Category Archives: women in history

Interview: Historical Novelist Mary Sharratt on Ecstasy, a novel of Alma Mahler

It’s always a happy day here when critically-acclaimed historical novelist Mary Sharratt, who has been featured here before on her books Iluminations and The Dark Lady, stops by for a chat! We welcome her to talk about her new book of 2018, Ecstasy, which I loved – but I love all Mary’s books, each one different, but wholly mindful of women’s place in history. Ecstasy was an Amazon Book of the Month, a New York Post Must Read Book, and a Chicago Review of Books Best New Book of April 2018.

“Both during her life and after, Viennese artist Alma Schindler Mahler Gropius Werfel (1879-1964) received countless love letters; Sharratt’s passionate novel is another, one notable for its focus on Alma’s artistic talent and early feminism as well as her beauty. . . . this winning historical novel offers an enjoyable portrait of an ambitious woman whose struggles are as relevant today as they were a century ago.” – Publisher’s Weekly

You’ll see my review within the next week. Today, Mary talks about her book on composer Alma Mahler and writing women back into history. This is one not to miss!

Enjoy!

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Hi Mary! It’s always such a pleasure to have you stop by Oh, for the Hook of a Book to talk about your books and all the women you’re highlighting in history. Finally, spring looks to have made its way to Ohio – we had sunlight and daffodils blooming this weekend. I’m sure we’re still in for rain, after an already long rain and snow season here, but I’ll take a few days of nice weather. I’m not sure how the weather is in England now, but of course, we both know that there is likely chance of rain.

So, let’s sit on the back porch together, listen to the birds in the trees as we speak, and I’ll pour you a Bellini – do you like them? We can have them with some assorted chocolates! I know it’s not afternoon tea, but it’s lovely weather, and there is no reason to not celebrate your wonderful book in such fashion with a chilled cocktail!

Mary: Ooh, a Bellini sounds absolutely delightful, not to mention the chocolate. I’m sure Alma would have loved it, too! And how lovely to sit on the porch after being snowed in in Minnesota on my recent book tour. It’s such a pleasure to be invited back to chat on your wonderful blog.

Erin: Alma did love champagne, I think! Oh, my goodness – I was so glad to hear you made it across the pond to the U.S. for your tour! But snow? I know, it’s really one of the first nice days we’ve had here.

Sit back and relax for a while with me and let’s talk about your newest book Ecstasy, a novel of Alma Mahler, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The cover is FABULOUS – since it’s the cover, the icing on your masterpiece, let’s start there. Who and how did they come up with the art design for such spectacular art? Do you think it’s done its job in helping to sell your book?

Mary: I am so grateful and excited about ECSTASY’S stunning cover. The designer is Martha Kennedy at HMH. She has created quite a few of my covers. She is a genius! The jacket image is from a poster by Alphonse Mucha that was originally created as a perfume ad! He was a contemporary of Alma and Gustav and hails from what is now the Czech Republic—then part of Austro-Hungary. Not only does the beautiful art reflect the Art Nouveau zeitgeist but I think it truly captures the mood of ECSTASY. The large white rectangles with the bold black typeface spelling out the title were meant to evoke piano keys and this motif continues inside the book under the chapter number headings. If you can bear to pull back the gorgeous jacket, you see that the book binding itself is just exquisite. There’s kind of a marbled effect on the cover. The book is such a beautiful object that it’s certainly a selling point! I hope my readers will find the writing inside as beautiful as the cover and design!

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Erin: Oh, I’m positive they will! As for the book content, written again in your elegant and engaging style, what drew you to write on Alma? What did you learn the most about her while researching that allowed you to so vividly create her character for readers?

Mary: As a lifelong Gustav Mahler fan, Alma has always fascinated me. Few twentieth century women have been surrounded by such as aura of scandal and notoriety. Her husbands and lovers included not only Mahler, but artist Gustav Klimt, architect and Bauhaus-founder Walter Gropius, artist Oskar Kokoschka, and poet and novelist Franz Werfel. Yet none of these men could truly claim to possess her because she was stubbornly her own woman to the last. Over fifty years after her death, she still elicits very strong reactions. Some people romanticize her as a muse to great men while others demonize her as a man-destroying monster. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s famous observation that well-behaved women seldom make history could have been written about Alma.

Although Alma was a composer in her own right, most commentators, including some of her biographers, completely gloss over this fact and instead focus quite narrowly on her sexuality and on how they believe she failed to be the perfect woman for the great men in her life. How dare she not be perfect!

But I wanted my fiction to explore who Alma really was as an individual—beyond her historical bad girl rep and beyond all the famous men she was involved with. Once I sat down and did the research, an entirely new picture of Alma emerged that completely undermined the femme fatale cliché. I read Alma’s early diaries compulsively, from cover to cover, and what I discovered in those secret pages was a soulful and talented young woman who had a rich inner life away from the male gaze. She devoured philosophy books and avant-garde literature. She was a most accomplished pianist—her teacher thought she was good enough to study at Vienna Conservatory, though her family didn’t support the idea. Besides, Alma didn’t want a career of public performance. Instead she yearned with her whole soul to be a composer, to write great symphonies and operas.

 

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from PBS.org

 

Erin: Of course, I know that in all the stories you’ve written of women, you’ve brought them back out from their hiding places on the fringes of history, and into the limelight for posterity. Do you feel you accomplished this with Alma? Changed mind, introduced to others, and created a historical legacy? Why?

Mary: I certainly hope so. I hope my readers will gain deeper insights into this ambitious, intelligent, fiercely loving, creative, and complex woman. I hope they will look up her music and appreciate her as a composer and life artist who was so much more than a femme fatale.

If you go to my website, you can download a resource sheet with a link to Alma’s complete recorded songs on YouTube.

Erin: Why do you feel it’s important to re-surface women such as Hildegard von Bingen or Alma Mahler or others? Each woman is different, admired for each of their own gifts and contributions, so what do you feel Alma offers to other women? What will she speak to some of them about?

Mary: I’m on a mission to write overlooked women back into history, because, to a large extent, women have been written out of history. And women like Alma who do stand out and clam their power are often the most maligned. Even an amazingly accomplished polymath like Hildegard von Bingen—she was a visionary abbess, a composer, theologian, physician, and scientist—was nearly written out of history. Historians disputed the authorship of her work and decided it was all really written by some unknown man! Hildegard’s contemporary rehabilitation and resurgence was due to the tireless efforts of the nuns at Saint Hildegard Abbey in Germany. In 1956 Marianne Schrader and Adelgundis Führkötter, OSB, published a carefully documented study that proved the authenticity of Hildegard’s authorship.

Alma has been traditionally viewed through a very male-centered lens. Only within the last decade or so have more nuanced biographies about her emerged and only in German! ECSTASY is currently the only book available in English, to my knowledge, that takes her seriously as a composer and as a woman who had something to say and give to the world besides just inspiring genius men.

What Alma’s story reveals how hard it was (and often still is) for women to stay true to their talent and creative ambition in a society that grooms women to be caretakers—wives and mothers. How do you stand true to your belief in your own talent if the wider culture is telling you you’re selfish or inferior for wanting to do anything else than take care of others?

Alma was not only a composer. Ultimately she pioneered news ways of being as a woman that was in itself a work of art.  

Erin: In most of your books, and many by other historical fiction authors of today, women helping men, but who weren’t credited or acknowledged, even when they created their own amazing art, literature, music, are the main feature. Can you give us some historical base for as to why they weren’t at the time, and why you think they have advantage to be remembered now? Do you think that women still play second fiddle to men, even in the arts?

Mary: I think men in male-dominated culture just expect women to be their selfless helpmeets. In his twenty-page letter to Alma stipulating that she stop composing as a condition of their marriage, Mahler asked her if she could think of his music as her music from then on. And to a great extent she did. She tirelessly transcribed hundreds of pages of his symphonies and even filled in the notation while he was off in his composing hut working on the next movement. Yet many Mahlerites would be loath to acknowledge her as his collaborator and colleague in this regard.

Women definitely still play second fiddle to men in the arts. I am a passionate classical music fan and go to many concerts and I have never once seen a female composer in the repertoire. Even now in 2018! As for the visual arts, walk into any museum and you’ll see far more female nudes by male artists than any kind of work by female artists. Even in the literary world, male authors are still taken more seriously, more widely reviewed, and more likely to win major prizes. And they probably get bigger advances.

 

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Gustav and Alma Mahler / gustav-mahler.eu

 

Erin: Alma, as many women then, was forced to give up music for marriage. How and why did this happen? How did they find their way back to their true calling and specifically, did Alma, and how?

Mary: Gustav Mahler famously asked Alma to give up her own composing career as a condition of their marriage. Bowing to social pressure and faced with the enormous wall of misogyny that told her she was inferior and could never achieve what a man could achieve, Alma reluctantly agreed to his demand, even though it broke her heart. In this way her story is a starkly cautionary tale and also, alas, one that is all too relevant today. What do women still give up in the name of marriage and motherhood? How much female potential never reaches fruition because of the demands of motherhood and domesticity. Even now the bulk of this work is placed on women while men can still pursue their careers and dreams.

But, as we see in the novel, Alma eventually does take back her power in a really big way. She would go on to publish three collections of her songs and to see her work performed on stage.  

Erin: For people who aren’t reading your work, or haven’t read it yet, what contributions did Alma make to the musical landscape? Where are here fingerprints still found now? Can she influence future generations?

Mary: Alma mostly composed lieder, or art songs. The lied (song in German) is a musical genre that sets a poem to classical music and is generally performed by a solo vocalist with piano accompaniment. Alma’s lieder, composed under the guidance of her mentor and lover, Alexander von Zemlinsky, are arresting, emotional, and highly original and can be compared with both Zemlinsky’s work and the early work of Zemlinsky’s other famous student, Arnold Schoenberg. Alma’s passionate songs plunge you straight into the zeitgeist of turn-of-the-twentieth century Vienna.

According to her diaries, Alma wrote over a hundred lieder, several instrumental pieces, and the beginning of an opera. However, most of her work was lost when she fled Austria after the Nazi Anschluss. Only seventeen songs remain. The good news is that they are now being performed and recorded.

I certainly hope she will influence future generations of female composers.

Erin: What kinds of struggles did she have as a female composer?

Mary: To start off with, no one took her seriously. Her first teacher, Josef Labor, was very harsh and said things like, “If that’s the best you can do, you might as well give up.” Or if she composed something he halfway liked, he would say, “That’s a very honorable accomplishment—for a girl.” For a long time he refused to teach her counterpoint, because he thought it would overwhelm her delicate female brain. Alma had to be a truly determined creative soul to keep composing in the face of such scathing and unconstructive criticism. Alexander von Zemlinsky, her second teacher, was the first to treat her with respect. Under his guidance she made the leap from being a talented amateur to an aspiring composer bordering on the professional. Then she met Mahler, who demanded that she give it up. I wish she would have married Alex instead, but her parents absolutely forbade the courtship.

Even today some (mostly male) commentators refuse to take her seriously and say she was a just an overrated dilettante. 

Erin: Beyond her work, many men were drawn to and interested in Alma from a romantic point of view. Why were they and how did play out in her life? What did you draw on from this for your novel? How did you find the balance between romance and biographical plot? Tell us about your focus.

Mary: While Alma struggled to be taken seriously as an aspiring composer and fought a constant battle against her own self-doubt, one place where she did receive much praise and validation was in the salon where men admired her for her beauty and charm. But those who were drawn to her beauty sometimes didn’t look deeper than the surface. As a result, Alma felt that she had two separate souls that were constantly at war with each other—herself as a distinct creative individual and herself as an object of male desire. Meanwhile she was under tremendous family pressure to marry.

Alma truly longed to become a “somebody” and make her mark on the world. It seemed that her experience of trying to be taken seriously as a composer was so discouraging that she thought she could more easily make her mark by becoming the muse of a great man. And she was a muse par excellence for Mahler. During their married life she became an indelible part of his every symphony. She was also his feedback sounding board and he took her critique seriously and made substantive revisions based on her advice.

But as far as the romance in the story goes, reclaiming her sexuality was a major way that Alma reclaimed her personal and creative power. She knew could mesmerize and inspire brilliant artistic men, and if her husband over the years began to take her for granted, she could shine her light elsewhere. Her aura of enchantment and seduction was her superpower. It would be a mistake to say she was running from one man to another. By reclaiming her sexual freedom, she was reclaiming her independence and self-determination. I almost see it as a shamanic soul retrieval. She took back her sovereignty.

Erin: Why are so many gifted women, with lots of male suitors, often persecuted by both men and women? Does this happen even today? How perception change?

Mary: Like sexually liberated and unconventional women throughout history, Alma to this day faces a backlash of misinterpretation and outright condemnation. We still have a monstrous double standard when it comes to female sexuality. We still love to slut shame women. Can you imagine doing the same to a man—ignoring Picasso’s art and simply slamming him as a terrible husband and boyfriend with his loose, promiscuous ways? Gustav Klimt could get away with using his working class models as a kind of harem. He reputedly had syphilis and left behind fifteen out-of-wedlock children. But he’s a “great man” so we focus on his art and benevolently overlook his quirks and foibles.

Erin: Vienna, historically, was a place of open creativity in the arts and progressive in its creation, and yet, also very misogynistic and conservative. How did those two things clash? What kinds of research did you to about Vienna at the time and what was one of your favorite discoveries?

Mary: Vienna, at this time, was the capital of the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire at the very height of its power. While it was artistically innovative with radical new art, music, and literature, it was also a deeply conservative place. Both misogyny and anti-Semitism were pervasive. In many ways it was a neurotic, schizophrenic culture. Vienna in this period had the world’s highest suicide rate. It was no accident that Freud invented psychoanalysis here—look at all the raw material he had to work with! I went on several research trips to Vienna and did a lot of reading to evoke this sense of time and place. I steeped myself in the art and music of the time.

One of my favorite discoveries were Alma’s friends, Ilse and Erica Conrat. They were from an upper middle class Jewish family and their parents wholly supported their ambitions. Ilse, who was exactly Alma’s age, became a professional sculptor, exhibited in the Secession Museum alongside the work of Klimt, and won major prizes. Erica was the first woman to get a doctorate in art history from the University of Vienna—they had only just opened a few of their academic faculties to women and were far behind the rest of the Western world in this regard. So while Alma sacrificed her music for marriage, she had these two ambitious accomplished friends who were pursuing their dreams. The bitter irony is that I had never heard of the Conrat sisters despite their amazing achievements—they were written out of history. But Alma is remembered because she was so enmeshed in the lives of famous men. It was only through Alma’s diary that I learned these women existed.

Erin: Alma’s life seemed to begin to change when she came to America. What facets of America at the time helped at the time and are they still in place, or are we falling backward?

Mary: An anti-Semitic smear campaign in the Viennese press all but forced Gustav to resign from the Vienna Court Opera. Then he and Alma started a new life in New York where he conducted with the Metropolitan Opera and later with the New York Philharmonic. This move would change Alma forever.

Back home in Vienna, her life of self-sacrifice, of subsuming herself in her husband’s existence, had seemed normal, because it was the norm for the vast majority of Austrian women. But in New York Alma would meet an entirely new breed of women who were far more liberated even than her friends, the Conrat sisters.

Before I did the research for this novel, I had no idea that the person who reinvented the New York Philharmonic for the twentieth century and who became its president was a woman—Mary Seney Sheldon. Nor did I even know of the existence of ethnomusicologist, Native American rights activist, and composer, Natalie Curtis. These women made a deep impression on Alma and forced her to rethink everything she thought women were capable of.

Then, as now, America was plagued with social inequality and yet it was far more egalitarian than Austria with its emperor and rigid hierarchies. America had opened its universities to women decades earlier than most places in the Old World. A woman from a wealthy patrician background could accomplish a great deal. Notably Mary Seney Sheldon was married with children and she was an ambitious high achiever who completely reshaped the cultural landscape of America’s leading metropolis. She and Natalie Curtis held up a mirror to Alma’s self-sabotage, to how she had given away every last scrap of her power. Meeting these women unleashed an alchemical transformation inside Alma that would culminate with her taking back her power and living her life on her own terms.

I hope America continues to be a haven for strong, accomplished women working to change our world. We can’t afford to let it slip backward.

 

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Vienna Court Opera / Wikipedia

 

 Erin: What other women in history do you hope to write about in the future, if you’re continuing on with this writing journey? Or will you write something else next? Tell us what’s happening for you going forward?

Mary: Revelations, my new novel in progress, should be of special interest to fans of my 2012 novel, Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen. Here I return once more to the realm of the female medieval mystics. Revelations is the story of the intersecting lives of two spiritual women who changed history—earthy Margery Kempe, globetrotting pilgrim and mother of fourteen, and ethereal Julian of Norwich, sainted anchorite, theologian, and author of the first book in English by a woman. Imagine, if you will, a fifteenth century Eat, Pray, Love.

Erin: Oh, I’m VERY excited!! I am so happy for you that Ecstasy has received such major media and outlet praise. Other than books sales, why has this been important to hear and does it inspire you to keep writing?

Mary: Every author needs validation or some kind of proof that their book has reached an audience who finds the book meaningful. I hope my readers will be as moved by Alma’s story as I am. I think the time has truly come for a more nuanced and feminist appraisal of Alma’s life and work, and I hope ECSTASY challenges some of the commonly held misperceptions about her.

Erin: What books are on your own most wanted list for you to read this summer?

Mary: Amy Bloom’s White Houses and Ariel Lawhon’s I Was Anastasia.

Erin: How is life overall and how are the beautiful horses?

Mary: Miss Boo, aka Queen Boudicca, my beautiful Welsh mare, is in fine fettle and enjoying the rich spring grass. She sends pony kisses to you and your readers. The fields over here in Northern England are full of baby lambs and I have daffodils and tulips in my garden.

 

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Miss Boo . Courtesy of Mary Sharratt

 

Erin: It sounds so beautiful, I can’t wait to get back to England one day. Kisses back to Miss Boo! Thank you so much, Mary, for coming and sharing a Bellini with me and talking about your book. You’re welcome anytime! Cheers to more fabulous success of Ecstasy and many more books. Let’s pour another and enjoy the view – cheers!

Mary: Cheers! Or as Alma would say, zum Wohl! It’s been such a pleasure chatting with you, Erin!

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ECSTASY BY MARY SHARRATT

Publication Date: April 10, 2018

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Hardcover & eBook; 400 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction/Literary

READ AN EXCERPT

In the glittering hotbed of turn-of-the-twentieth century Vienna, one woman’s life would define and defy an era.

Gustav Klimt gave Alma her first kiss. Gustav Mahler fell in love with her at first sight and proposed only a few weeks later. Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius abandoned all reason to pursue her. Poet and novelist Franz Werfel described her as “one of the very few magical women that exist.” But who was this woman who brought these most eminent of men to their knees? In Ecstasy, Mary Sharratt finally gives one of the most controversial and complex women of her time center stage.

Coming of age in the midst of a creative and cultural whirlwind, young, beautiful Alma Schindler yearns to make her mark as a composer. A brand new era of possibility for women is dawning and she is determined to make the most of it. But Alma loses her heart to the great composer Gustav Mahler, nearly twenty years her senior. He demands that she give up her music as a condition for their marriage. Torn by her love and in awe of his genius, how will she remain true to herself and her artistic passion?

Part cautionary tale, part triumph of the feminist spirit, Ecstasy reveals the true Alma Mahler: composer, daughter, sister, mother, wife, lover, and muse.

AVAILABLE IN HARDCOVER & EBOOK –

AMAZON | AMAZON UK | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOKS-A-MILLION | INDIEBOUND

ALSO IN AUDIOBOOK –

AMAZON UK | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOKS-A-MILLION

 

Praise for Ecstasy –

“In ECSTASY, Mary Sharratt plunges the reader into the tumultuous and glamorous fin de siècle era, bringing to life its brilliant and beguiling leading lady. Finally, Alma Mahler takes center stage, surging to life as so much more than simply the female companion to the brilliant and famous men who loved her. Sharratt’s portrait is poignant and nuanced, her novel brimming with rich historic detail and lush, evocative language.” – Allison Pataki, New York Times bestselling author of The Accidental Empress

“A tender, intimate exploration of a complicated woman, Mary Sharratt’s ECSTASY renders in exquisitely researched detail and fiercely imagined scenes the life of Alma Mahler — daughter, wife, mother, lover, and composer — and the early 20th Century Vienna and New York in which she came of age. I loved this inspiring story of an early feminist standing up for her art.” – Meg Waite Clayton, New York Times bestselling author of The Race for Paris

“Evocative and passionate, ECSTASY illuminates through its tempestuous and talented heroine a conundrum that resonates across the centuries: how a woman can fulfill her destiny by being both a lover and an artist.” – Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers

“Mary Sharratt makes a triumphant return to the page with this masterful portrait of Alma Mahler, the wife of the famous composer Gustav Mahler. Set in a time and place when a woman could only hope to be the power behind the throne, Sharratt brings a meticulously researched and richly illuminated account of a young woman who was a brilliant composer in her own right. Alma may have had to suppress her own talents to support Mahler; however, ECSTASY reveals that she was a woman who “contained multitudes.” ECSTASY is an important work of historical fiction, as well as a timely and topical addition to the canon of knowledge that needs to better represent important women and their contributions.” – Pamela Klinger-Horn, Excelsior Bay Books

“Alma Mahler’s unexpected, often heartbreaking journey from muse to independence comes to vivid, dramatic life in Mary Sharratt’s ECSTASY. Sharratt skillfully evokes turn-of-the-century Vienna and the musical genius of the era, returning Alma to her rightful place in history as both the inspiration to the men in her life and a gifted artist in her own right.” – C.W. Gortner, bestselling author of Mademoiselle Chanel

“Mary Sharratt has more than done justice to one of the most interesting, shocking, and passionate women of the 20th century. Overflowing with life and lust, ECSTASY explores this flawed but fascinating woman who was not only muse but a genius in her own right.” – New York Times Bestseller, M.J. Rose

“A deeply affecting portrait of the woman rumored to be the most notorious femme fatale of turn-of-the-century Vienna. Mary Sharratt’s ECSTASY is as heartbreaking and seductive as Alma Mahler herself.” —Kris Waldherr, author of Doomed Queens and Bad Princess

Author Mary Sharratt, Biography –

03_Mary Sharratt.jpgMARY SHARRATT is an American writer who has lived in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, for the past seven years. The author of the critically acclaimed novels Summit Avenue, The Real Minerva, and The Vanishing Point, Sharratt is also the co-editor of the subversive fiction anthology Bitch Lit, a celebration of female antiheroes, strong women who break all the rules.

Her novels include Summit Avenue, The Real Minera, The Vanishing Point, The Daughters of Witching Hill, Illuminations, and The Dark Lady’s Mask.

For more information, please visit Mary Sharratt’s website. You can also connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Giveaway –

To enter for a paperback copy of Ecstasy, please enter via the Gleam form at the direct Link: https://gleam.io/skN0R/ecstasy

Giveaway Rules –

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on May 18th. You must be 18 or older to enter.

– Giveaway is open to US residents only.

– Only one entry per household.

– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.

– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

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#WomeninHistory: Esther de Berdt Reed -An American Lady of Liberty, by Nassem Al-Mehairi

Today, I have the delightful pleasure of introducing the next author in my Women in History series is my son Nassem! Those who know Nassem understand that though he’s just 18, he’s quite the history prodigy, with a love for American History. Not to mention he’s an extraordinary author. His article below on Esther de Berdt, who formed the Ladies Association of Philadelphia and raised money to clothe the Continental Army in time of dire need by General George Washington, is well-researched and written. I know I learned something! If you liked the article or want to discuss please feel free to leave him comments below. Take the floor, Nassem!

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Esther Reed, Portrait by Charles Peale / Wikipedia

 

Esther de Berdt Reed: An American Lady of Liberty

by Nassem Al-Mehairi

War had been raging on for five years by May of 1780. The Continental Army had just suffered the worst defeat of the war in Charleston, where, after six weeks of siege, Major General Benjamin Lincoln was forced to surrender his forces. General George Washington, taking stock of the present state of his army, worried that the patriots would not have the strength to fight on. Washington wrote to the Continental Congress near the end of May in 1780 that his soldiers were forced to sustain themselves on rotten and limited rations and were clothed in torn, dirty, and poorly-made clothing. Many men were eternally loyal to the Patriot cause, but some grew wary of enduring these conditions in the pursuit of a goal that eluded them and remained abstract. Washington knew something needed to be done to prevent mutiny among his men and continue the fight against the British.

The answer to this call to action came from an unlikely source. A broadside entitled Sentiments of an American Woman appeared on the doorsteps of Philadelphia’s war-weary citizens. The broadside proclaimed that it was time for women to be “really useful” like “those heroines of antiquity” and act on “our love for the public good.” The author of this broadside, Esther de Berdt Reed, just having recovered from a bout of smallpox, founded the Ladies Association of Philadelphia and saved the Continental Army.

Esther de Berdt was born in October of 1746 in London to English businessman Dennis de Berdt and Martha Symon de Berdt. Esther, a charismatic girl who loved books, grew up near the Houses of Parliament. At the age of seventeen, Esther met Joseph Reed of Philadelphia while he was in London to continue his education in law. The duo, by now in love, sought to marry but Dennis refused to consent. Dennis, though partial to Joseph, was not enthusiastic about his daughter moving to Philadelphia with him if they married. Over the next five years, Esther and Joseph, separated by the great Atlantic, nevertheless remained in contact and did not break their engagement. In 1769, Joseph returned to London and reconciled with Esther. Dennis de Berdt had died, leaving his family with substantial debts. Joseph dedicated himself to settling the family’s finances before marrying Esther in May of 1770 at Saint Luke’s Church. The couple decided, then, to move back to Philadelphia together, bringing Martha with them to ensure her financial stability.

Esther and Joseph quickly moved up the social ladder. Joseph became a successful lawyer and political leader. The political uproar that had lingered as a whisper over the colonies soon grew to grip every facet of life. As a native Englander, Esther was initially wary of rebellion against her birth nation. Her views resembled that of many in the colonies, dismayed by the actions taken by the British and the lack of representation in decision-making but also afraid of what open rebellion may cause. Her husband, on the other hand, was an ardent patriot. After the conflict at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775, Joseph facilitated the sending of sums of money to the rebellious colonists in New England. He was elected as a member of the First Continental Congress and he and Esther became close friends with the likes of George Washington and John Adams. Esther, during this time, came to see the revolution as one seeking to reaffirm the right of liberty for all in the colonies. In July, she wrote to her brother that “every person [is] willing to sacrifice his private interest in this glorious contest” and that the revolution was about “virtue, honor, unanimity” and “bravery.” With both Reeds united in the Patriot cause, they soon were forced to separate.

In 1775, Joseph left his law practice in Philadelphia to join his friend, the newly appointed General George Washington. Washington personally requested the industrious and honorable Reed join his staff as an aide and a military secretary, appointing him to the rank of colonel. Esther during this time cared for her family, which would eventually grow to include six children, and handled the affairs of the family. Esther was forced many times during the war to leave Philadelphia with her family and always had an escape plan in her back pocket. When the British took over Philadelphia in September 1777, Esther had evacuated her family to Norristown. Joseph spent that cold and bitter winter of 1777-1778 in Valley Forge working with General Washington.

Throughout this winter that tried many souls, Esther, her mother, and her children endured both the separation from Joseph and one of the most dangerous periods for the Patriots. By the time the Battle of Monmouth proved that Washington had built a disciplined and determined army at Valley Forge, Esther’s young daughter Theodosia had died of smallpox.

The spirits of the Reeds soon changed when Joseph was elected as President of Pennsylvania and the family reunited in Philadelphia. Esther, known now as Mrs. President in Pennsylvania, had gained the position she needed to make a real impact on the war effort. She simply needed her chance.

General Washington soon provided that chance in 1780 after the British captured Charleston in South Carolina. Washington reported to Congress in May of 1780 that the men in his army had long sustained themselves on rotten food and were forced to wear ragged clothing. He warned Congress that at this rate his men would not be able to fight on long enough to drive the British from the colonies. Esther, having just recovered from smallpox herself, seized the chance and founded the Ladies Association of Philadelphia. Because of her position as Mrs. President, she had gained the trust and friendship of many of the wives of influential men and women powerful in their own right in Philadelphia, including Benjamin Franklin’s daughter Sarah Franklin Bache.

Now that Esther had built the Ladies Association into a group of illustrious and influential women, she needed something to unify and focus the group’s efforts. She went to work soon writing a broadside to persuade more women to join the cause of liberty. Sentiments of an American Woman was published on June 10, 1780. The broadside warned women that their “barren wishes” for success were no longer enough and, in the spirit of “those heroines of antiquity,” the women of the colonies must fight to reaffirm that all are “born for liberty.” She assured that their “courage” and “constancy will always be dear to America.” She finished by asking women if any material possessions mattered if they did not truly live with their liberty unviolated and issued a call to duty for all Patriot women to donate what they could to ensure Continental soldiers had the supplies they needed.

 

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Taken from the Monticello Website

 

A team of thirty-nine women canvassed door-to-door to every household in Philadelphia, distributing Esther’s (anonymously-published) broadside and soliciting donations to the cause. These women broke almost every social convention of the time but did not think twice. They were willing to do whatever it took to affirm their natural right to liberty.

The efforts of Esther and her Ladies Association of Philadelphia exceeded all expectations. Esther, no doubt proud of her fellow women of Philadelphia, reported to General Washington that they had raised over $300,000 continental dollars. When this amount was converted to hard coinage, it stood at the large-for-era amount of $7,500.

Esther believed that the money should go directly to the soldiers, but General Washington thought differently. Washington worried that soldiers might use their money for unnecessary luxuries and responded to Esther asking for the money to go directly to more useful items. Washington wrote on July 14th asking Esther if he is “happy in having the concurrence of the Ladies” he would ask that the much-needed donations go to “purchasing course Linnen, to be made into Shirts.” He wrote that “A Shirt extraordinary to the Soldier will be of more service, and do more to preserve his health than any other thing that could be procured him.” After a series of letters, Washington persuaded Esther to the prudence of his request and she enthusiastically moved to the next phase of her efforts.

The Ladies Association of Philadelphia, having purchased the linen, quickly went to work sewing shirts for the soldiers of the Continental Army. Esther, wanting the contribution of each woman not forgotten, had each seamstress sew their name into the shirts they made. Esther by this point juggled being away from her husband once again, who was back with the army, raising her children, caring for her aging mother, and running the operations of the Ladies Association. When she was struck with acute dysentery when an epidemic swept through Philadelphia in 1780, she no longer possessed the health to recover.

Esther de Berdt Reed died on September 18, 1780, a month before her thirty-fourth birthday. All the citizens of Philadelphia mourned the death of the woman who had organized a grassroots effort to save the Patriot cause but her efforts did not die with her. Sarah Franklin Bache, a pioneering and powerful woman in her own right, assumed Esther’s position and the Ladies Association finished what Esther had started. By Christmas of 1780, over two-thousand shirts were delivered to the Continental Army, supplying them with a necessity they had lacked for a long time. Newly-clothed and with the alliance with the French formalized, the Continental Army was ready to drive the British from the colonies forever.

Joseph Reed returned to Philadelphia after Esther’s death to serve his final term as President of Pennsylvania. During his tenure, while wearing the shirts made by Esther and her Ladies Association, the Continental Army emerged victorious at the Battle of Yorktown in October of 1781. After the war, Joseph returned to England for his health but died in 1785, at the young age of forty-three.

 

Esther Reed grave.jpg

From findagrave.com

 

Esther de Berdt Reed’s journey from British subject to passionate Patriot in the course of a decade demonstrates the power of liberty for all people. Esther saw the fight for the Republic as an affirmation for the inviolable and inherent rights the new government would protect. She refused to abide by societal customs when the fate of her cause was on the line and organized a major association of illustrious women in Philadelphia to save the war effort. Esther persuaded women of all ages in the era that they had the right and the responsibility of being equal to men in patriotism. She forged a new path of passionate patriotism not only for women but for all citizens no matter their position. Her life was dedicated to that fundamental idea of a republic: liberty.

Nassem Al-Mehairi, Biography –

Nassem.jpgNassem Al-Mehairi is a senior at Ashland High School. Born and raised in Ashland, Ohio, he has a deep love of history and America, with plans to further his studies in college and run for political office one day. He’s an honors student, voracious reader, enjoys writing, and serves in various ways in his community.

Volunteering with and on substantial political and awareness campaigns since he was 12, he appeared in the video introducing President Bill Clinton at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and went on to serve as a Fellow for the Hillary for Ohio campaign in 2016. Besides being passionate about historical stewardship, liberty, and patriotism, he’s also an advocate for women’s liberation and educational opportunity.

You can read more about him on his blog, Seize the Moment, or follow him on Twitter.

Thank you for joining us for this installment of the Women in History (or Making History) series. Watch for more articles to come! If you’d like to participate, please let me know. 

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Women in History: S.K. Rizzolo Writes on Caroline Norton, 19th Century Social Reformer and Writer

Today I have another guest article in the Women in History or Women Making History series to honor Women’s History Month. I’ll be bringing these to you for the rest of March and into April (along with a poetry series). However, Women in History and Women in Horror will basically last all year if I keep getting posts! I hope you enjoying learning about these fabulous women as much as I have been. Your encouragement and shares can really help us show how important women are in our society!

The post is by S.K. Rizzolo, a California author who pens wonderful mysteries from the 19th Century. She has some great thoughts and an informative article about a crucial social reformer of the time in Britain, Caroline Norton, but how interesting to learn she was also a poet (and writer of other fabulous things as well). Enjoy!

Caroline Norton (1808-1877):
Britain’s 19th Century Social Reformer and Author

Campaigner, social reformer, poet, novelist, and playwright

by S.K. Rizzolo, Author of Historical Mysteries

We go on living with things as they are for a very long time. Centuries pass while we remain trapped in the same old, tired, frozen mindsets that cause so much pain, so much injustice. We cannot seem to overturn things as they are. Perhaps this is because many people (hint: often the ones who most benefit) embrace these systems as natural, inevitable, and moral. Such modes of thought are difficult to question, incredibly tough to shatter.

Just think of the pernicious attitudes toward women that continue to debase our own society. Women have long struggled to achieve full personhood under a belief system that views them as less worthy, less autonomous, less human. But as the recent #MeToo movement has shown, change is possible, and it often starts with a few voices daring to articulate a new truth and inspiring others to participate. I’m sure that speaking out has demanded immense courage from the women challenging the pervasive reach of the patriarchy. There are always risks involved for those who imagine a new and better way. One thing is clear, however. This new way requires a fresh mindset that breaks the chains of the past.

Yes, we look forward. But it seems to me that in the process of reframing the world, using our newly purified perception to form healthier and more just social relations, we must also look to the past and to the women who helped get us here. So today I want to tell you about a foremother who lived in 19th century England, surely an era in which a frozen mindset held many in thrall. It was a time in which respectable women were relegated to domesticity. They were to be selflessly devoted “angels in the house,” while men were free to strive actively for achievements in the public sphere. But neither custom nor law provided for the woman who married a brute or whose marriage crumbled, leaving her without support.

IMAGE _2 Watercolour_sketch_of_Caroline_Norton_by_Emma_Fergusson_1860,_National_Portrait_Gallery_of_Scotland

Watercolor sketch of Caroline Norton, 1860. Attributed to Mrs. Emma Fergusson. Wikimedia Commons. I like this softer, more intimate portrayal of an older Caroline. Wikimedia Commons.

Caroline Norton (1808-1877) was a campaigner and social reformer as well as a poet, novelist, and playwright. Pressured by her mother into marrying a violent drunkard at the age of 19, she became a wife whose husband had the power to abuse her, take her earnings, and ruin her reputation. And she became a mother who was legally deprived of her young children after she separated from this man. To give just two examples of what she faced, her husband—the Honorable George Norton, barrister and M.P—beat her when she was pregnant with their fourth child, causing her to lose the baby. In 1836 George Norton also sued Caroline’s friend, the Whig Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, for a vast amount of money, accusing him of “criminal conversation” or adultery with his estranged wife. Melbourne was acquitted, but the scandal ruined Caroline. And after the trial she discovered that the law did not allow her to obtain a divorce.

Although she never regained custody of her three sons because of George Norton’s implacable revenge, this personal tragedy led her to social activism. Her efforts were a huge factor in the passage of the Custody of Infants Act of 1839, which was a first step in establishing the rights to our children that mothers rely upon today. Because of this law, for the first time divorced women (“of unblemished characters”) could petition the court for custody of their children under seven and had rights of access to their older children. Later, Caroline was instrumental in securing the passage of the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857, which made divorce more accessible. And she helped lay the groundwork for the 1870 Married Women’s Property Act, which allowed married women to retain their earnings and inherit property.

All this was possible only because Caroline was willing to challenge the orthodoxies of her time. She petitioned Parliament and Queen Victoria and wrote pamphlets and letters to the newspapers to protest a state of affairs in which “a married woman in England has no legal existence: her being is absorbed in that of her husband.” No legal existence. These words erase the self and sound to me like the slamming of the prison cell door—a door that Caroline found a way to crack open. You can’t exactly call her a “feminist,” though I don’t think the label matters. She was of her time, stating that “the natural position of woman is inferiority to man…I never pretended to the wild and ridiculous doctrine of equality.” In my view, this just shows the power of any era’s prevailing mentality and makes Caroline’s accomplishments the more remarkable.

Watercolor sketch of Caroline Norton, 1860. Attributed to Mrs. Emma Fergusson. Wikimedia Commons. I like this softer, more intimate portrayal of an older Caroline.

IMAGE _1 Caroline Norton Writing

George Hayter’s 1832 portrait of the Honorable Mrs. Caroline Norton. Appropriately, Norton is shown with an open book and pen in hand. She and her two sisters, the granddaughters of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, were famous society beauties in their day and were known as “The Three Graces.” Wikimedia Commons.

Today Caroline Norton is mostly remembered for her work as a reformer, but I want to end by celebrating her as a writer and poet. Somehow in the midst of her marital struggles and her grief over the loss of her children, she managed to produce over a dozen poetry collections, five novels, and two plays. Not content to stop there, she was even the leader of a literary salon and the editor of a fashionable women’s magazine! How hard it must have been for her to persevere in her ambitions. Indeed, Caroline acknowledged as much when she wrote to her friend the author Mary Shelley: “Does it not provoke you sometimes to think how ‘in vain’ the gift of genius is for a woman? How so far from binding her more closely to the admiration and love of her fellow creatures, it does in effect create that gulf across which no one passes.”

Well, I hope we can step across the gulf to honor Caroline and assert that her gift was not in vain, no matter what she thought in any moment of despondency, no matter what cultural, physical, and mental chains her society had forged to bind women.

My heart is like a withered nut,

Rattling within its hollow shell;

You cannot ope my breast, and put

Any thing fresh with it to dwell.

The hopes and dreams that filled it when

Life’s spring of glory met my view,

Are gone! and ne’er with joy or pain

That shrunken heart shall swell anew.

From “My Heart is Like a Withered Nut” by Caroline Norton

S.K. Rizzolo, Biography –

02_SK Rizzolo AuthorAn incurable Anglophile, S.K. Rizzolo writes mysteries exploring the darker side of Regency England. Her series features a trio of crime-solving friends: a Bow Street Runner, an unconventional lady, and a melancholic barrister.

Currently she is at work on a new novel introducing a female detective in Victorian London. Rizzolo lives in Los Angeles with Oliver Twist and Lucy, her cats, and Michael, her husband. She also has an actress daughter named after Miranda in The Tempest.

Here is the book cover and synopsis to S.K.’s latest book in her series, On a Desert Shore, of which I reviewed a few years ago HERE.

On a Desert Shore cover - by Rolf Busch.jpg

London, 1813: A wealthy West India merchant’s daughter is in danger with a vast fortune at stake. Hired to protect the heiress, Bow Street Runner John Chase copes with a bitter inheritance dispute and vicious murder. Meanwhile, his sleuthing partner, abandoned wife Penelope Wolfe, must decide whether Society’s censure is too great a bar to a relationship with barrister Edward Buckler.

On a Desert Shore stretches from the brutal colony of Jamaica to the prosperity and apparent peace of suburban London. Here a father’s ambition to transplant a child of mixed blood and create an English dynasty will lead to terrible deeds.

Visit her on her website where you can also view her books.

THANK YOU for a marvelous post, S.K.!!

Keep following us for more guest articles about Women in History or Women Making History throughout March and April.

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World Poetry Day: 5 Poetry Collections of Women’s Empowerment and How They Tie to Mine

Yesterday, I found out it was #WorldPoetryDay. I wish I had known about it sooner to better have better prepared a post; however, I didn’t want it to go by without acknowledging it. On Twitter, I posted about my own collection, BREATHE. BREATHE., and how it features not only emotional reflections on life and its struggles, also dabbling in the mysterious, but also features narrative poetry and stories stemming from folklore of countries like Japan, Thailand, and Egypt. I mention the Egyptian short story, as within the story is a poem in song form.

I thought I’d focus first by sharing where World Poetry stems from and what it entails. So I pulled this excerpt of explanation from the United Nations website. Following, I’ll suggest a few books of poetry from around the world or with authors/poets from other cultures and countries.

As I looked at my list of those I wanted to feature, I realized too, that they were all women. Sorry men, maybe next time. This fits right in with my Women in History/Women Making History series I’m hosting here on the site. But besides those commonalities, even though these female authors are from different backgrounds, the pain and grief and struggles of life as a woman all seemed to ring the same, much like in my own writing as well. I commend these ladies for their witness and strength of purpose for themselves and all women all over the world.

World Poetry Day, March 21 –

Poetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings. Poetry is the mainstay of oral tradition and, over centuries, can communicate the innermost values of diverse cultures.

The observance of World Poetry Day is also meant to encourage a return to the oral tradition of poetry recitals, to promote the teaching of poetry, to restore a dialogue between poetry and the other arts such as theatre, dance, music and painting, and to support small publishers and create an attractive image of poetry in the media, so that the art of poetry will no longer be considered an outdated form of art, but one which enables society as a whole to regain and assert its identity.

 

Women Empowerment: 5 Recommended Poetry Reads

Questions for Ada by Ijeoma Umebinyuo

This cover is GORGEOUS and it accompanies the powerful, meaningful, beautiful, and strong poetry within this debut collection. I love it. I can’t wait to read more from Ijeoma.

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The artistry of QUESTIONS FOR ADA defies words, embodying the pain, the passion, and the power of love rising from the depths of our souls.  Ijeoma Umebinyuo’s poetry is a flower that will blossom in the spirit of every reader as she shares her heart with raw candor.  From lyrical lushness to smoky sensuality to raw truths, this tome of transforming verse is the book every woman wants to write but can’t until the broken mirrors of their lives have healed.  In this gifted author’s own words—“I am too full of life to be half-loved.”  A bold celebration of womanhood.

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Ijeoma Umebinyuo, Biography –

Ijeoma Umebinyuo was born and raised Nigeria. Her writings have been translated to Portuguese, Turkish, Russian and French. She shares her heart with raw candor. There is an intimacy about her writings, an unapologetic presentation of truths and her unconventional ways of telling a full story even in her shortest of poems.

the sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur

An Amazon Best Book of October 2017, this second poetry collection by Kaur came out mere days before my own debut collection, BREATHE. BREATHE., and though I stayed riding at #2 Amazon Top Paid New Releases in Women’s Poetry behind her highly sought after work for weeks, I was still honored even if there was no way for me to make the top spot! I mean, the book not only debuted as a #1 New York Times Best-seller, but it had the biggest editorial reviews from all the right places (The Boston Globe called her “the most popular poet in America”) and was published and backed by one of the premiere publishers.

She is a beautiful artist and illustrator, which is showcased in the book, as well as a lovely poetic lyricist. Even the poem within the introductory cover copy sells me. It’s exactly how writing poetry makes me feel.

Sun and her Flowers.jpg

Divided into five chapters and illustrated by Kaur, the sun and her flowers is a journey of wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming. A celebration of love in all its forms.

this is the recipe of life
said my mother
as she held me in her arms as i wept
think of those flowers you plant
in the garden each year
they will teach you
that people too
must wilt
fall
root
rise
in order to bloom

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Rupi Kaur, Biograpy – 

Rupi kaur is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and illustrator of two collections of poetry. She started drawing at the age of five when her mother handed her a paintbrush and said—draw your heart out. Rupi views her life as an exploration of that artistic journey. After completing her degree in rhetoric studies she published her first collection of poems ‘milk and honey’ in 2014. The internationally acclaimed collection sold well over two million copies gracing the New York times bestseller list every week for over a year. It has since been translated into over thirty languages.

Her long-awaited second collection ‘the sun and her flowers’ was published in 2017 and debuted as a #1 New York Times bestseller. Through this collection she continues to explore a variety of themes ranging from love, loss, trauma, healing, femininity, migration, and revolution. Rupi has performed her poetry across the world. Her illustrations, along with her design and art direction are warmly embraced and she hopes to continue this expression for years to come.

Wild Embers: Poems of Rebellion, Fire, and Beauty, by Nikita Gill

This collection is full of thought-provoking reflections with dramatic imagery and visions. If you doubt your place in the universe and you need to draw strength, this one is for you. Another compelling cover, but the words inside are what will latch ahold of mind and soul, reminding you of your inner power.

Wild Embers.jpg

A stunning collection of poetry on feminism, trauma, survival, and empowerment.

You cannot burn away
What has always been aflame

Wild Embers explores the fire that lies within every soul, weaving words around ideas of feeling at home in your own skin, allowing yourself to heal, and learning to embrace your uniqueness with love from the universe.

Featuring rewritten fairytale heroines, goddess wisdom, and poetry that burns with revolution, this collection is an explosion of femininity, empowerment, and personal growth.

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Nikita Gill, Biograpy – 

Nikita Gill is a British-Indian writer and poet living in the south of England. With a huge online following, her words have entranced hearts and minds all over the world.

Sea of Strangers, by Lang Leav

This collection is a mixture of poems, thoughts, essays, reflections on love and life. Her perspective is honest yet unique and also contemplating. I love collections that make you think and apply the questions to your own life. Don’t let the simple cover fool you, this is an international best-selling author for a reason.

sea of strangers

This completely original collection of poetry and prose will not only delight her avid fans but is sure to capture the imagination of a whole new audience. With the turn of every page, Sea of Strangers invites you to go beyond love and loss to explore themes of self-discovery and empowerment as you navigate your way around the human heart.

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Lang Leav, Biography – 

Lang Leav is an international best-selling author and social media sensation. She is the winner of a Qantas Spirit of Youth Award and coveted Churchill Fellowship. Her books continue to top bestseller charts in bookstores worldwide and Lullabies, was the 2014 winner of the Goodreads Choice award for poetry.

Lang has been featured in various publications including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Straits Times, The Guardian and The New York Times. She currently resides in New Zealand with her partner and fellow author Michael Faudet.

Blue Rose by Carol Muske-Dukes

I’m afraid I can only say I’m looking forward to this one, as it doesn’t publish until April 2, 2018, but I am highly interested in reading it and thought some of you might be as well. Carol’s reviews indicate she has a knack for the complexities of life and womanhood and her writings couldn’t be more poignant for today. I’ll be checking it out.

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A new collection of emotionally rich, issue-oriented poems from an award-winning poet whose work “has long been essential reading” (Jorie Graham)

Carol Muske-Dukes has won acclaim for poetry that marries sophisticated intelligence, emotional resonance, and lyrical intensity.  The poems in her new collection, Blue Rose, navigate around the idea of the unattainable – the elusive nature of poetry, of knowledge, of the fact that we know so little of the lives of others, of the world in which we live.  Some poems respond to matters of women, birth, and the struggle for reproductive rights, or to issues like gun control and climate change, while others draw inspiration from the lives of women who persisted outside of convention, in poetry, art, science:  the painter Paula Modersohn-Becker, the scientist and X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin, and the Californian poet and writer Ina Coolbrith, the first poet laureate ever appointed in America.

Amazon

Carol Muske-Dukes, Biography

Carol Muske-Dukes is the author of eight books of poems, including Sparrow, which was a finalist for the National Book Award; four novels; two collections of essays; and Crossing State Lines:  An American Renga, co-edited with Bob Holman.  She is Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California, and was California Poet Laureate from 2008 to 2011.

____________________________________________________

by Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi

Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi is the author of the dark poetry and short story collection, Breathe. Breathe. from Unnerving (Oct. 2017), which features emotional poetry and prose dealing with domestic violence, assault, illness, and grief, as well as the magical, mysterious, and dark.

She’s also been published in the anthology Hardened Hearts, My Favorite Story, and Enchanted Conversation: a fairy tale magazine. She is currently the guest editor at Unnerving for an anthology of poetry and short stories with a Gothic theme called Haunted Are These Houses. She’s currently working on many other pieces in process.

Working a journalist, editor, publicist, and marketing and public relations professional for the last twenty years, she has bachelor of arts degrees in Journalism, English, and History from the private college, Ashland University.

Born in England, she now lives in the woods in rural Ohio and serves as chair of the board of the local mental health center and rape crisis domestic violence safe haven.

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Women in History: Life of Jayne Mansfield by Somer Canon

As part of Women in History Month, I’m posting guest articles about women in history or women making history for the month of March and April. I did this special series in 2014 and 2017 as well, which you can find archived on this site under the tab Women in History. I’m always willing to take guest articles on this subject for the series, or any time of the year as well. I have quite a few fabulous ones coming up soon!

Today, I welcome horror author Somer Canon, who also has an obsession with old Hollywood! She did a great article last year on Lauren Bacall, and now, she presents us with Jayne Mansfield!

Jayne Mansfield: The Smartest Dumb Blond

By Somer Canon, author of Vicki Beautiful and Killer Chronicles

Born Vera Jayne Palmer in 1933 in Bryn Mawr, PA, the future Jayne Mansfield knew from an early age that she wanted to be a movie star.  Jayne fell in love with Hollywood after a vacation there with her family as a child, and like Marilyn Monroe (her upscale contemporary), she became enamored of the blond bombshell image watching Jean Harlow.

Jayne Mansfield.jpg

Jayne got the name Mansfield from her first husband, a high school boyfriend who she married at the age of seventeen.  Soon after, she gave birth to her first child, but that wasn’t even close to enough to chain Jayne to a kitchen stove, performing the domestic life.  She completed her high school education and then went to college.  She studied acting, of course, but she also took more academic classes.

You see, Jayne Mansfield was smart.  Mensa smart.  She spoke five languages and played violin well enough to stun professional concert musicians.  The sadness to her intelligence is that, while doing research for this article, it was easier to find Jayne’s measurements, different ones throughout her life, than it was to get a consistent measure of her IQ.  You can find her bust size after pregnancy easier than you can verify whether or not she was ever actually a member of Mensa.

Part of this was Jayne’s own doing.  She put that powerful mind of hers to work making her aspirations for stardom come to fruition.  Jayne was the queen of publicity stunts.  To a modern eye, a lot of that seems very familiar.  Today, publicity stunts are not at all new or rare, and in truth, they weren’t in Jayne’s time either. Jayne just kicked the standards for publicity stunts into a different atmosphere.  She loved “wardrobe malfunctions”, the most famous of which is a picture of Jayne sitting at a table with Sophia Loren, Sophia looking at Jayne’s spilling bosom with a hilarious look of disapproval.

 

Jayne and Sophia.jpg

Photo credit: E! Online

 

Many appearances in Playboy, and even a publicity stunt with Anton LaVey of The Church of Satan, got Jayne the much-wanted attention that she worked for but she always fell short of superstardom.  She was dubbed “the working man’s Monroe,” never quite hitting the same high and needing always to fall back on those stunts.

The irony is that Jayne’s biggest roles were parodies, making fun of the dumb blond image that Marilyn Monroe was banking.  In “The Girl Can’t Help It “and “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” Jayne’s characters are poking fun at the blond bombshell to the point where her Marilyn-like breathy way of speaking is obviously parody.  Unfortunately for Jayne, with the emergence of Twiggy and Audrey Hepburn, the curvaceous dumb blond fell out of style and she was forced to resort to the club scene, singing and dancing in tiny outfits.  Hollywood suddenly had no place for her kind any longer.

She rebelled against studios who wanted to own her sexuality by not hiding away her children.  You see, in those days, sex symbols weren’t mothers and they weren’t supposed to be married to beefcakes like her second husband, bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay. Studios thought a woman’s sensuality was compromised by marriage and motherhood, but Jayne wouldn’t allow that.  She maintained sex symbol status through three marriages and five children, one of whom you may recognize if you’re a fan of Law & Order SVU, Mariska Hargitay.

 

mariska-hargitay-and-jayne-mansfield-gallery

Photo credit: coolspotters.com

 

On the night of June 29, 1967, Jayne, three of her children, and her current boyfriend piled into a car after one of her club shows and planned to drive through the night for an appearance the next day.  It was foggy and the young driver didn’t see that the truck in front of them had stopped until it was too late.  Jayne, her boyfriend, and the driver were killed.  She was 34.

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Although some of Jayne’s methods may be unseemly to some, her stunt-queening and grabs for attention sometimes coming off as cheap, she got fame and she did it on her terms.  Even when Hollywood turned its back on her in favor of more fashionable categories of beauty, she never stopped working and hustling and I believe that if she were alive today, we would still be seeing pictures of the lovely Jayne sitting poolside in a bikini and smiling coquettishly at the camera, soaking up that which she craved.

Somer Canon, Biography – 

Somer CanonSomer Canon is a minivan revving suburban mother who avoids her neighbors for fear of being found out as a weirdo. When she’s not peering out of her windows, she’s consuming books, movies, and video games that sate her need for blood, gore, and things that disturb her mother.

But enough about me, you’re here for the fiction!  Please find her on her website and feel free to find me on Facebook (Author page only, please!) and Twitter.

Watch for Somer’s next upcoming book this year, The Killer Chronicles, in e-book and print from Bloodshot Books. Until then, you can read her novella Vicki Beautiful, as well as some short stories and anthologies she’s featured in, like Hardened Hearts.

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Filed under Guest Posts, women in history

Women in History: Waiting for Baby the Medieval Way by Anna Belfrage

In the last post, I reviewed Anna Belfrage’s The Cold Light of Dawn, and now, as part of her online tour for the release of the book and my Women in History series, Anna has stopped by to talk about pregnancy “rules” in the 14th century. At the end of the article, she gives an excerpt from her book showing how this culture was practiced in her book, but as well showing the remarkable ease in which her main characters loved and conversed with each other.

Thank you for a wonderful post, Anna!

Waiting for the Baby the Medieval Way

by Anna Belfrage, historical fiction author of The Cold Light of Dawn

In our time, women are generally encouraged to live their life as normal while pregnant. “Being pregnant is not an illness,” some will say, and this is one of those truisms that may very well grate on the ears of the pregnant lady in question. Yes, a pregnancy is not an illness, but for some it is a hardship.

I imagine the wise old women back in the 14th century were of the same opinion: being with child was a blessing, not an ailment. However, the medical (and social) expertise of the time considered it very important that a woman nearing the delivery date be shielded from the more brutal aspects of life, which is why high-born ladies generally spent the last month or so of their pregnancy in confinement.

Confinement meant the lady in question was restricted to her rooms. To avoid too much sensory stimulations, the windows were shuttered, the walls hung with fabrics in muted colours and pastimes were restricted to things like sewing or praying. Men were strictly forbidden—unless it was a priest. Personally, I would have gone bonkers.

Lower class women could not afford confinement. First of all, they probably shared one room with their entire family, so where was she to be confined? Secondly, her family depended on what income she may have brought in, be it doing laundry or baking or brewing beer. No, our lower class mothers worked until the baby decided it was time to enter the world and likely were back at work some days later, even if a recently delivered woman was considered unclean until she’d been adequately churched. The solution to that little problem was that the woman in question worked from home for some weeks.

The confined woman was expected to rest, to turn her focus inwards as she prepared herself for the coming ordeal. Everyone knew women birthed their children in pain and blood—a divine punishment meted out to women because of Eve’s curiosity in the Garden of Eden. Accordingly, all expecting mothers knew they were in for a tough time. There were no drugs, no anaesthetics, no caesareans. If the baby got stuck or died in utero, the mother died as well. And she often did. So the expectant mother spent a lot of time praying: for the child, for herself. She prayed to God, the Virgin and to St Margaret of Antioch.

I suspect most women were in two minds about the confinement. Yes, it gave them ample opportunity to rest, but there must have been an element of frustration—especially if the soon-to-be-mother was one of those women who carry their children with ease. Some women seem to have avoided being confined—Edward I’s second wife, Margaret of France, is famous for having given birth to her eldest son after a long and gruelling ride. But for most, there was no choice.

The confinement chambers were ready. The bed had been re-hung in the mildest of yellows, the walls adorned with tapestries depicting flowers and gentle creatures such as unicorns. A sanctuary for the expectant mother, the rooms were furnished with cushions and expensive carpets, a brightly coloured wooden statue of the Virgin and her child adorning the altar in the adjoining little chapel.

A new chair set before the hearth, a basket of embroidering silks with which to pass the time, ells of fine linen to convert into smocks and gowns for the eagerly awaited babe. Yes, all in all, the chambers were ready—and as asphyxiating as a prison, Kit thought, supervising the two men who were finalising the hanging of the heavy drapes that were to cover the windows. Once Philippa retired within these walls, she would not be seen until after the birth of her child.

“Never,” Kit told Adam when she was given leave to accompany him on a walk. “Promise me you’ll never demand that I retire to my chambers for my laying in.” They were well into the cooling shade of the woods, the river running silent and dark beside them.

“You’ve been brought to bed of seven babes without being thus confined. Why would things change now?” He drew her close and kissed her brow. “Besides, I dislike being deprived of your company and proximity, no matter that Mabel maintains it is most inappropriate that we share a bed all the way to the birthing.” There was a twinkle in his eyes. “Sharing in every sense, sweeting.”

She laughed softly. “Philippa is of a like mind, but for her there is no escaping the conventions.  Isabella is adamant: the queen goes into confinement after Sunday mass.” She pressed her bosom against his arm in a provocative gesture. “Five more days in which she can share her nights with her husband.”

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The Cold Light of Dawn by Anna Belfrage

Publication Date: February 16, 2018
Matador & TimeLight Press
eBook & Paperback; 434 Pages

Series: The King’s Greatest Enemy, Book #4 Genre: Historical Fiction

After Henry of Lancaster’s rebellion has been crushed early in 1329, a restless peace settles over England. However, the young Edward III is no longer content with being his regents’ puppet, no matter that neither Queen Isabella nor Roger Mortimer show any inclination to give up their power. Caught in between is Adam de Guirande, torn between his loyalty to the young king and that to his former lord, Roger Mortimer.

Edward III is growing up fast. No longer a boy to be manipulated, he resents the power of his mother, Queen Isabella, and Mortimer. His regents show little inclination of handing over their power to him, the rightful king, and Edward suspects they never will unless he forces their hand.

Adam de Guirande is first and foremost Edward’s man, and he too is of the opinion that the young king is capable of ruling on his own. But for Adam siding with his king causes heartache, as he still loves Roger Mortimer, the man who shaped him into who he is.

Inevitably, Edward and his regents march towards a final confrontation. And there is nothing Adam can do but pray and hope that somehow things will work out. Unfortunately, prayers don’t always help.

The Cold Light of Dawn is the fourth in Anna Belfrage’s series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, the story of a man torn apart by his loyalties to his lord and his king.

Purchase Links –

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes and Noble

Anna Belfrage, Biography –

03_Anna Belfrage.jpgAnna was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result she’s multilingual and most of her reading is historical – both non-fiction and fiction. Possessed of a lively imagination, she has drawers full of potential stories, all of them set in the past. She was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Ideally, Anna aspired to becoming a pioneer time traveller, but science has as yet not advanced to the point of making that possible. Instead she ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for her most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career Anna raised her four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive…

For years she combined a challenging career with four children and the odd snatched moment of writing. Nowadays Anna spends most of her spare time at her writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and she slips away into her imaginary world, with her imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in her life pops his head in to ensure she’s still there.

Other than on her website, www.annabelfrage.com, Anna can mostly be found on her blog, http://annabelfrage.wordpress.com – unless, of course, she is submerged in writing her next novel. You can also connect with Anna on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads.

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Tour Schedule is HERE!

Hashtags: #TheColdLightofDawnBlogTour #AnnaBelfrage #historical #historicalfiction #blogtour #booktour #HFVBTBlogTours #amreading #bookblogger #bookbloggers #books #reading #giveaway #bookgiveaway

Facebook Tags: @hfvbt @annabelfrageauthor

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @abelfrageauthor

Giveaway

During the Blog Tour we will be giving away a complete set of The King’s Greatest Enemy series to one winner & two winners will win a paperback copy of The Cold Light of Dawn! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on March 30th.
-You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Enter to Win HERE!

 

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International Women’s Day: A Poem, A Word, A Pledge

A Step Forward

You hear our voices,
you say you stand with us,
but you should break down those walls,
and SEE us, in all our magnificence,
because we glow, yes we glow.

We are the passion of the universe,
contained within our hearts.

We are women.

– Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, 2018

 

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Found on the Internet for WallpaperSeries.com

 

It’s #InternationalWomensDay, or #IWD2018, and people around the world are rallying and protesting against gender inequality and sexual discrimination. I’ve been promoting this day for a decade, and this is the first one I’ve seen as much movement as I have in utilizing it as a catalyst for change not just awareness. I’m glad to see it happen. Women are amazing individuals with so much to offer the world. In theory, if things were fine, I wouldn’t even have to make that claim!

In essence, International Women’s Day is the marker to honor the Women’s Rights Movement and all those who came before us who were spit on, jailed, starved, ridiculed, and more as they fought for women to have the rights to vote, own land, have a bank account, and not be locked away in asylums. I’m glad to see women are taking ownership and heading back toward making progress again. In fact, the theme this year is #PressforProgress.

On my site here, you’ll find many great articles on women in history and making history, both on the page dedicated to that series, as March is also Women in History Month, but in interviews and book reviews as well. I’m currently taking articles about these women, so please contact me to send them in. I often interview and review books by women on this site and you’ll easily see that if you take a quick perusal through the archives.

Outside of publishing, I’ve spent decades fighting for women’s causes, from when I was news editor at my college paper and I fought against campus rape and it being reported, to when I was in healthcare and became the Young Careerist representative for Ohio at the national Business and Professional Women’s organization’s annual conference where I spoke about making strides for heart health in women. I’ve sat on a sub-committee for women’s health education, primarily in regards to those underprivileged, of the board of the Ohio Governor’s Office for Women’s Initiatives (a department and program that Republican Governor Kasich did away with when he took office) and assisted with statewide events to empower women. I’ve raised funds through events I’ve put on for women’s health, women’s shelters, and those battling cancer. Currently, I am the chair of the board at a local mental health center which also oversees our local rape crisis and domestic violence shelter.

In publishing, I advocate for women in certain genres, like horror, to have their voices heard and offer platforms for them to do so. In my writing, I fight against domestic violence, rape, assault, and confinement. My collection Breathe. Breathe., of poetry and short stories, in my story within the anthology Hardened Hearts, and even my poem in Enchanted Conversation magazine have all tackled these themes. On the site, on social media, and in articles, I share the life and times of historical writers, in several genres, because often they’ve also been involved in women’s liberation.

I still feel I don’t do enough. There is always more to do. I’ll keep doing it. I promise now I’ll get back to writing more essays so my own voice is heard. I’ll keep those women in history alive, those marginalized, those without a platform. I’ll keep serving those crying out in need and the disadvantaged. I’ll keep helping women out of domestic abuse situations.

And it’s not only women need to fight and showcase women, it’s men too. It’s going to take unity of both genders to make this work.

What will you do?

 

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Found at Picsymag

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Feature Articles, women in history

Welcome to 2018: Book Lovers and Writers Unite!

emoticon hiWelcome to the SEVENTH year here at Oh, for the Hook of a Book! That’s right, SEVEN years! We are celebrating our seventh year of bringing you news about books, reviews, interviews, guest articles, and our professional editing and publicity services. We’ve seen a lot happen over these last seven years and I want to personally thank everyone, in all the genres we dabble in, for their support. You have my eternal gratitude for your respect, inspiration, and love.

UPDATE ON THIS BLOG

At times, I get so busy working in publishing, polishing books by others and sharing them with the world, and in what little free time I have, and depending on the season, I have the needs of my growing three kids, so this blog doesn’t see as many reviews or interviews as in the days I tried to do five to six posts a week that were strictly reviews and interviews. In fact, when I started it seven years ago, it was to talk about the books I was writing! It was my outlet for that from my busy job(s) as a marketing and PR professional out there in the world.

Now, I’m running Hook of a Book Media and working with many top indie authors and writers, even bloggers and publishers, on editing, writing mentorship, and marketing and public relations/publicity. Currently, I work with not only authors, but directly for Sinister Grin Press as an editor and doing marketing and publicity as well as Raw Dog Screaming Press. Working in publishing is very busy. I often work 7 days a week and some days 15-18 hours a day, seasonally. Out of the book industry, I still occasionally do marketing, advertising, copy writing, and PR work for business and non-profits. As well, I am chair of the board of directors of a our local mental health center and rape crisis domestic violence shelter. This also keeps me busy!

But since I’ve stopped doing as many posts, I’m happy to say though that my traffic, due to all my well-written content, stays very high each month and posts are read and re-read even from many years ago. I learned to write for SEO many moons ago, and so much of my views come from google searches. I’m very proud of that. As much as I can, I hope to continue to do reviews, interviews, news, and hosting guest articles on my blog, interspersed with news of my own publications and writing pursuits. This is NOT a review mill, but a site run by an educated journalist, a PR professional, editor, and author.

WHAT NOT TO DO AS AN AUTHOR

I’ve not got off to a great start of posting here in 2018 yet, at least in the realm of posting reviews and interviews at least. My first major post at the beginning of the month was to be an interview with a historical fiction author. It was one that I was to post months prior, but that I hadn’t gotten posted due to our overwhelming personal struggles last year (including moving to a rural area, no internet service – then it taking over two months of a wait for installation, family problems, my son having a very long extended illness, my kids needing me, etc), and the blog becoming a last priority.

As the air cleared a little, and our internet finally was hooked up, and life had a bit more of a routine, even on crazy days, I began to catch up, and I posted the interview. I noted at the beginning of the interview about the delay, the season, and that I wanted to get 2018 off to a better start. Unfortunately, the author asked me, after I had spent about two hours formatting it, to take it down and re-post in the coming summer, also indicating to me that in the introduction I had written, since I noted one thing of accomplishment she had achieved since my previous review posted,  I had left off two awards she won (I hadn’t heard).

As this blog is volunteer-run, posts and hours to do them are always free, and I’m already spread very thin, often times only sleeping two hours a night (and sometimes struggling with my own health issues), so I didn’t really take too kindly to this at all from a personal stand-point. Being cordial back, and as always a professional, I removed the post and only asked her to remind me when she wanted posted, but did indicate to her that I wished she had respected my judgement. I hold no ill will. But as a future note to authors, both from the stance of running this site and personal desires, plus as a note from me as a professional, don’t do this. Don’t harass, embarrass, or take bloggers, reviewers, or media and their time for granted. Most of them, if not all of them, in the book world, do it as a labor of love. When you do these things, it makes it more like free labor and less like love.

My interviews, since I am a trained journalist, consist of originality every time. I write each interview catered toward the author. I sometimes ask the hard questions. I could get paid for my interviews, and I have, but on my own site they are free to you. Please understand the time involved in writing and posting them. It’s your job as an author to respect my time as well as your own, provide me with good answers, photos to accompany them (often times I spend time searching them out and verifying for use), and to share it along with me. This is the same advice I give my author clients, or any clients in entertainment or even business, when working with other sites or the media.

MY WRITING

And all of this talk of time does even mention the fact that I’ve made goals for myself of actually carving out more time for my own writing. Last year saw my own first collection published, a dark poetry and fiction mix called BREATHE. BREATHE. by Unnerving, as well as work in two more anthologies, HARDENED HEARTS from Unnerving and MY FAVORITE STORY from Project Entertainment Network, in which authors and podcasts hosts featured their favorite story. Proud to say I am in this with authors like Brian Keene, Christopher Golden, Jonathan Maberry, Mary SanGiovanni, and more. This year, I already have two secret projects going and I’m writing and submitting more this year as well. I need to be creative too, just like you do.

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So, now that I’ve cleared the air, I hope that my site continues to offer the best it can, as well as our business Hook of a Book Media, in which we offer editing, writing mentorship, publicity services, and more. Tim is now also offering editing services. I’m often booked, so please consider him if you’re looking for editing services as well. You can find information on that under our services tab. We offer respect and professionalism and support those who bring their best selves as well.

WANT TO BE FEATURED?

I am always open for guest article submissions, either articles you’ve written or interviews you’d like to do with others as a feature on my site. As well, I’m always available to try to fit in writing a guest article for your site too or to be interviewed. For book reviews, we are always open to receiving e-mails about new titles you’d like us to consider. I do not do formal reviews of clients book or book from publishers I directly work with on my blog or other online sites, for ethical reasons.

YOU CAN BE INVOLVED HERE

Upcoming projects of note for the site: we will doing volunteer campaigns for Women in Horror Month, Women in History, and National Poetry Month! You can check each individual page on this site for the calls and more information ongoing.

Thanks for a great seven years so far, and really looking forward to a wonderful 2018 in the book world. My best advice to everyone: JUST BREATHE. HAVE PATIENCE. IT WILL BE OKAY! 🙂

If you follow me here, THANK YOU!!

-Erin

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Filed under Book Reviews, Book Services, Breathe Breathe, Editing, Feature Articles, Guest Posts, My Writing, Q and A with Authors, women in history

Featured Guest Article – The Witch of Vienna by Cat Cavendish

On the site today, I’d like to welcome back the amazing author Catherine Cavendish. She just happens to be one of my favorite Gothic and horror writers with whom I share a love of history and legend. It’s always a real treat for me when she releases a new book, as not only do I want to devour it, but also I get to host these wonderful articles that I hope historical and Gothic/horror readers will both enjoy. She’s just released a new book with Lyrical Undergroud (Kensington) called Wrath of the Ancients (Oct. 24) and you won’t want to miss this one. Perfect for a Halloween read. Enjoy reading about the life and trial of The Witch of Vienna….I’ll be back with a review of this book soon!

Elisabeth Plainacher – The Witch of Vienna

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My latest book – Wrath of the Ancients – centres largely on sinister and ghostly activities within a magnificent haunted house in Vienna, Austria’s elegant and fascinating capital.

Vienna is the sort of city where ghosts walk by your side at night through quaint, winding streets in the old part of the city. Music forms the breath of the city and you can almost hear the haunting strains of The Blue Danube as you wonder at the grandeur of its many palaces.

But this isn’t by any means the whole story. In fact, you could travel a vast distance to find a more quirky, original and enigmatic city – but one with its own dark past.

Compared with many parts of Europe, Vienna’s history of witchcraft is relatively bloodless. Only one recorded execution of a convicted witch compared with hundreds in, say, Scotland.

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Her name is variously given as Elisabeth, Elise or Elsa Plainacher and toward the end of the 16th century, she was living in Lower Austria where she had married and given birth to a daughter, Margaret. The girl grew up, married and bore four children of her own but, sadly, she died and Elisabeth took it upon herself to raise the children while Margaret’s husband went his own way.

More tragedy abounded when one after the other three of the children died. Elisabeth was a practising Lutheran and took her remaining granddaughter, Mary, to church every Sunday.

Mary grew into a teenager and developed epilepsy which was then seen as a devil’s curse. She was subject to Grand Mal seizures, and tongues began wagging. Meanwhile Margaret’s widower came back on the scene. He was a Catholic and started pointing the finger at Elisabeth, accusing her of practising witchcraft, casting spells on his sick daughter. Furthermore, he accused her of killing his three other children and murdering her own husband.

The case came to the attention of a fervent Jesuit priest – Georg Scherer – whose lifelong mission was to rid the world of witches. He examined the girl and performed a series of exorcisms, claiming to have released 12,652 demons from her body.

Scherer and his fellow priests pressured Mary to say that her grandmother kept demons in bottles in the form of flies and that she had used these to bewitch the girl. Finally, Mary broke down and said that Elisabeth had indeed bewitched her by giving her an apple infected by the devil. She had eaten it and had become possessed.

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The bishop of Vienna, Kaspar Neubeck, arrested Elisabeth and tortured and questioned her until she too broke down and agreed that she had indeed fed her granddaughter the poisoned apple. Quite which forms of torture were used to extract such a bizarre confession are unrecorded but it doesn’t take too much imagination to conclude that she must have been under unbearable strain.

Having confessed to witchcraft, she was tied to a horse and dragged through the streets of Vienna to Richgasse. There she was bound to a stake and burned to death. The year was 1583 and she was 70 years old. Here in Vienna, at least, there were many who did not agree with the severity or nature of the punishment. Indeed, the mayor of Vienna found the woman’s confession so improbable that he appealed to the Emperor, Rudolf II to overturn it. But Georg Scherer remained steadfast and applied ecclesiastical pressure on the Emperor who, also being Holy Roman Emperor, found himself in an impossible situation. The mayor’s petition was denied. Scherer later preached a lengthy sermon urging the need for vigilance against the ever-present threat of witchcraft in all its many forms.

As for Elisabeth, she did at least have a couple of streets named after her – one in Vienna and the other in her home town of Mank.

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Wrath of the Ancients, Synopsis –

Destiny In Death

Egypt, 1908

Eminent archaeologist Dr. Emeryk Quintillus has unearthed the burial chamber of Cleopatra. But this tomb raider’s obsession with the Queen of the Nile has nothing to do with preserving history. Stealing sacred and priceless relics, he murders his expedition crew, and flees—escaping the quake that swallows the site beneath the desert sands . . .

Vienna, 1913

Young widow Adeline Ogilvy has accepted employment at the mansion of Dr. Quintillus, transcribing the late professor’s memoirs. Within the pages of his journals, she discovers the ravings of a madman convinced he possessed the ability to reincarnate Cleopatra. Within the walls of his home, she is assailed by unexplained phenomena: strange sounds, shadowy figures, and apparitions of hieroglyphics.

Something pursued Dr. Quintillus from Egypt. Something dark, something hungry. Something tied to the fate and future of Adeline Ogilvy . . .

Purchase Wrath Of The Ancients –

Amazon

Nook

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Google

Kobo

Catherine Cavendish, Biography –

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Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Catherine Cavendish is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. She was the joint winner of the Samhain Gothic Horror Anthology Competition, with Linden Manor. Cat’s novels include the Nemesis of the Gods trilogy – Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients and Damned by the Ancients, plus The Devil’s Serenade, The Pendle CurseSaving Grace Devine and many more. She lives with her long-suffering husband, and a black cat who has never forgotten that her species used to be worshiped in ancient Egypt. She sees no reason why that practice should not continue. Cat and her family divide their time between Liverpool and a 260-year-old haunted apartment in North Wales.

You can connect with Cat here:

Catherine Cavendish

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

 Thank for sharing this with us, Cat!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Book Announcements, Guest Posts, women in history

Review: Lilli de Jong is Story of a Courageous Mother

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Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton

Publication Date: May 16, 2017
Nan A. Talese
Hardcover & eBook; 352 Pages

Genre: Fiction/Historical/Literary

READ AN EXCERPT.

A young woman finds the most powerful love of her life when she gives birth at an institution for unwed mothers in 1883 Philadelphia. She is told she must give up her daughter to avoid lifelong poverty and shame. But she chooses to keep her.

Pregnant, left behind by her lover, and banished from her Quaker home and teaching position, Lilli de Jong enters a home for wronged women to deliver her child. She is stunned at how much her infant needs her and at how quickly their bond overtakes her heart. Mothers in her position face disabling prejudice, which is why most give up their newborns. But Lilli can’t accept such an outcome. Instead, she braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep herself and her baby alive.

Confiding their story to her diary as it unfolds, Lilli takes readers from an impoverished charity to a wealthy family’s home to the streets of a burgeoning American city. Drawing on rich history, Lilli de Jong is both an intimate portrait of loves lost and found and a testament to the work of mothers. “So little is permissible for a woman,” writes Lilli, “yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood.”

Review

I’ll just tell you upfront to please read this book if you love historical fiction books that make you feel as if you are living yourself in that time and place. It’s so wonderfully well-written and drew me in page by page in a very insistent manner. I could almost feel as if I were living with and among the characters. I was shocked, horrified, tear-stricken, yet I felt proud of the protagonist as well and became full of admiration by the time I reached the end.

Lilli de Jong, is the story of a fictional woman, though it could be the story of so many women. The limits put on women during this time period by society, and men, was so tragic. This book not only brings it to light, but it reminds us it was actually worse than any of us could have ever thought. It also is petrifying as we watch the state of society inching along today and the growth of some of the feelings that men (and women) have towards women, especially in accordance with their reproductive or motherhood rights and the amount of shaming that still occurs of those who get pregnant out of wedlock. Lilli de Jong is almost like a more modern telling of the Scarlet Letter, as the character of Lilli certainly was scorned  with a similar, though intangible, mark for no other reason than having a baby when not married to the father.

What I loved about this book was obviously Janet’s character development, first and foremost. For a debut novel, this was a tremendous feat. Her pacing and dialogue was spot on and moved the story along quickly. Yet, the research hours poured into this book was also clear, and as a reader, I learned so very much of the time period, the societal and government rules, as well as through her descriptions, learned of the surroundings, which allowed me to be immersed further into the story.

The story of Lilli is such an important one. Janet truly has set the bar high for herself should she endeavor to write further novels, but I also hope she does, as I can’t wait to read more of her writing. She tells a story in a very meaningful way, creating even sad subjects into delightful reading. I shed a tear to two reading this, as well as balled my fists in anger a time or two, and feel compelled to hope that this book could also be used a learning tool for many who wish to change culture and continue to go forward with progress for women’s rights, but also of course, it’s important for others to read as well so that they can understand through the emotion and trials of Lilli just how important forgiveness can be as well as helping hands. Further, I suppose, redemption as well, and that things such as this are not only the fault of the woman, but the men too. I was so tired of judgement, even more than I already am, after reading this book.

This is the story of a woman’s courage, strength, and fortitude. It’s the story of a mother, all mothers, and their undying and unwavering love for their children. Love knows know boundaries between mother and a child and a true mother will go lengths to defend and support her children. I will carry this story around inside myself for a long while, just as all women carry the stories of those who came before us. This book should go on required reading lists.

I must applaud the author for her willingness to write this book and show the errors of our ways during this time period. Her observations from research, her ability to put herself in the shoes of another (her character – but more so, any real people who dealt with this), not having experienced this herself, are absolutely commendable. I can tell she is a very empathetic, in-tune, connective type of person. Those people make the best writers and preserve for prosperity the stories of others unlike most writers can do.

I should note after reading that I felt a kinship to the character of Lilli as well, due to her heritage and Quaker origin. Though my ancestors weren’t Quaker as far as I know, great-grandparents of mine (maybe 8 or 9 x) on my mother’s side did hail from the same area the character lived in at the start of the book, Germantown, which was a quarter in Pennsylvania. Having done my own cultural and historical research on the family for personal knowledge and my own historical writing, I could feel a sense of place when reading about her. It was very interesting and I loved this added personal touch for me.

Lilli de Jong is an outstanding debut flush with detail and movement that I would highly recommend to all readers of historical fiction or those interested in women’s rights. It’s an enjoyable read with a courageous character that I hope, for humanity’s sake, all of us can see some tiny part of ourselves in.

*I was given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest critique.

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Purchase Links

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Praise for Lilli de Jong

“Lilli de Jong, discharged from her teaching job and banished from Quaker meetings because of her father’s selfish choice, finds comfort in the affections of her father’s apprentice, Johan. The night before he leaves to embark on a new life, she succumbs to his embrace with his promise that he will send for her. Soon thereafter, a pregnant Lilli finds herself shunned and alone, her only option a Philadelphia charity for wronged women. Knowing that she must relinquish her newborn, she is unprepared for the love that she feels for her daughter. Lilli quickly decides to fight to keep her, but in 1883 that means a life of hardship and deprivation. Telling Lilli’s story in diary form, debut author Benton has written a captivating, page-turning, and well-researched novel about the power of a mother’s love and the stark reality of the choices she must make. VERDICT A great choice for book clubs and readers of Geraldine Brooks.” – Library Journal, Starred Review

“A powerful, authentic voice for a generation of women whose struggles were erased from history—a heart-smashing debut that completely satisfies.” —Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

“Beautifully written, emotionally resonant, and psychologically astute, Lilli de Jong is the story of an unwed mother in late 19th-century Philadelphia who, facing peril at every turn, will do almost anything to keep her daughter alive. Benton turns a laser eye to her subject, exposing the sanctimony, hypocrisies, and pervasive sexism that kept women confined and unequal in the Victorian era—and that still bedevil many women today. A gripping read.” —Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train and A Piece of the World

“A stunning ode to motherhood. Lilli de Jong reminds us that there is no formula to being a good mother. Love is the essential ingredient, and only it gives everlasting life to our legacies. A debut of robust heart that will stay with me for a very long time.” —Sarah McCoy, author of The Mapmaker’s Children

“Janet Benton’s remarkable novel Lilli de Jong is historical fiction that transcends the genre and recalls a past world so thoroughly that it breathes upon the page. From the first sentence, Lilli’s sensitive, observant, determined voice casts an irresistible spell. Benton combines rich, carefully researched detail with an imaginative boldness that is a joy to behold—though reader, be warned: Lilli’s story may break your heart.” —Valerie Martin, author of The Ghost of the Mary Celeste

“[A] gorgeously written debut . . . Lilli’s fight to craft her own life and nurture her bond with her baby is both devastatingly relevant and achingly beautiful. A stunning read about the fierceness of love triumphing over a rigid society.” —Caroline Leavitt, author of Is This Tomorrow

“The trials Lilli undertakes to keep her baby are heart-rending, and it’s a testament to Benton’s skill as a writer that the reader cannot help but bear witness. In a style reminiscent of Geraldine Brooks, she seamlessly weaves accurate historical detail as well as disturbing societal norms into the protagonist’s struggles . . . An absorbing debut from a writer to watch.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A heartrending debut . . . Benton’s exacting research fuels Lilli’s passionate, authentic voice that is ‘as strong as a hand on a drum . . . that pounds its urgent messages across a distance’ . . . Lilli’s inspiring power and touching determination are timeless.” —Publishers Weekly

“A harrowing look at the strictures of nineteenth-century American society. . . . [Lilli] is a full-fledged heroine, persevering despite seemingly insurmountable odds. . . her voice is distinctive, her fierceness driven by a mother’s love.” —Booklist

“I loved this novel. Lilli de Jong is deeply moving and richly imagined, both tragic and joyous. Janet Benton has an exceptional ability to bring history to life . . . It’s not only a compelling, beautifully crafted historical novel, however: it’s also important . . . Lilli’s life-and-death struggle is shockingly common to women even today.” —Sandra Gulland, author of the internationally bestselling Josephine B. Trilogy

“Writing with a historical eye akin to Geraldine Brooks and incisive prose matching that of Anthony Doerr, debut novelist Janet Benton magically weaves a gripping narrative of hardship, redemption, and hope while illuminating a portrait of little-known history. The result is an unforgettable and important reflection on the maternal and, ultimately, the human bond. Stunning!” —Pam Jenoff, author of The Kommandant’s Girl

“A confident debut . . . Sentence by carefully-crafted sentence, Benton ensnares the reader.” —The Millions

03_Janet Benton.jpgAuthor Janet Benton, Biography

Janet Benton’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Glimmer Train, and many other publications. She has co-written and edited historical documentaries for television. She holds a B.A. in religious studies from Oberlin College and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and for decades she has taught writing and helped individuals and organizations craft their stories. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. Lilli de Jong is her first novel.

Visit Janet Benton’s website for more information and updates. You can also connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Goodreads.

Giveaway

During the Blog Tour we will be giving away TWO Notebooks featuring quotes from Lilli de Jong! Notebooks are spiral-bound (4×6 inches) with 50 blank pages. To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Direct Link: https://gleam.io/REPTM/lilli-de-jong

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on July 28th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to residents in the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

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Filed under Book Reviews, women in history