Monday, September 28, 2009

The Nineteenth Century

I've been reading books written in the mid to late nineteenth century lately and enjoying them and the picture of American society of that time.

I discovered Edward Payson Roe. Here is how that occurred. I am a member of a Yahoo Group that reads and discusses books by Grace Livingston Hill. She was a Christian romance writer from the late nineteenth century up to the 1940's when she passed away. I believe she completed over 100 stories. Her writing carries the reader back to the language and thought of an older time. Much of the conversation in the books written in the 1920's and 1930's reflect the movie vernacular of the day. Little boys in her stories use the slang of that day in phrases that have not been heard for over half a century, but can be heard in old movies from that time period.

The stories themselves are the ultimate women's stories. The heroines often cook homey dinners (which are redolent of cookbooks from the early 20th century - no "foreign" cuisine, no Italian food, even), their clothes are described, their efforts at remaking and decorating old and abused homes. Some heroine's stories occur during fall and Christmas and bring in the beauty of nature and the holidays. In short, these books are like a comforting trip to an idealized yesterday and they are still quite popular among a particular group of people. Here is a web site that quotes some of the passages in Grace Livingston Hill's books that are particularly enjoyable. Since my own mother is of Polish descent and would have been looked down upon by the Protestant majority of that day, of which Grace Livingston Hill was a member, I guess I might be termed a traitor. However, I turned away from Catholicism many years ago when taking history classes in college. I discovered that those nations whose religion was predominantly Catholic had abysmal histories. Italy, France and Spain - although at one time all were great, they faded before Britain and America's Protestant greatness. I believe the culture behind the Catholic religion, which is a paternalistic one, is responsible for the sorry states of Latin American societies. Compare Haiti, of Catholic descent, and Jamaica, of British descent - very very different outcomes. But I'm getting off the track here.

This lady has created a complete Grace Livingston Hill web site which also mentions her aunt, who also published many works in the late nineteenth century under the pseudonym, "Pansy".

Here is how Edward Payson Roe came to my attention. One of the members of the Grace Livingston Hill Yahoo Group mentioned that she had discovered a book by him and had enjoyed it immensely. She even claimed that, in his time, he was more widely read and famous than Mark Twain!! I was hooked.

I looked him up and found his books online on Google Books and began reading "He Fell In Love With His Wife". I absolutely loved the story.

Then I found out that Edward Payson Roe lived almost all his life not 50 miles from where I grew up. He was born in Moodna, NY, no longer found by that name on a map today, but which translates roughly into New Windsor, NY in Orange County. I was born farther west in Middletown, NY in the same county. His family lived right near the Hudson River and there is a Moodna Creek that comes off the Hudson and runs through the county. His grandfather helped forge the chain that was thrown across the Hudson during the Revolutionary War to keep the British from advancing and taking the vital river.

As I read "He Fell In Love With His Wife" and researched the life of Edward Payson Roe, I kept in mind that he used everyday people and examples in his stories that were gleaned from his life in Orange County. I placed my memories of the same countryside over the word pictures he painted and the story had so much more meaning for me.

So far my favorite is " Opening A Chestnut Burr" about a man who is ill and comes back to his old home place to recuperate. His old home place is Edward Payson Roe's old home place and so it is the Shawangunk Mountains and the Hudson Highlands that are spoken of in such descriptive words and lovely images. The old home place is a large home with orchards and farms around it in rolling countryside, just as the area around Middletown, NY is. The story takes place in October, my favorite month of the year, especially in areas where the leaves change color. I have lovely memories of going to Soon's Orchard in Orange County to buy apples and pumpkins and to sample apple cider. The smell of the apples would permeate the place and October in NY is one time of the year in which many days are clear and the sky is that bright blue of autumn. This is the time of what we used to call "sweater weather", when jeans and sweaters are necessary, especially in the evening, to keep warm. Sometimes there is a smokey haze in the air from the burning of leaves, although that may be against the law now. When I was a child, the people along our street would rake their leaves into a big pile (which we, of course, jumped in repeatedly) and then would burn them beside the street. That smell, the smell of apples and apple pie, the sense of being cozy inside, the feel of brisk, cold, clear air on one's face, the scenes of rolling hills covered with orange, yellow and red trees......Mr. Roe describes all this many times over and he is talking about my own home territory.

In addition, Mr. Roe was a Christian. He was a chaplain in the Civil War and his writing about those days is fascinating as well as graphic, which was not a common writing style in that day. He does describe some hospital scenes and the suffering of the men, and he doesn't try to honey-coat it. Edward Payson Roe was, in later years, the pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Highland Falls, which may still exist, I don't know.

My sister, whom I visited a few weeks ago, lives not too far up the west Hudson right off 9W. If I had known of Mr. Roe then, all we would have had to do was to drive south for about half an hour and we would have been in his home area and I could have tried to find out if his old home or his pastorate were still there.

This weekend is a 3 day weekend and my husband has to work today, so I am home alone. The windows are open in my back computer room and I can gaze at the sky and the flowers in my back yard as I read and contemplate.

I can say with surety that I have finally discovered to my satisfaction that, even though there have always been scoundrels and evil people, the general society, the civilization of the late 19th century in America was one of acknowledged Christianity (even if it was, in many cases, a form it was THE accepted form) and good manners. People who did not believe in Christianity or practice it did not speak too loudly or publicly in everyday life because they would be frowned upon. Oh to be living in a time like that again. I am so tired of "multiculturalism" and the idea that all cultures have equal value. I do not believe it and since I am surrounded by that type of thinking in this day and age, I get weary sometimes.

Well - back to the 19th century. I do have to vacuum (thank God for 20th century inventions!!!) and straighten up and do laundry today (once again, thank God for electric appliances that do the work for you). But, thanks to the modern electric age, I can get all that done in about an hour sometime before my husband gets home. Meanwhile, I'm lazing around and pondering yesteryear.

Here is another fascinating web site about 19th century children. There is the complete contents of one "Diary of a Little Girl in Old New York" which I could not stop reading.






2 comments:

Professor said...

Cool information!

Robert V. Sobczak said...

I need to join a good book club ... I've been saying that for years.