Michaeline: Book Rec: The Garies and Their Friends (1857)

A rather hard to read cover; 18 pence with preface by Mrs. Stowe

The Garies and Their Friends by F.J. Webb was published in London in 1857; mixed marriage, Black society in Philadelphia, race riots prompted by real estate speculators, battles and bravery and sweet romances (and a couple of tragic ones) are all in this little book. Image from The Internet Archive version of the book.

I just read a fascinating book this week. The Garies and Their Friends  was written by Frank J. Webb, a Mixed-race man from Philadelphia. His book was published in 1857 in London, when he accompanied his wife, Mary Webb, on a speaking tour. 


The book is a family drama, set a little before Frank J. Webb’s own time. Clarence Garie (a White slave owner) and his true love, Emily (his Mixed slave and mother of his two children) decide to move to Philadelphia on the advice of Emily’s cousin, Winston (a freed Black man passing as White), and are welcomed by the Ellises, a free Black family. The goal? To get freedom for Emily and the children.

The other major character in the book is Charles Ellis, the talented young son who was born a free Black, who must fight White prejudice to get a place in the world. He wins a prize at school, and a wealthy white woman offers to take him to the country for the summer. After much discussion, his family accepts.

The Garies soon run afoul of prejudice – particularly from their neighbors, the Stevens. “Slippery George” Stevens is a White power-hungry lawyer who wants to incite riots in order to buy up Philadelphia real estate – and if those riots should happen to spill over on his neighbors, the Garies, so much the better. The riots also wreak havoc on the Ellis family, and if I explain much more, I’ll be getting into spoiler territory.

In the foreword, Lord Brougham says Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote him that “(t)he style is simple and unambitious.” That’s good news for us 21st century readers – the style is indeed clear and lacks a lot of frills and digressions that make 19th century literature a pain. The plot, though, is anything but simple. It’s complex and multi-layered, but always clear. There are mobs, betrayals, violence, love, love thwarted by prejudice, love that overcomes prejudice, and love that will make you smile. It’s true that Webb slides into a little sentimentality towards the end, but perhaps by that time, he deserved a little indulgence.

Drawing of F.J. Webb's wife, a Black orator who toured Great Britain in the 1850s

There are no sure pictures of Frank J. Webb that I could find; you’d think the grandson of Aaron Burr would leave behind a few photos. But his first wife, Mary Espartero Webb, was a Black orator who toured Great Britain in the 1850s, during which time Webb probably wrote his book.

I won’t spoil the ending, but justice is meted, some lovers marry, and overall it’s a happy ending.

What’s extremely interesting is viewing this own-voices story from a 21st century filter. Folks, this was written more than 160 years ago, and Black people are still fighting a lot of the same damn things!! Interviews that go wonky when the employer realizes the applicant is a person of color, disdain of mixed marriages, the silly “one-drop-of-Negro-blood-makes-you-a-Negro” thing, people advising other people to erase their culture and heritage and “pass”, and just the general idea that Black people are something Other. Why is White privilege not Everyone’s privilege yet?

As a liberal white woman, I read the book and nodded along with the author’s subtext; I loved it when the smart people of color put it over on the White evil-doers. (And I did appreciate seeing White do-gooders, too, who are represented in a spectrum from White people who actually do some good, to White people who say they are going to do some good, but it’s just not financially feasible right now. It seemed very realistic.)

The book had very little audience in the US when it was published, according to Wikipedia. But maybe its time is now. Its analysis of the different ways to be Black, and how those can combine with White society to varying results can be a real eye-opener.

And when your eye-opener is a thrilling page-turner as well? Well, all the better. You can read The Garies and Their Friends on Gutenberg here, or buy it, and maybe get more modern analysis.

Here are some other sources you might like to check into after reading the book. Frank J. Webb seems to have been quite circumspect in his life; there’s only one photograph that I could find that said something to the effect, “The man on the right might be Frank J. Webb.” But his international life crossed the oceans, and he left his words behind.

Katherine Henry, “Garies (The) and Their Friends,” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia (website), (Copyright 2015, Rutgers University)

Eric Gardner, “’A Gentleman of Superior Cultivation and Refinement’: Recovering the Biography of Frank J. Webb,” The Free Library (website), (Copyright 2001, African American Review/Gale Group)


Mary Maillard, “’Faithfully Drawn from Real Life’: Autobiographical Elements in Frank J. Webb’s The Garies and Their Friends,” (PDF) (Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. CXXXVII no. 3, July 2013)
 (Downloaded immediately for me, with no warning.)

Michaeline: Review of the new Bujold “Knife Children”!

(Note: no spoilers in the post, but there may be some in the comments. You’ve been warned.)

It’s been a bad few years for reading for me. First, I blamed it on my eyes, but now that I’ve had my reading glasses for a little over a year, I have come to realize it’s only partly about my eyes. Next, I blamed it on the internet – short, addictive bits of reading that reward almost instantly – and if they don’t, well, there’s another post or article to read. And hand-in-hand with the internet is the absolute drama of the past two years in the real world. Trump, Brexit, #MeToo – all that drama, all that conflict. Do I really need a real story when I’m sated with cat pictures on the one hand, and gutted by all the real world on the other?

It turns out, yes, a real story does hit the spot, and Lois McMaster Bujold published another e-novella in her Sharing Knife series on January 24, 2019.

 

"Knife Children" cover

A new book from Bujold! (Cover via Amazon.com)

“Knife Children” has that easy-going rhythm that is part and parcel of the Sharing Knife series. It touches on old Bujoldian themes such as taking responsibility, and the ever-present possibility of redemption. It also deals with the “one damn thing happens after another” aspect of life, and “go lightly over the rough ground”.

On the surface, “Knife Children” is Continue reading

Michille: Plotting

Blank Index Cards

I am trying to plot out the remainder of the book I started last year. For my previous manuscripts, I was more of a pantser than I have been on this one. That worked fine for the first two, but my current WIP is based on an older story so the parts that I have down follow that. And now it is dragging on and on. I know one problem with writing is a result of the Romance Writing Masters Certificate program. It was so craft intensive that I let myself get bogged down when writing with all that craft instead of just getting words on the page and crafting later. For example, I find myself getting bogged down with craft before and during writing sessions when I realize the scene I am writing is missing something important. And this long stretch of writing one manuscript has the characters featured in the next one banging on my brain and screaming to get out. Continue reading

Justine: The Road Map to…

"The Cotillion Dance" by Caldwall. 1771. Courtesy The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

“The Cotillion Dance” by Caldwall. 1771. Courtesy The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

I am reading Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion right now…I’m about half way through, and it occurred to me the other night at this midpoint that I’m not quite sure who Kitty is going to end up with.

Note: I am NOT finished the book, so please don’t be a spoil-sport and spoil it for me! I’m happy to talk more about the exciting conclusion when I wrap it up!

At the outset, I believed it to be Jack Westruthers, whom Kitty has been in love with for an age, but who she now “hates” (I think that should be in quotation marks – after all, she’s wanted to slap him twice so far) because he’s always ignored her.

However, Jack is a bit of a cad. That might be an understatement. Or an overstatement. I’m not sure yet whether he’s playing Kitty or his cousins Hugh or Freddy. And Freddy…lovely Mr. Standen, future Viscount Legerwood, Kitty’s fiancé-for-pretend (gee, this sounds familiar), who originally seemed the stuck-up town beau, is turning out to be quite a charming guy, even if he is suspicious of Kitty’s cousin, the chevalier.

What I find so interesting at this juncture is Continue reading

Nancy: Back to the Drawing Board (Novella Edition)

Woman With a Plan

I spent much of this past week planning. Planning my annual writing calendar. Planning time for writing, revising, and editing the many different stories I hope to write this year. Planning the historical romance novella series that is part of that annual writing plan. And that’s where I’ve hit a snag. In fact, I’ve hit a few snags and have had to go back to the drawing board.

 

Problem 1. Novella 1 (book 1 of the series) is too damn long. This issue isn’t too surprising to me, as this poor manuscript has had so many different identities, it just has no idea what it is or is supposed to be. It was a novella before it was a novel before it was a novella again before it was the first book of a series. Continue reading

Nancy: An’ Thar Be Dragons

Darko the Dragon followed me home from the Dragon Ball and has taken up residence in my office.

Darko the Dragon followed me home from the Dragon Ball and has taken up residence in my office.

I, like many readers, am always interested in hearing how authors of my favorite stories came up with the ideas. And I rarely have a conversation with a fellow writer about our WIPs or upcoming projects without at least touching on how/when/where we got our inspiration. I have many friends who carry notebooks or tape recorders with almost everywhere so they never miss an errant seed of an idea that might someday grow into a full-fledged story.

When I’m away from my computer, I use the Evernote program, which I usually access from my smart phone, to capture thoughts until I’ve collected enough information to download into a full-fledged story folder. But even when I’m not taking notes, when I’m supposed to be focused on something totally removed from writing, that part of my brain that always wants to be telling a story collects and stores bits of information that might later show up as puzzle pieces of one or another of my plots. Continue reading

Michaeline: End of NaNo 2013

And there was much rejoicing as the story was harvested and taken to the story mill for further processing!

And there was much rejoicing as the story was harvested and taken to the story mill for further processing!

It’s the last day of NaNo. So, here’s the condensed version of what I’ve learned.

Week One: Turn off the inner censor. Gosh, how fun it was to write in week one! I loved discovering who my characters were! I had no idea where the story was going, but every day was a joy as I got to watch events unfold delightfully. The first draft is about discovery, not perfect prose.

Week Two: I learn (again) the value of perseverance. If I keep writing, something will come. Maybe not today, maybe not even tomorrow, but at some point, the plot will turn. If I don’t write, it won’t come.

Also, I wrote in the real world for the first time. It’s given me a whole new view of writing details. Usually, I write what Continue reading