a happy ending because she, her husband, and their children live together in the same city. It is a successful conclusion from the point of Bick’s relationship with her husband. The husband’s first career ended and he had to reinvent himself. As I know from personal experience this can be very difficult. If the woman had to give up her chosen academic career but got to live in the same city with her husband and children would it still be a successful conclusion?

Tenured Radical feels that the issue of “academic commuting” is a recent problem. “Once women decided to stop baking cookies for their husband’s seminars and type manuscripts for love and pin money, it occurred to them get their own advanced degrees (it was around the mid 1960s, when women’s liberation really took off,…)” Was feminism really as straight forward and simple as women making a conscious choice to stop baking cookies and get PhDs? I guess there were not any social forces that kept them baking and no changes that enabled woman to have more options, in both career and personal life.

The post contains several pictures of Elizabeth Taylor from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and the reader might assume she represents the prototypical faculty wife. Honey, the younger woman in Edward Albee’s play, actually better fits the stereotype of the faculty wife.

Sandy Dennis, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Sandy Dennis, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Martha, the character Elizabeth Taylor plays, is an alcoholic, frustrated and vengeful woman. Her frustration does not seem to be related to her not having obtained an academic job. She does not really fit into the point Tenured Radical makes about  secret drinking by faculty wives.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

College campuses across America have scholarship funds for women returning to school, loans for students, funds for campus beautification, and wings in medical centers because of faculty wives. Apparently, these women found time to do other things besides baking cookies and becoming alcoholics.

Spousal hires are much more likely if one or both of the people are stars or if they are looking for jobs at large public universities. In general, small private liberal arts colleges cannot easily add a second line when trying to hire someone. In addition, spousal hires can often conflict with affirmative action goals.

Two people in the same field are unlikely to wind up with two jobs at the same institution.   Someone will have to give up and do something else; that is what happened to Bick and her husband.

Tourism

I just finished writing a review of Garrett Peck’s The Prohibition Hangover: Alcohol in America from Demon Rum to Cult Cabernet. You will have to wait to read the review in its entirety until The Historian is published. The book is an interesting survey of the current liquor industry. One thing that stood out in the book was how much the liquor industry is using tourism as a way to promote itself.

Wine tourism, particularly in California, is very big business. One could make the case – Peck does not – that the best aspect about the liquor industry for the American economy is that they produce their products in America. They make something and offer traditional, well paying unionized jobs, particularly at the macro brewing level. If the industry shifts its’ focus toward tourism and away from production, these jobs will be replaced by lower paying service jobs, a familiar story for much of American industry.

Of course many places want to become tourist attractions. As part of the Little Berks, on Saturday I went on a  walking tour of Florence, Massachusetts. Florence use to have some industry; Pro Brush was a big employer. It closed in 2007. The David Ruggles Center is trying to restore and promote the history of the village. Florence was involved in many of the reform movements of the nineteenth century including the water cure, abolitionism, and the underground railroad.

sojourner-truth
Sojourner Truth Statue Florence Massachusetts

Sojourner Truth lived in Florence for a while and there is now a beautiful statue of her there. The house she lived in still exists but looks completely different. Local historians would love to be able to restore the house. If they do, it will certainly be a tourist attraction. Many of the places we have gone this year while traveling also hope to have something that will produce a steady stream of visitors.

Book Review: Good Morning, Miss Dove

Frances Gray Patton published Good Morning, Miss Dove in 1954. It was an immediate success. Prior to writing this novel, she had published short stories in various magazines, including Harpers and the New Yorker. Patton was also a faculty wife who lived her whole adult life in Durham, North Carolina.

I read this book because I thought I might do research on Patton when we went to North Carolina. Duke had several faculty wives organizations including Law Dames (wives of law students) and the Reviewers Club. The Faculty Wives of NCSU occasionally had joint luncheons or meetings with wives clubs from the surrounding area.

Good Morning, Miss Dove is not about a college town or an academic instruction. Liberty Hill is not even a southern town. The book is about learning and the role of teachers.

Good Morning, Miss Dove is very sentimental and somewhat unrealistic.  Patton’s portrayal of Miss Dove borrows from other literary figures, including Mary Poppins. One character in the book even remarks on Miss Dove’s similarity to the British nanny.

The two characters share certitude and high self-esteem. Miss Dove does not possess any of the whimsy or magic of Mary Poppins. They also share an ability to transform the lives of their charges. Patton does capture the phenomenon that teachers can sometimes be the most important figure in a student’s life.

The book is dated both in use of language – “colored” and in the portrayal of the relationship between nurses and doctors. Although it is set in the present, 1954, it has an old time feeling. The only modern element is her discussion of World War II and the fate of some of her students.

The plot, if you could call it that, revolves around the sudden onset of paralysis for Miss Dove.  Her hospitalization and surgery allows Patton to explore and elucidate Miss Dove’s character and memories. The outcome is unsurprisingly positive. Both the town and Miss Dove have gained greater appreciation of the meaning of her life.

In 1955, Jennifer Jones starred in the movie version of Good Morning, Miss Dove. I wish I could see the movie because Miss Dove was not supposed to be a beautiful woman. So far, I have been unable to find the movie in either VHS or DVD format, which is surprising.

Movie Poster Good Morning, Dove
Movie Poster Good Morning, Miss Dove

Book Review: “The Wettest County in the World” by Matt Bondurant

The Wettest County in the World, by Matt Bondurant, (Scribner:New York, 2008)is well written. The device of placing Sherwood Anderson within the story is more problematic. Anderson does serve to frame the story as a mystery. Under the guise of writing a story about the Bondurant boys and moonshine, Anderson’s character helps guide the reader through the narrative maze. It is interesting that Bondurant starts his story of hardship for the family in the Flu Pandemic of 1918-1919. This certainly gives his book a timely feeling.

Bondurant presents illicit distilling or moonshine production as occurring because of both hard times and thrill seeking. Moonshine, governmental corruption, and tax evasion have a long history, dating back to 1862 and the creation of the Bureau of Internal Revenue to finance the Civil War.

Until the passage of the Volstead Act, which established enforcement procedures for Prohibition, the federal government had a limited view of its proper role in the regulation of the liquor industry. From 1862 on, officials conceived of liquor taxation as an easy, painless, and morally expedient way to raise revenue. High excise rates led to speculation, corruption and illegal distilling, significantly reducing the amount of money the government received. The Internal Revenue Act of 1862 created many new patronage positions and new opportunities for spoils. Because officials established a bureaucracy but paid little attention to administration, time honored patterns of political appointments and gain continued.

Despite reform efforts by David A. Wells and others, the combined forces of speculators and government spoils men dominated the federal tax policy and its administration. In the generally lax atmosphere of the Grant presidency, corruption reached new heights. Using the need for funds for Grant’s reelection as a pretext, mid-level revenue officials in St. Louis and other Mid-west cities set up a collection ring that cost the federal government millions in revenue from St. Louis alone.

Following the breakup of the Whiskey Ring, the administration of the Bureau of Internal Revenue stabilized. Although fraud by licensed distillers did not disappear, the Bureau shifted its attention to moonshine, particularly in the South.1 These unlicensed distillers are the characters in The Wettest County. During Prohibition, any production of alcohol for commercial purposes was illegal but the Virginia distillers in the book had a history of illegal production dating back to the nineteenth century.

After Repeal, widespread illicit distilling subsided but Southern moonshine has remained a perennial problem for the federal government. Federal legislation prohibits distillation of spirits for home use. Distilling sprits always requires payment of taxes and filing of paperwork prior to beginning production. In the early twentieth-first century, the ATF was the lead agency in Operation Lighting Strike, formed in Virginia and North Carolina to fight the big business of illicit distillation of alcohol. In a first, Operation Lightning Strike used federal money-laundering legislation to combat moonshine.2

Jack Bondurant is the chief protagonist; the author does not fully develop his character. The epilogue, which ends the book, although factual, is the least developed aspect of the book, particularly because the author does not really explain why Jack left the family business. Overall, The Wettest County is enjoyable to read and provides some, good historical information.