My heart beats a little quicker for this extremely fun and informative gem, The Look of the Old West
Lieutenant John Weldon in The House on Tenafly Road took his family to a western military outpost after the Civil War and this book helped make that possible. Scholarly research is a great thing but Foster Harris (whose writing style is so familiar you feel like you know him personally) brings the post-Civil War period alive with its mix of old and new, Confederate and Yankee, weapons and women.
I love the idea that this book was written in 1955 and that Foster-Harris interviewed Civil War veterans and old cowboys. I imagine the wistful look the old men got in their eyes after such a fast paced and changing bunch of years.
I loved this book so much I made William Weldon in my upcoming novel travel back west as a young man to do what young men did in the Wild West. Stay tuned.
Hey, would you like a old western shirt? Check this out: http://vintrowear.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/get-your-old-west-on-real-cowboys-and-the-shirts-they-wore/
When you write about post-Civil War America it’s impossible not to bump up against war wounds. John Weldon in The House on Tenafly Road is addicted to morphine, given his first dose in a Civil War hospital by well-meaning doctors trying to keep him comfortable before his eventual death–which never happens. He escapes in his best friend’s new boots with a stash of morphine, laudanum and some new British-made syringes.
Only one man, Doctor Graham Crenshaw with some hidden mental war wounds of his own (his family blames him for the deaths of his brothers) recognizes Weldon’s problems, but he’s a quiet man. I thought after so much medical research he’d eventually get a good medical novel of his own but it’s in his character to work quietly in the background, allowing others to form their misconceptions about him and the bloody work he did during the war as a brilliant young surgeon.
With a name like Graham Crenshaw he deserved fame but instead served a higher purpose–he had piles of children with his wife, one of them being Buck Crenshaw. I think I’ll still get more medical one day (most of the Civil War medicine was cut from the first two novels) and I look forward to it because blood and guts and misplaced emotions are what I’m about as a writer.
By the way, Civil War Medicine by Alfred Jay Bollet, MD is fantastic even if you don’t like blood and guts.
I’m traveling over to England today to talk about one of my favorite subjects–women– on Helen Hollick’s blog Let us Talk of Many Things; of Books and Queens and Pirates, of History and Kings . . .
Helen has written a ton of historical fiction and pirate-based adventure fantasy novels. She’s been traditionally and independently published. Her blog has a lot of great information about publishing, queens, pirates, history and kings! Come over the pond for a visit!
Americans have no taste, but I’ll change that!
“When he looked at the houses in which his subscribers lived, their drab hideousness made him sick. When he went inside and contemplated the lambrequins, the gilded cattails, the Rogers groups, the wax fruit under glass domes, the emblazoned seashells from Asbury Park, the family Bible on the marble-topped center-table, the crayon enlargements of Uncle Richard and Aunt Sue, the square pianos, the Brussels carpets, the grained woodwork—when his eyes alighted upon such things, his soul revolted, and at once his moral enthusiasm incited him to attempt a reform. The result was a long series of Ladies’ Home Journal crusades against the hideousness of the national scene – in domestic architecture, in house furnishing, in dress, in town buildings, in advertising. Bok flung himself headlong into his campaigns, and practically every one of them succeeded. … If there were gratitude in the land, there would be a monument to him in every town in the Republic. He has been, aesthetically, probably the most useful citizen that ever breathed its muggy air.” H.L. Mencken said of Ladies’ Home Journal editor Edward Bok. Wikipedia
Sure he was contemptuous of American style, housing and in the end, most women, but he had a heart. The kind of heart that believes that with one more philanthropic endeavor and a little tweaking of the common man’s tendency towards mediocrity, the world will be a better place. If only grand gardens and church bells brought moral uplift! If only Americans read better books! If only a few finely written human words could bring world peace! But it was not to be. The 20th century, even with the bungalow, was a disaster.
Edward Bok may not have saved America from itself–though he did convince people that the bungalow design in housing originally from India was the height of solid taste and he did leave us with what looks to be a heavenly spot in Florida! Check it out.