Friday, November 7, 2014

Sizzling History

Herstory:   Women Authors From the 17th Century to Today 

Karen Abbott will be discussing her new novel, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, on November 13th at the Massanutten Regional Library at 7pm..    Abbott’s book is part of a new trend in history writing—authors revealing historical characters and their stories in compelling detail by using their diaries, letters and historical documents to flesh out the details.  Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy tells the story of four women who were spies during the Civil War.  Did Belle Boyd have admiration or jealousy for Rose Greenhow--or both?  Did Rose sleep with Henry D. Wilson, Lincoln's chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs?  Whose message resulted in Confederate victory at Manassas?

American women writers have been pushing boundaries since the Colonial Era. Anne Bradstreet was the first female author from the American Colonies to be published.  Her poetry book, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, was about colonial life, but was published in England in 1650. Her work was lauded by contemporaries and she continued to be an inspiration for female poets for at least a hundred years.
One of the first American novelists to gain acclaim was Kate Chopin, a Missouri native whose writings often focused on Louisiana and New Orleans. Published in 1899, The Awakening was one of the first novels to feature a strong female protagonist who rebels against society’s expectations for her. Critics immediately called it, "morbid, vulgar, and disagreeable."  Even Willa Cather said it was "trite and sordid" (  Today it is lauded as one of the best novels of its time. Chopin papered the way for future female writers to give their women characters a real voice.

In the twentieth century, many women authors gained popular and literary acclaim. One particularly outspoken figure was Dorothy Parker, a writer, critic and satirist who won two Academy Awards before being blacklisted for purported associations with the Communist Party in 1950.   In a Vanity Fair article titled, Rebel in Evening Clothes, (Oct. 1999), Parker is described as "cocktail swilling" and who "used her wit to skewer prejudice in pre-civil-rights America."  Her gin drinking, cigarette smoking, and sexy clothes were reflected in her honest and biting works.

Today, Karen Abbott’s focus on historical research and the role of women in historical events have already made her a New York Times Bestselling author.  Erik Larson says it best:
"With this book, Karen Abbott declares herself the John le Carré of Civil War espionage, with the added benefit that the saga she tells is all true and beautifully researched. Her four protagonists, exuding charm, adept at skullduggery, take us on a sweeping and bloody jaunt across the Civil War landscape, into an intimate realm of warfare that will yield for even the most hard-core Civil War buff a wholly fresh perspective on those deadly days."

— Erik Larson, New York Times bestselling author of The Devil in the White City and In the Garden of Beasts

Abbott's works ascends women from traitors, prostitutes, and strippers to independent women who fought for their rights to live and work as they chose. Some call it sizzling history.

Hope to see you November 13th at 7pm at the Main library in downtown Harrisonburg.

Cheryl Metz and Kate Martin

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