CALEB’S CROSSING-MARVELOUS!

There is no need  to add to the accolades already published for Geraldine Brook’s 2011 novel Caleb’s Crossing.

imgresWhile technically not a historical novel it comes very close by adding disciplined imagination to a factual story line that makes this book a great read. I join The New York Time’s  Bill Cunningham in his thinking that the prodigious use of the word marvelous is often joyously appropriate. It certainly applies to Caleb’s Crossing.This work of Pulitzer Prize author Brooks proudly stands alongside her so honored March.

While reading  Caleb’s Crossing I thought of Anya Seton’s Winthrop Women which was  set in the same period and mindset. Anne Hutchinson even makes an appearance. Martha’s Vineyard was a distant place in the 1650s but not removed from the narrowness  of Puritan provincialism.

Bethia and Caleb, a teenage girl and a native young man. You will fall in love with them both as you travel on their personal journey, guided beautifully by Bethia’s narrative.

Whether historical novel or fiction, Caleb’s Crossing is further testament that some independent thinkers who came to America during the Great Migration would ultimately prevail over the rigid and strident Puritans.

Marvelous!

Dragonwyck-Sixty Years Before Fifty Shades of Grey!

Anya Seton’s novel Dragonwyck preceded E L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey by sixty years. However, Seton’s story was prescient of the current runaway best-selling trilogy!

I came upon Dragonwyck after reading Seton’s The Winthrop Women and was quickly drawn to the story of an innocent Connecticut farm girl being catapulted through circumstance into becoming the young wife of the wealthy and dominating patroon of Dragonwyck Manor. The similarities to the Fifty Shades of Grey plot become quickly evident.  Fifty Shades of Grey has Christian and Anastasia, Dragonwyck, Nicholas and Miranda!  Fast cars for Christian and Anastasia, a fine coach and six for Nicholas and Miranda. No bondage and handcuffs in Dragonwyck to be sure, however eighteen year old Miranda Wells quickly learns there is a tremendous price to be paid  for releasing the bonds of hardscrabble New England farm life for an aristocratic lifestyle of limitless wealth as the submissive mistress of Dragonwyck Manor. Dragonwyck emits echos of the great gothic novel Jane Eyre.

Set in the mid-nineteenth century, Dragonwyck begins in Connecticut, then moves to the wealthy estates of the Mid-Hudson region of New York and the social whirl of New York City.  Dragonwyck  is not a historical novel of the scope of The Winthrop Women but it does open to the reader much of the social and economic lifestyles of many of the founding Dutch families of New York as they shared their time between mansions in New York City and their castles on the Hudson. Landed gentry supported by an old world feudal system of subsistence tenant farmers who worked the land.

For further insight into Seton’s The Winthrop Women, see my September blog post. You may also wish to consider Seton’s novel Katherine  for which many overviews are available on-line. It was the most popular of all of her novels and is on my “futures” list.

 

 

 

ANYA SETON’S WINTHROP WOMEN, A TREASURE FROM THE 1950s

The republishing of the prodigious historical novels of Anya Seton in the first decade of this century brings to light the treasure trove encompassed in her work.

Winthrop Women, first published in 1958 and later released in 2006 is a particular gift for those whose interests lie in the history of the Puritans, the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the early settlement of the environs of Greenwich, Connecticut.  Above all, it is a great love story and the saga of a strong and independent woman richly entwined in the region’s history.

Winthrop Women  embraces a broad  historical web, set in the 1600s (1617-1655)  centered around the family of  John Winthrop, a fanatical practitioner of the Puritan faith  who became the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and his rebellious niece and daughter-in-law Elizabeth Fons. Their descendents  remain in Connecticut and  throughout New England.  Seton tells the Winthrop family and  Elizabeth Fons’  story in three parts: The early years in England living a near aristocratic lifestyle; the great Puritan migration to the New World with the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony;  Elizabeth’s  banishment from Massachusetts and her emergence in Greenwich, Connecticut with husbands (correct) , lovers and children joining in the journey!

Anya Seton’s story of Elizabeth is written in ” high-definition.”  From childhood, “Bess”  is of independent thought and passionate in her views. She was born on a collision course with the beliefs of her Puritan elders, especially John  Winthrop.  Long before boarding the ship Lyon for the journey to  the New World, this child of luxury and  high social status had established herself as the Fons’ and Winthrop family non-conformist.

Proudly leading his flock beneath the banner of religious freedom to the colonies in New England,  far away from the dictates of King Charles, Cromwell and the ruling British establishment, John Winthrop becomes a  zealot and religious tyrant, ruling over his domain, with a wrathful “God” as his enforcer.

Elizabeth’s ever complicated life, saturated with her passion for men and her non-conformist beliefs, provides the framework for an abundant tableau of what life and love was like in 1630s New England. The drudgery of daily survival, the absence of  luxuries, disease and Indians both friend and foe. Foremost, the woman’s role of being, above all, a necessary  “good breeder,” upon which the future of the faith and the colony itself depended!

Elizabeth, having fallen in love with John Winthrop’s son, her cousin Henry, became pregnant and was hastily married before leaving England!  Henry, a kindred free spirit was not traveling with Elizabeth on the ship Lyon but was under his father’s supervision on the Arabella. Elizabeth learned  upon her arrival in Massachusetts that Henry had drowned in a boating accident upon landing. There would be two more husbands and many children, living and still-born before her story concludes thirty years later.

During a brief period when Winthrop had been ousted as Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor, the community rose up against Elizabeth’s behavior with rumors and  speculation that she and her Indian servant Telaka  were possessed by the devil. The outcry became witchcraft! Banishment from the colony, the final solution in those days short of hanging, saw Elizabeth, her family and Telaka ( whom Elizabeth had rescued from a slave auction) on their way to Greenwich where under Dutch law there was greater respect for individual freedom and religious beliefs. This novel is so wonderfully written and researched  that of course, Telaka, had ended up in Boston only after being kidnapped from her tribe, the Siwanoy Indians who populated the area in and around Greenwich! A homecoming for Telaka and a new most welcoming home for Elizabeth, her husband and brood?  Not quite that simple!

In the Greenwich chapters you will walk with Elizabeth on the white beaches of  Monakewago ( Tods Point), follow the Mianus River, witness the massacre of over 1000 Siwanoy Indians ( Telaka’s family) in what is today Cos Cob. There will be yet another husband and more “breeding, ”  and another banishment with the loss of thousands of acres of land that today encompass the entire Town of Greenwich.

History is taught in many ways and Seton is deserving of  high praise both as a novelist and historian for Winthrop Women.  Seton wrote Winthrop Women while living in Old Greenwich, Connecticut where she died in 1990 at age 86. She is buried there in Putnam cemetery.

Other highly acclaimed novels by Anya Seton  include, Foxfire ( 1950),  Katherine (1954),  The Mistletoe and the Sword (1956).