After posting my final review of the 940 bestselling novels of the twentieth century before Christmas, I collapsed in front of the TV to binge-watch the Masterpiece “Inspector Morse” videos.
That done, I pulled out my 1,176-page paperback edition of Helen Hooven Santmyer’s “…And Ladies of the Club” and began rereading it. It was even better the second time around.
This time, in addition to getting the story line, I was able to appreciate the historical context. Watching the Trump presidency encouraged people to think nothing like it had ever happened before. Santmyer’s novel made me realize how much present day history echoes 19th century history.
People don’t change much, and it’s people that are the elements of history.
Here are a few quotes that seemed particularly timely.
Defeat never converts. It is to the defeated what persecution is to the persecuted. The cause becomes daily more precious, and devotion to it a more sacred duty.
We acted for the best. People almost always do, and so often it turns out wrong.
People always have to face up to what they’re by nature least well equipped to face.
If you’ve not read Helen Hooven Santmyer’s novel, I can’t recommend it too highly. It’s a whopping big book—perhaps enough to get you through the pandemic—and you have to pay close attention , but the novel is worth the effort.
“…And Ladies of the Club” opens in 1868 as Congressman General Deming tells Waynesboro Female College graduates, “The hand that rocks the cradle is mightier than the hand that wields the sabre.”
The novel focused primarily on two graduates, Anne Gordon and Sally Rausch, reveals the truth underlying that cliché.
Both graduates are invited to become founding members of a local women’s literary club.
Sally accepts because she thinks the club might become influential in Waynesboro.
Anne accepts because Sally did: She can back out later.
Sally marries a German immigrant, Ludwig Rausch, a man with a passion for machinery and endowed with a business shrewdness equal to any Yankee’s.
Anne marries her childhood sweetheart, a doctor scarred by his experiences as a military surgeon and his family history.
Helen Hooven Santmyer traces the interwoven lives of the two women, their families, their small town, and America up until 1932.
Politics, wars, economic booms and depressions, social and technological changes are revealed the way people felt them.
“…And Ladies of the Club” is a marvelous work of historical fiction with an historical sweep and psychological intimacy equaling Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, John Galsworthy’s Forsythe novels, and Paul Scott’s The Jewel in the Crown.