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Shame the Devil (Excelsior Editions)

Tekijä: Debra Brenegan

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The remarkable and true story of the nineteenth-century novelist, journalist, and feminist Fanny Fern.

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Shame The Devil: A Novel is an historical fictional account of columnist Fanny Fern.

Sarah Payson Willis is the fifth child of nine, she is flamboyant, pert, sassy and nothing women are supposed to be like in the early 1800's. Her father, Nathanial Willis, was disgusted with his daughter's behaviour and often has the minister pray over her. Her mother, Hannah Parker, is thrilled with her head-strong daughter and often encourages Sarah to be the free spirit she is meant to.

Sarah doesn't believe anything is wrong with her, she thinks she is perfect and doesn't understand the frowns of the adults in her life. As she grows older, Sarah drops the "h" from her name, marries for love and has her path set before her.

After marrying Charley, they have three daughters, their eldest, Mary Stace, contracts a brain fever and dies. Her parents are devastated and move to the seaside where they can coalesce however, another tragedy strikes and Charley also passes on. Sara is left with two young daughters, a world of grief and no one in her family or that of Charley's will help her.

The families join to belittle Sara, they try to steal her children and each day she struggles to put on their table while everyone believes Sara, uppity Sara, has got her just rewards. Her older sister Julia is the only one who seems to understand and offers what solitude she is able.

On the day that Sara has to send her oldest surviving daughter, Grace, to live with Sara's in-laws, Sara vows to come for her as soon as she is able. Hezekiah and Mary Eldredge are very pious and religious and they vow to chase the devils from Grace's soul and wipe Sara from her memories forever.

Sara and Ellen, her youngest daughter, live off of bread and milk, on good days, live in a drafty living conditions with no source of heat, their clothes are hanging in tatters off their backs and still her family ridicules her and shows her no Christian outpouring of good and kindness.

One day, as Sara is walking to go visit Grace, she comes up with an idea that will change their lives forever, and Franny Fern is born. It doesn't take long before Sara/Franny becomes popular in the newspapers and now Sara has the power to right the wrongs that she has hounded her, however, she is a woman in a man's world and keeping on top of her game and keeping her children with her is a fight she always seems to be leading...unless she can change the course of history forever.

I thought this was a magnificent read. I would have loved to have known Sarah Willis a.k.a. Franny Fern, she sounds like she would have made a great friend!! I loved her sassy attitude and her faith even in adversity. I loved how she never gave up even when it would have been easy to do. I love how she stood up to the men in her life and put most of them in their places. I enjoyed reading how she and many women like her, at the time, made a difference, enabling for the women of today to have the freedoms they do.

I am totally exasperated to learn though, that even after 150 years, many men STILL think like this...truthfully, how small-minded can anyone be to believe women should be seen not heard, should be dutiful, loyal while receiving nothing of the same in return. Men, at one time, were able to put their wives in an insane asylum, just because they COULD!! Disgusting!!

I have come to realize, after reading this thought provoking novel, that most men are afraid. They are afraid of almost everything they come in contact with and I believe they try to keep women under their rule is because of this fear. Women, for the most part, are pretty resilient, how would you explain the thousands of years of abuse by men, to continue to procreate, continue to love, continue to feel. It's because women, who also fear, are able, for some reason, to shake it off and get back on the horse and ride again. Women are able to remain passive during times of great turmoil and work on auto-pilot, a trait I don't see in men.

I am very thankful I was not born in that world where men ruled all, I would've been a Sarah Willis, a Franny Fern, an Emily Bronte...

I enjoyed how each person in Sara's life had a piece in the book. It wasn't always from Sara's point of view, sometimes we seen the situation through Grace's eyes, or Hezekiah's, Sara's brother Nat, just to name a few. Giving a more rounded appeal to the persona of Franny Fern. Above each chapter is a quote from newspaper articles that Franny Fern and her other nom de plumes wrote under. Showing her gritty, no-nonsense side to current events.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good historical piece with a believable and enjoyable writing style. ( )
  MadMooseMama | Oct 5, 2011 |
What a rare and exceptional treasure it is to have a biographical, feminist novel these days. This beautifully covered book is so well researched and written that it behooves one to tread carefully when assuming it can be reviewed with justice.

Debra Brenegan leads us back to a time when women tripped what appeared to be the broad line of sensibility, as Miss Austen would say, only if they dared. A time when women kept their own kind in check, when men expected the females in their lives to be concerned with things in particular, and when some appeared to overlook or to be blind to those women who stole across the barriers to proclaim a worthy presence of their own.

The Fanny Fern of Ms Brenegan's biographical novel is a woman of this unusual making; that is, one who could bridge that broad line of sensibility, come forth as a wise woman, favored by men and women alike...sought out for conversation by both, and heralded as a social reformer, a writer and journalist of her times. A formidable woman who had opinions she was emboldened to express because of the sufferings she experienced in her own life.

It was a bash to women of the Women's Movement in the 1960's and '70's that they were "ugly, unattractive, uptight and asexual sub-women"...explaining why they were interested in being equal to men and working for "women's rights" which were "not wanted or needed by married, and/or attractive women who had men to take care of them." In those days, this bashing was a form of fear, fighting against feminine uprisings and social change.

I found it interesting from that perspective, to consider how much worse it might have been in the 1800s, for Fanny Fern to withstand the social outcry against her, who may not have been seen as the most attractive of women. Yet, like a multitude of women who've risen to the surface with great minds, great spirits and great works for peace, freedoms, and the education of others, Ms Fern's beauty was so radiant she drew thousands to her. She was a face and a place of mercy and understanding.

With contemporaries such as Alcott, Hawthorne, Walden, Emily Dickinson and Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ms Fern's is a life and world filled with beautiful detail and imagery, as well as with literary importance and excitement.

Debra Brenegan is an author who is obviously in love with her subject and did her research with a detailed hand. She is poetic in her delivery and fiery when she needs to be in defining her characters. Though it's meant to be biographical, Ms Brenegan's book reads fully like a feminist novel, reminding me of my studies in women's literature and what a powerful impact it made towards the discovery of my "self" as a woman.

If there were one minor adjustment I'd make with "Shame the Devil," it would be that it sometimes became stilted when it read like a history book in parts. This reflects the difficult transition one is asked to make when switching from a biographical study to a novel form, and some of the residual of that lingered.

I'm delighted to have this lovely little book on my personal library shelf. I highly recommend it to all of my friends. I recommend it to all who are interested in the exciting times of women of the American Civil War Era notably and finally having a voice in literature, journalism and in the politics of the times.

4 stars ( )
  BookishDame | Aug 12, 2011 |
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The remarkable and true story of the nineteenth-century novelist, journalist, and feminist Fanny Fern.

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