Creative Commons CC0. What's whiskey got to do with the first chapter in my new novel? Read on.
I’m a little late with this! My grandson graduated from eight grade yesterday. He’s movin’ on up to high school next year. So we all had a bit of a late night. This morning, I went to work at he church. Then I returned home and waited for a window installer/contractor to arrive to check the parsonage’s leaking front window. Since we’ve had a very soggy spring, this situation needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, after the contractor’s visit, I fear the repairs are going to be rather involved, and this will make the Trustees unhappy.
I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening coughing up a lung. Not sure if my cold is coming back or whether my allergies were aggravated when I trimmed the heck out of a bush in the front of the house. But the coughing was annoying I dosed myself up with various remedies. Fortunately, things have been brought back under control.
I know. The life of an assistant pastor/Christian education director/director of communications, reluctant gardener, and struggling author is scintillating, isn’t it? Ha! Not the case today, anyway.
So, here’s my Writing Wednesday goodie. It's a link to a PDF of the first chapter from A Good Community. The piece probably needs a bit more polishing. I’m still getting critiques back from my first two beta readers and we’re slowly getting there.
A word of explanation about what happens when I start a new novel: the characters often spend the first chapter doing mundane stuff and getting reacquainted with one another other (and I with them). That’s what they’re doing at the start of this novel. Only the very first scene and Eli’s pitch to Tryphena Moore are tied in some way to the main plot.
Now, I invite you to sit back, step back into 1864, and be the guests of Maggie, Eli, and the entire household of Greybeal House.
Chapter 1: Eli's Big Idea
I hope you enjoy Chapter 1. If you want to start the series from the beginning, check out the original novel, Saint Maggie. You can find it in the Squeaking Pips Store with links to the book on Amazon, Kindle, and other locations. But if you buy it directly from Squeaking Pips, I’ll even sign it for you and write something nice inside the book!
See you on Friday – provided I can catch the time to conduct an interview with Maggie and Eli. Not sure which year to which I’m going to time-travel, but it should be a fun chat with the couple whenever I turn up.
Illustration by Jessie Wilcox Smith. From Louisa May Alcott's Little Women (New York: Children's Classics, a div. of dilithium Press Ltd., 1987). Note: I am not writing about the girls from Alcott's book, I had seen plenty of images in nineteenth-century evangelical publications while researching my paper, but never photocopied them. So, Jessie Wilcox Smith's beautiful illustration will have to do. Actually, Wilcox Smith, who lived in the later nineteenth-early twentieth centuries would be an interesting subject for a forthcoming blog. But today, I'm going to finish up writing about reading materials for evangelical Christians.
Maggie Beatty Blaine Smith was a child way before the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the revolution in the kid lit. Along with the novels that Maggie the child managed to read on the sneak, she would have been exposed to materials written by evangelical Christians. In my research, I discovered that children’s magazines written specifically for that market defined the qualities of good little Christians. There are four clear models, and each leads to the next in a sort of progression. The first one, of course, is…
The operating premise behind this model is that children not only are capable of having but are expected to have a conversion experience. For evangelicals, conversion important because the death rate was high. Health was a gift and life was not to be taken for granted, so having a relationship with Jesus was the big essential. "Dear children,” the Missionary Repository told its readers, “you do not know how long you may have to live. May you be led to give yourselves up to the service of your Savior without delay.”
With such immediacy placed upon surrendering oneself to Christ - lest one meet an untimely death - it is no surprise that extremely young children would undergo complete conversion experiences. After all, one wanted to be assured a place in Heaven. The stories found in early-to-mid-nineteenth century Methodist magazines and books offer story after story of children aged nine and under who, fearing that their sins were unforgivable, turned to Jesus Christ and asked for forgiveness. Upon being assured that their sins had been wiped clean, they were then free to start a new life.
Their new life would include the development of...
While it was possible to possess good character without conversion, most of the magazines I read stressed that faith would lead to good works. God could and would help children develop and maintain the many desirable traits making up “good character.” And those traits were manifold: obedience, helpfulness, honesty, loyalty, charity, cheerfulness, industriousness, diligence at whatever they pursued, humility, modesty, dutifulness, good behavior, good manners, patience, submission to authority, tidiness, cleanliness, and prayerfulness.
Let the people say, “Yikes!” That is a boatload of traits. Only God could help a child shoulder the burden.
One of the most important aspects of good character, aside from obedience to God and parents, was charity. The charitable child would want to give both heart and goods in the service of spreading the Gospel at home and abroad.
But “good character” was not unique to evangelical Christians or even Christians in general. Throughout the nineteenth century, all people seem to have been judged by their character – or what appeared to be their character. So, along with a conversion experience and the development of good character, evangelical children needed to be a…
Good Little Missionary
The missionary movement was thriving in the nineteenth century, Christianity is a proselytizing religion, after all. As a result of the revival movements of the late 1700s and early 1800s, missionaries fanned out throughout the world to convert the “heathen” (non-believers). Whether the endeavor was successful, detrimental, an act of ignorance and hubris, or an aspect of colonialism is fodder for future blogs... or a full-length book. Just know that being a Good Little Missionary was expected of evangelical children.
Good Little Missionaries were supposed to give financially to their church’s missionary activities. They were taught to be thoughtful about how they used their money, a lesson that frequently was taught as poetry so it could be memorized.
If you wish to be told the best use of a penny,
I will tell you a way that is better than any,
Not on apples, or cakes, or on playthings to spend it,
But over the seas to poor heathen to send it.[i]
Writers told children that their pennies would change the lives of the “poor heathen” by contributing to missionaries who preached the Good News and brought with them the benefits of “civilization” (Western culture). Children learned that the duty of white, Western Protestants was to see that people living overseas would become “happy in God" and “civilized.” Thus, every penny was important.
Despise not then THE PENCE,
They help to make the pound.
And each may help to SPREAD ABROAD
THE GOSPEL’S JOYFUL SOUND![ii]
Later in the century, the missionary impulse also included the poor one's own country - perhaps even included the “heathen” living in one's own home! Young readers were told that converted children and young adults could have a powerful impact on their families.
One example of this is the story of poor little Nelly Steele, who one day loaned her mill dress to her mother, who had neglected to attend chapel because she did not own a nice dress. Nelly’s benevolence had a reach that went far beyond one Sunday morning. Her mother and then her entire family began attending church on a regular basis. Best of all, her father took the pledge to abstain from alcohol.[iii] Stories like Nelly's were meant to encourage readers to help friends and family members become Christian converts.
A child’s conversion, development of good character, and missionary activities would then lead to on final thing…
A Happy Death
As crazy as it may seem, this was a very real goal. If one had faith, then one did not need to fear the death and what lay beyond life. The idea was supported in children’s evangelical literature by numerous deathbed scenes involving children and young adults. In the example below, a young female teacher is on the verge of death. (Note the scary talk about being put in a coffin, buried in the “cold” ground, and facing hell.)
…though she knew that it was a fearful thing to die and to be put into a coffin, and be buried in the cold ground, yet she was not afraid to think of it. It is sin that makes people afraid to die, for they dare not face that God whom they have provoke by their wickedness; and they dread the thought of that place of torment where sinners are sent when they die. But this young Teacher had been made happy in her Saviour’s love, and she knew that he had pardoned all her sins, and had promised to come for her, and take her to heaven. The day before she died, her countenance grew very bright, and she cried, “Look! Look! Beautiful, beautiful saints and angels! Saints and angels! But if so delightful now, what will it be to-morrow?”[iv]
Young readers were taught that they could continue their missionary work right up to the moment of their death. One final act of charity and missionary work could be accomplished through their last words and final bequests.
A story in At Home and Abroad tells of young Mary, who “clapped her hands, and looking upwards, exclaimed ‘Thank God for that,’” when informed that her suffering would soon end in death. Then she gave her parents a dying blessing and “told her mother where to find her Missionary money." Finally, she said that she hoped her parents “would still continue to give a tenth to the Missions.”[v]
A Happy Death was achieved when 1) one had been converted and assured of going to heaven, 2) one willed one’s money to missions, and 3) one's last words and bequeaths inspired the people surrounding the deathbed.
In my paper's conclusion, I raised the following question: Did the magazines and other literature aimed at little Christians have any tangible influence on them?
I decided that, if there is an answer at all, it mostly likely would be found in the journals and diaries written by evangelicals, as well as in recorded materials about the attitudes and activities of public figures who also were evangelicals.
As for my character Maggie, she was indeed shaped by her childhood. As an adult she has a strong faith and strives to change people’s hearts, thereby, changing their behavior for the good. And, although she is concerned about Eli's apparent agnosticism, she clearly feels that he will find his way to faith. Maggie also is charitable to a fault (wait until you see how many people she packs into Greybeal House in the upcoming novel). As for a happy death… well, I suspect she is not afraid. Her own near-death experience speaks to that.
See you on Writing Wednesday, when I'll interview one of my characters. In the meantime, be kind and love others.
 Missionary Repository, June 1842, 90.
[i] Missionary Repository, June 1842, 91.
[ii]Sorry! I couldn’t find the reference for this poem! Plus, I only cited its conclusion.
[iii] At Home and Abroad, April 1885, 61-62.
[iv] Early Days, January 1847, 15-16.
[v] At Home and Abroad, December 1885, 228.
Image: John Tenniel's illustration of Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865).
Fairy tales had been in existence for a long time before the nineteenth century. They often were used to teach moral values. But in 1865, a new model emerged, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. What made Alice so different? It was “written without any trace of a moral, because it was designed purely and simply to amuse the child.”
Amuse the child? What a concept! Who would have thought?
Welcome to what is known as The Golden Age of Children’s Literature, an explosion of nonsense and fantasy literature, boy’s fiction, school stories, realistic stories for older children, and domestic tales for girls. Yay! Children and their abundant imaginative abilities finally were being celebrated, rather than repressed. Unless, of course, you were an evangelical child. In that case, the adults around you resisted material like Alice because they believed that novels and fairy tales would have a negative effect upon your childish mind and emotions. You would be told that reading such things was an idle, useless past-time, and the work of the devil. The revolution of children's fiction and fantasy - things written purely for the for the joy and amusement found in the story - was resisted by evangelical authors and parents probably until the 1880s.
That is the sort of attitude my character Maggie encountered as a child. Being a stubborn little thing, she dealt with it by rebelling and reading fiction whenever she could. And I don’t believe Maggie was alone in this endeavor. There probably were more than a few real-life children who staged little rebellions of their own. I believe that, even when forced to read approved materials, it still was possible for a nineteenth-century child to subvert the system and enjoy flights of imagination.
It also is possible that publishers and authors knew this. Earlier in the century evangelical authors and publishing houses tried to bridge the growing cultural gap between themselves and “pleasure reading” by creating “safe” reading materials for children. Novels obviously were out, but magazines and tracts were acceptable. And in my research, I discovered that these types of materials used excitement as a hook for child readers.
It surprised me when I learned that evangelical magazines were loaded with “true stories” having titles that bore an uncanny resemblance to the headlines one can find in today’s supermarket tabloids. For instance, the 1848 Wesleyan Juvenile Offering. carried items with attention-getting, hair-raising, and biased titles like “Horrid Murder in Ceylon,” “The Missionary’s Baby and the Cruel Feejeean Nurse,” and “Naked School Children in South Africa.”
Today these titles might give us a laugh or a face palm or maybe both, but they were intended to emphasize what some people thought was a desperate and immediate worldwide need for the so-called “civilizing” effects of the Gospel. At the same time, such stories most likely gave their young readers a thrill and engaged their imaginations.
The expansion of the British Empire brought tales of different customs to English (and American) readers. Yet while Wesleyan magazines may have offered edifying and inspiring stories about the life and work of missionaries, those same stories also contained abundant adventure. Missionaries went to far off lands, saw exciting people and things, and lived on the edge of danger. And – something that might have engaged a tomboy like little Maggie – the tales featured both the men and the women who served in mission.
Evangelical children's magazines told of trials and tribulations caused by illness, natural disaster, or hostility from native people. Such stories obviously were colonial in nature, intending to emphasize both the great sacrifices made by the missionaries who spread the Gospel and the superiority of British culture and values. However, they also might have provided a child reader with excitement and novelty, evidenced by this example from the Wesleyan Juvenile Offering of April 1847 (pg. 122).
We have already told you something about Mr. Cross. In a former Number of the Juvenile Offering, there was an account of his being shipwrecked, when on a voyage from Nukualofa to Vavua, at which time his poor wife was drowned. He continued laboring amongst the Tonguese and Feejeeans; and it would make your heart ache to read of the hardships he had to bear, and the great trials he passed through. Sometimes he was almost starved because his stock of flour was gone, and the natives had no food to give him. He was often obliged to lodge in hovels, and places where he was exposed to wet and cold; and worse than all, he was surrounded by savages who delighted in the most shocking cruelties, and who were daily committing crimes to [sic] horrible even to repeat.
Imagine this: you are a child sitting in the nursery under the strict eye of your governess or perhaps living away from home in a boarding school with constrictive rules. You might find subversive and vicarious enjoyment reading about tales of strange places, people whose customs are wildly different from yours, and the adults who ventured out into a big, dangerous world to preach the Gospel.
While evangelical publications had much in common with more secular materials, the one thing they did not offer was fiction and fantasy, even though this was coming into vogue, thanks to novels like Alice. To make up for this lack, many evangelical children’s magazines adopted a storytelling style that grew more polished and less restrained as the century moved on.
Despite this, outright fiction does not appear in evangelical materials until the 1880s. Our Maggie would be a lady in her 60s by that time. Even though she rebelled by reading fiction on the sly, she also was exposed to ideas present within evangelical reading materials.
On Monday, we’ll take a look at what ideas she could have absorbed from her reading materials.
 Elvira S. Smith, The History of Children’s Literature (Chicago: American Library Association, 1980), 164.
 Smith, 164-165.
 Wesleyan Juvenile Offering, vols IV-VII (1847-1850), 109, 141, 143.
Title Page Showing Children Reading Story. , 1845. Photograph.
I like writing about writing on Wednesdays. But Monday and Tuesday found me wound up in the nutsy-boltsy aspect of writing, as two of my books – one of which has been out since 2013, were flagged as having an issue with their covers. So while I’m wrestling with all that, here is a lightly brushed up repeat from early May of 2018 about reading materials for children in the 1800s.
So, here we go...
Maggie’s childhood interest in novels would have been considered rebellious, or at least mildly naughty by her governess. These days, when children read novels like Harry Potter, we wonder what the big to-do was in the nineteenth century.
Let’s start with Maggie’s background: upper-class. Think propriety and manners and behavior. Furthermore, her family was Methodist, which meant they were evangelical Christians. A religious revival and renewal swept through the United States in the 1700s and early 1800s Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, John Wesley, as well as preachers at early nineteenth-century camp meetings sought to call people to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Simply put, “evangelicalism” in that context became synonymous with “revivalism, or a fervent expression of Christianity marked by an emphasis on converting outsiders.”
Evangelicalism, as Maggie would have known it, was about “giving one’s heart to Jesus” followed by working to change hearts and the world. But changing hearts and the world was not comprised solely of making converts to increase the numbers of believers. It also became identified with the efforts of people to make the world a better place as a means of spreading God’s love. In short, you are loved and saved, now go love and save others.
It wasn’t only Christians who were out to make the world a better place. As I have mentioned in an earlier post, Evangelical Christians, other Christians, free-thinkers, people who adhered to other theological and philosophical beliefs, and non-believers worked together in reform movements. Abolition, women’s rights, education, and the labor movement immediately come to mind. And let’s not forget the infamous temperance movement.
The type of materials upper- and middle-class children in England and the United States would have been reading in the early- to mid-1800s were stories, books, and other publications that stressed the importance of a peaceful conscience and submission to authority. They were designed to teach children to be careful, temperate, aware of their position in society, and diligent. With this information came a subtext of intolerance toward religions, societies, and beliefs that deviated from Protestant norms.
In addition, children of evangelical Victorians would read tracts describing the plights of the poor. These reinforced the stereotype that such people were particularly subject to the dangers of drinking, gambling, and bad company. However, in reading about others, well-to-do children also were taught the value of temperance, thrift, and proper social connections.
One final and very important thing shows up in children’s reading materials is the closeness of serious illness and death. It was, after all an era when a cold could turn into pneumonia and pneumonia could lead to death. It was a time when treatment of disease, injury, and physical conditions was limited. If you didn’t know when death or disability was coming, then you had to live a virtuous life, so you could die a “good” death.
Generally, the above subjects in reading materials was true for all segments of the children’s reading public in the first part of the century. And then something happened.
What that something was will be revealed on Friday!
 Jonathan Merritt, “Defining ‘Evangelicalism,” The Atlantic, 7 December 2015.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder