That Chubby Rogue Eli
A Friends Meetinghouse
By Smallbones (talk) 14:15, 25 October 2009 (UTC). - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17408053
There are different ways to create a character. One technique I used with Maggie was to ask myself questions about what kind of person the minister’s landlady would be. I built her out of the situation in which we would find her, how I wanted her to respond to her environment, and what I knew of life and faith in 1860. Once I had a few basics established (widowed, mother, Methodist, keeps a journal, anti-slavery) other qualities and attitudes grew from them.
With Eli, I laid down a similar foundation. If Jeremiah Madison was the handsome, fit, charismatic male in the story, then Eli needed to be different. Also, as I mentioned in the previous post, Maggie is not the sort to fall for the cliché hero.
As a result, Eli is on the short side, portly, near-sighted, and usually rumpled - but (amazingly) clean-shaven. He is an affable guy but can be tenacious when after a story. For some reason, it seemed natural to make him a newspaperman. It gave him a crusading attitude regarding social justice, which fit well with Maggie’s anti-slavery views. But it also gave him the ability to be on the dodgy side when he needed to be. He can be a bit of a rogue but more on that later.
From the get-go, we know that he and Maggie are stumbling their way toward being an item. Yes, stumbling. Get a load of their first conversation in the first chapter of SAINT MAGGIE.
“Mm. Is that beef stew?”
“Mm, hm,” Emily replied.
“You, Mrs. Johnson, are a genius in the kitchen.”
She smiled. “Thank you. But this is Maggie’s doing. She made that stew.”
“Well, then, I really am looking forward to the meal.”
Maggie felt her cheeks flush.
Eli cleared his throat, and somewhat clumsily added, “You know, you look rather nice, too. In fact, you look most – becoming in green.”
Maggie could almost feel the knowing smile spreading across Emily’s face. Everyone seemed to know what was going on – she and Eli had been behaving as if they were moonstruck for too many months. And yet neither had addressed the issue with the other.
Maggie worked hard to sound casual. “By the way, thank you for offering to fetch the new minister at the station.”
“Oh, it is nothing. My pleasure.”
Lydia and Frankie watched the exchange with complete amusement while Maggie desperately wished she could turn a color other than pink.
Never fear. Eli does manage to declare himself – awkwardly – with the help of a big dose of jealousy when the Rev. Jeremiah Madison comes on the scene.
Eli’s passion for social justice told me that he should have a Quaker (Society of Friends) background. However, I needed balance because Maggie was a such faithful Methodist. Eli, therefore, became a freethinker, someone grounded in secular thought patterns who likes to make up his own mind about things. For readers who are “not into religion,” he serves as an antidote to Maggie’s religiosity. And we see this in the first chapter of SAINT MAGGIE, thanks to Frankie’s teenage boredom with stuffy old ministers.
“Mr. Smith!” Frankie cried. “Tell Mama that it’s not necessary to go to church.”
He laughed, brown eyes sparkling behind his wire-rim glasses. “No, thank you! Your mother and I have had plenty of spirited discussions about that already.”
Evidently, he and Maggie have learned to agree to disagree on that subject. Or have they? Throughout the series, Eli does find himself – usually against his will – on his own, Quaker-style journey with and toward the Great I Am.
After I had the basics, Eli’s backstory spilled out to me. He is one of six siblings. Here is a fun bit of trivia. In the first book, Eli has five sisters and a brother. But in Walk by Faith, he suddenly has five sisters. Where did his brother go? Apparently, the way of Richie Cunningham’s older brother in “Happy Days.” Big brother is an author artifact! In other words, I made a mistake. And that led me to keep a file called the “Saint Maggie Bible” with all the names of all the characters, their birthdates, and other pertinent information. Oh, the perils of writing a sequel and a series!
His eldest sister, Becky, is part of the anti-slavery movement, but she is also part of the first wave of feminism. When Eli gives Maggie the book by Margaret Fuller (Ossoli), Woman in the Nineteenth Century, he is encouraging his beloved to consider the question of “the rights of woman” (as they said back then). Maggie says, “I wasn’t aware there was a question about us,” and he replies:
“Oh, yes. It’s called the emancipation of woman. Becky’s been telling me all about it and sending me books and papers to read. Do you know, twenty years ago, she tried to address a group at an abolition meeting and got booed off the stage! They told her it wasn’t proper for a woman to speak to a group made up of both men and women. Women, yes. But men? Outrage and horror!”
“…that little set-to did something to Becky. It made her realize something. You see, when she tried to get involved in freeing slaves, she discovered that she wasn’t free, either. She says women may not be held captive by iron chains, but they’re certainly held captive by laws and customs.”
In good Quaker fashion, Eli and his sisters are involved in social movements of their time that focused on greater equality for all. And Eli was raised in a setting where women were free to stand up and speak in the Friends meetinghouse during their time of worship. There was no “hireling clergy” to set one person over the other and women were given the right to speak when the Spirit spoke to them.
Eli leads Maggie into the world of nineteenth-century women’s rights, which is fortunate since her youngest daughter Frankie seems to be interested in ministry. On many levels, Eli is a feminist, in that he wants his wife to pursue her interest. However, he also is a product of his time – he is happy to Maggie do the cooking and cleaning, although he is willing to engage in childcare.
Part of what shapes Eli is family and his life before he meets Maggie. These are far from perfect. More on that in the next blog.
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Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder