“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed,” Ray Bradbury writes in Fahrenheit 451. “As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over.” Regarding the friendship between Ray Bradbury and Russell Kirk—two writers whose best known works celebrate their sixtieth anniversary this year—it is probable that the “drop” that made the cup run over was a
“A charming, unexpected, and decidedly different view of the Revolutionary War.”
Book Description: The Midwife’s Revolt takes the reader on a journey to the founding days of America. It follows one woman’s path, Lizzie Boylston, from her grieving days of widowhood after Bunker Hill, to her deepening friendship with Abigail Adams and midwifery, and finally to her dangerous work as a spy for the Cause. A novel rich in historical detail, The Midwife’s Revolt opens a window onto the real lives of colonial women.
Jodi Daynard’s historical fiction The Midwife’s Revolt has eared a 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon and praise from libraries, historical associations and is even featured at The Museum of the American Revolution.
“This humorous, exciting and touching story retells the familiar saga of the Revolutionary War in a stunning new way that feels fresh and alive.”
There are a few specific qualities I look for in historical fiction. When I pick up a historical novel, I want to be transported to the past where I can learn more about the time period through an engaging story, but I also want to connect with the novel’s characters in a way that doesn’t require them to act ‘modern’ in order for them to be relatable. In The Midwife’s Revolt, Jodi Daynard accomplishes all these things. The reader experiences the changing seasons of rural farm life in 18th century Massachusetts in all its harshness and glory, while also witnessing the America Revolution through the eyes of a courageous heroine who ‘pushes the envelope’ when it comes to acceptable behavior for women of her generation, but still manages to feel authentic and true to her time.
The Midwife’s Revolt focuses on a fictional friendship between two remarkable women—one imaginary and one historical. Although the protagonist Elizabeth Boylston earned a place in my heart by the end of the book, I admit it was the promise of reading a story about Abigail Adams that initially captured my attention. I first became interested in the intelligent, principled, and determined Mrs. Adams after watching Laura Linney’s superb performance in the HBO miniseries John Adams (how I got through high school and college without learning about this founding lady, I’ll never understand). Daynard’s novel opens with these memorable words penned by Abigail in a letter to her husband dated March 31, 1776:
I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could.
“And do women not live politics, John Adams?”
This question, more than anything else, sums up the truth The Midwife’s Revolt reveals. Through the viewpoint of the widowed midwife and patriot Lizzie Boylston, we witness how the Revolutionary War and its politics impacted the women of New England who were left behind to till the fields, tend to the sick, and bring children into the world despite the absence of men and the sound of gunshots in the distance. Lizzie’s character does feel somewhat ‘modern’…until one reads historical accounts of women like Abigail Adams! Then Lizzie’s resourcefulness and strength are only as rare as they are in any age (hence the reason she’s a heroine), but entirely plausible. Perhaps this is because virtues such as courage, prudence, and loyalty never really go out of style—they are permanently admirable and people of the past valued them as much as we do today (if not more). And while the historical events of the Revolution are present throughout the narration, they eventually fade into the background. This story is really about relationships and largely relationships between women—the women Lizzie cares for as a midwife, as well as with the few trusted friends she must band together with in order to survive the bleak years of grief and uncertainty for the colonies. The novel is not only well-written and historically illuminating, it also includes an intriguing mystery and romance that keep the pages turning! Yet the aspect I enjoyed most was getting to know a cast of authentic characters who struggled with the betrayals, relational conflicts, and ethical dilemmas that always arise during times of war. I thoroughly enjoyed this story from start to finish and highly recommend it for a fascinating take on the American Revolution!
About the Author: Jodi Daynard is a writer of fiction, essays, and criticism. Her work has appeared in numerous periodicals, including The New York Times Book Review, The Village Voice, The Paris Review, Agni, New England Review and in several anthologies. She is the author of The Place Within: Portraits of the American Landscape by 20 Contemporary Writers (W. W. Norton). Ms. Daynard’s essays have been nominated for several prizes and mentioned in Best American Essays. She has taught writing at HarvardUniversity, M.I.T., and in the MFA program at EmersonCollege, and served for seven years as Fiction Editor at Boston Review. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle, The National Women’s Book Association, and the Author’s Guild. The Midwife’s Revolt is her first novel.
Prizes! And now for the best part, the prizes! Because who doesn’t love awesome book themed gifts? Jodi is offering A Kindle Fire to one reader as well as a Artemis Cameo Necklace, an American Flag Folk Art and a $25 Amazon Gift Card. All you have to do is leave a comment and enter the rafflecopter! Of course, there are plenty of other ways to enter to win just by helping spread the word about The Midwife’s Revolt.
The Tour: Follow along and read more reviews of The Midwife’s Revolt. You can see the full list of participating reviews HERE.
“We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed,” Ray Bradbury writes in Fahrenheit 451. “As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over.” Regarding the friendship between Ray Bradbury and Russell Kirk—two writers whose best known works celebrate their sixtieth anniversary this year—it is probable that the “drop” that made the cup run over was a word, a phrase, or a metaphor that bound together their similar spirits in a world often hostile to imagination. Although the two met several times in person, their long friendship was largely one of correspondence. In a letter to Ray Bradbury dated September 12, 1967, Russell Kirk declares:
You are difficult to write about, in the sense that though the rising generation understands you, those ‘whose hearts are dry as summer dust’ don’t; and they form the dominant serious literary public. They are at once the victims and the predators of what, in my books, I have called ‘defecated rationality.’ A conscience may speak to a conscience only if the auditor-conscience still is alive. But it is most heartening (cheerfulness will keep breaking in!) that the hungry imagination of the rising generation senses what you mean.
Here Kirk describes the writing life many novelists dream about—a life Ray Bradbury actually lived. Bradbury established a career as a popular author who spoke not only to academic elites, but to a rising generation starving for mystery and meaning. Furthermore, he did so without censoring his creativity or conceding to the criticism of “professionals.” Kirk’s “defecated rationality” refers to a narrow ethical understanding he thought the literary establishment of his day promoted, one in which all moral claims are reduced to individualistic self-interest. In contrast, writers of the moral imagination believe the transcendent powers of metaphor and myth are capable of transmitting truth that goes beyond private experience, so long as the reader’s conscience “is still alive.” This imaginative power is precisely what Ray Bradbury harnessed in works that were, at the same time, both nostalgic and visionary… (click below to continue)
Who knew Braveheart's William Wallace ("Every man dies, not every man really lives") read Victor Hugo's 19th century epic Les Miserables?!:) I'm working my way through this massive tome right now, after being inspired to tackle one of the longest novels ever written following the film release this December. So far the story is full of profound phrases like the one above—occasional one-sentence insights that highlight the human condition and life on this complex earth.
Apparently April is the Month of the Military Child (who knew?). The U.S. Department of Defense estimates that approximately 15 million Americans are former or current military brats, but interestingly this group isn’t often represented in Young Adult literature…which is something I’m trying to change.
So this month, hug a B.R.A.T.!
You know you’re a Military Brat when…
- People ask you that dreaded question, “So, where are you from?” and you stand there stuttering, never knowing exactly how to answer. This simple question almost always turns into a conversation!
- You hardly ever forget/lose your driver’s license, as you were “trained” to carry an ID on you at all times since age 10 (and that 10th birthday was a major milestone because it meant getting your first ID card!)
- You associate the National Anthem with going to the movies, since it was always played before the feature film at any theater on post/base. Everybody in the theater stood up and at the time that wasn’t at all weird.
- Going away to summer camp or college was no big deal, since you were used to being thrown into new groups of people and were usually able to adapt quickly.
- You lived in places many people associate with dream vacations (e.g. Hawaii, Europe, Asia).
- Every 3 years or so you get this “itch” to move to a new place or do something completely different.
- You felt strange the first time you went to a school or joined a group where almost everybody shared your race/religion, since for you, being part of a multi-cultural community was far more “normal.”
- Before you got into trouble as a teen, you at least reflected on how your actions might impact your soldier parent’s career.
- You go out of your way to make someone new feel welcomed (whether in school, the neighborhood, or the office), since you’ve been in that same situation many times.
- Some of your best friends are other military brats and no matter how many months or years you’re apart, the moment you see each other again you pick right up where you left off.
- You know the suffering that comes with saying goodbye to someone you love, and what it means to sacrifice for something greater than yourself.
- In many ways, you grew up fast and learned to carry responsibilities other American kids don’t usually deal with, especially if you ever had a parent deployed to a war zone. Despite these challenges, you have a resilient, independent, open-minded, and adventurous outlook on life!
Okay military brats…what else would you add?
“When I was your age, television was called books!”
I’m not even thirty years old yet, and already I find myself thinking things like, “When I was your age, Facebook was called a conversation!” on a regular basis. Even though the Lenten season of self-denial is ending for those who take part in it and did a far better job than I, on this Easter weekend I’ve decided to “give up” Facebook for a few days (though this blog post will still be published on it automatically, even if I don’t log-in to my account ). Invariably, every Easter someone I know and usually someone I care about posts a snide comment regarding the religious holiday and the deluded people who acknowledge it. What is most bothersome about these jibes is that they often come from individuals who pride themselves on being tolerant and open-minded, which always causes my head to spin a bit. I try to ignore my frustration and hurt at the injustice of such ignorance, but every now and then I too give into the Facebook temptation of “discussion-via-a-safe-distance” and sink to similar levels by responding with a sarcastic one-liner. And that is why I’m staying away from the “Like” button for a while. I’ll eventually be back because technology isn’t inherently evil and trying to keep up a blog doesn’t work too well without it, but I need a break so I can try “liking” three-dimensional people a little better.
These Facebook frustrations have also revealed why this generation is so desperately in need of good books.
Unlike a quick status update or a profile picture, a story told in several thousand lines is capable of expressing thoughtful ideas through enfleshed characters and the complexity of human relationships. Reading a book requires time to digest the story, since we must get to know the characters involved before passing judgment on whether or not the author has told the truth (Stephen King’s #1 rule for writing well). On the other hand, our “Facebook generation” seems to be developing this tendency to think in terms of slogans and simplistic “are you for or against it” phrases because we are often forming our opinions based on the bite-sized bits of information we see in our News feeds (I believe there’s an official term for this: propaganda). These small snacks are fine if they wet our appetites and lead us to pursue a more well-balanced meal, but most of the time they don’t. Conducting actual research on an issue or engaging in a meaningful discussion with another human being? Nah, who has time for that? Besides, where’s the fun for my ego if I can’t see how many friends agree with my sentiments through a no-strings-attached “thumbs up”?
This tendency has motivated me to reflect on a myth my fellow social media savants often seem susceptible to, given the bites of information constantly bombarding us. It’s also made me think about the ways stories can provide a more satisfying meal; one capable of fortifying us with the strength needed for any true pursuit of wisdom.
And that myth is: We are much more tolerant and enlightened than people of past eras.
As someone who studies history and writes historical fiction, this very popular perception really gets on my nerves (and reveals just how badly we’ve failed in educating citizens with any sense of historical consciousness). But I have to give Facebook credit for exposing this particular myth, since every day I log on I’m amazed by how intolerant we truly are. I’ve actually seen posts—in the name of toleration, mind you—that basically say: “If you are so bigoted that you cannot agree with me on this issue, then I never want to speak to you again.” Uhh….??? Maybe we’re not putting people to death for holding different opinions anymore, which is good, but we clearly don’t “tolerate” or accept every opinion as equally valid. Nor can we or should we. Being labeled “judgmental” is about the worst insult a person can receive these days, but to possess a human mind is to make judgments. When I determine that bacon is a preferable breakfast to oatmeal, I am making a judgment. When I choose what career to pursue, which presidential candidate I’m going to vote for, or when I decide that The Hunger Games kicks the crap out of Twilight…I am making judgments. Neutrality is not a luxury human beings get to experience. The question is not “should or shouldn’t we judge?” but rather “how do we judge fairly and well?” And also, how do we temper our judgment with its much-needed opposites—mercy and grace? Of course, judgments about the trivial matters mentioned above are a lot different from judging another person’s most deeply cherished beliefs, but what’s so troublesome is the bias and hypocrisy surrounding which opinions are open for discussion and which are not. If you don’t tolerate all perspectives as valid (and I doubt any of us really does), then at least come out and admit that all opinions are not created equal.
Another common expression of “toleration” actually turns out to be nothing more than apathy. You believe what you want to believe and I’ll believe what I want to believe, but don’t you dare challenge me on my opinions, or even worse, ask me to give them critical thought or back them up. What this attitude—another temptation of social media interactions because, let’s face it, actual dialogue on anything of substance just gets awkward on Facebook—creates is the sense that nothing really matters. And if that’s the message youth today are getting—that what they say, do, and are is of NO importance because their life philosophy is just as legitimate as the one propagated by some guy named Hitler…no better, no worse because it’s all valid—then it’s no wonder so many young people are depressed or even deranged. It’s just your opinion, man. No worries. Peace. One love.
That all works fine until we, God forbid, find ourselves in a situation where our creature comforts are suddenly stripped away and we get to discover what we truly believe…which may very well be nothing. There is a reason why zombies, dystopians, and post-apocalyptic stories are so popular at the moment. I often wonder if it’s because we know, deep down, that if our lives or even our personal space was ever in any real danger, all that talk of toleration and brotherly love would go right out the window for the most part. We all want to be the exception, of course—the person who holds on to their humanity in the face of evil—but that kind of crazy courage doesn’t just “happen” because our society tells us we should be nice to everyone. Virtue must be cultivated and the process is life long. Humans aren’t like the latest Iphone. We don’t experience a collective “upgrade” every few years just because our physical lives keep getting easier. Technology may keep on progressing, but the human soul does not do so automatically. One thing I love about good stories is they are proof there’s this creature called a human being and he/she has a nature, meaning he/she will act in similar ways no matter if you throw him in an ancient Roman coliseum or stick her on Mars in the year 2500. Yet the fallenness of this nature can also be redeemed. In every generation there will be people who give in to their most base impulses and act on little more than animal survival instincts, and in every age there will be a few saints who grace us with examples of the goodness and transformative love humans are capable of. Most of us fall will somewhere in between.
But let’s just imagine if we applied an extreme relativism to the stories we enjoy. Oh wait, there would be no story! Without characters who have strong convictions and without situations where those convictions come into conflict with differing views, we writers would have nothing to write about! Humans seem to instinctively know which traits make for a strong hero and what types of behavior reveal to us the story’s villain. It’s the stories that highlight this distinction—the ones that show us the kinds of people we want to be, as well as the kinds we don’t—that stick around and continue speaking to generations beyond just the one they were written for.
Toleration, therefore, doesn’t require us to abandon strong beliefs or accept all viewpoints as equally valid. Toleration is being able to engage in a conversation with someone on a matter of disagreement without crucifying, imprisoning, or perhaps in our day, “de-friending” them.
True tolerance is much rarer than we think.
Words of wisdom! This is a great video for days when you feel like your writing sucks or you start to believe your efforts will never turn out as you had hoped.
It also reminds me of why I write in the first place; of why IMAGINATION matters:
“Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places. Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise. And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.” (J.K. Rowling)
The late American philosophical historian Russell Kirk often wrote of the moral imagination–”that power of ethical perception which strides beyond the barriers of private experience and momentary events.” The moral imagination is why fairy tales, fantasy and stories are just as important to human existence as the latest technological gadget or scientific discovery that may make life easier, but also remain morally neutral and can be used to either liberate or enslave. Stories of the moral imagination matter because they teach us how to empathize with others, allowing us to live 1,000 different lives from 1,000 different perspectives. I won’t go so far as to say that reading stories from an early age automatically makes one a better person, but as J.K. Rowling suggests, those who never develop an interest in stepping outside their own small world and into the stories of others often seem unwilling to SEE and thus empathize with those who suffer, denying the possibility of compassion (which literally means “to suffer with”). That is why I have to agree with one of my literary heroes, Anne Shirley, who viewed a lack of imagination as a detrimental character trait. If we can’t even imagine ourselves into another’s plight, why would we ever bother doing anything about it?