Picking up where I left off on Monday, today’s blog is a discussion on the Civil War as a character in the Saint Maggie series. Today I am looking at the short stories and novellas.
“The Dundee Cake” actually takes place pre-Civil War. In it we learn that Maggie supports the cause of abolition, particularly after reading Harriet Beecher Stowe’s serialized novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin in a weekly anti-slavery newspaper called The National Era. As a historical note, The National Era was a real newspaper that published Harriet Beecher Stowe’s story. It is also true that her novel had an impact on anti-slavery people.
We learn that after reading the story, Maggie “had become passionately abolitionist” (“The Dundee Cake,” p. 8). Although the war is nine years in the future, the tensions leading to it had been present for decades. The infant character that would become the War is being nurtured by the hostilities and resentments of this era.
During the story, Maggie’s own journey into a complicated thing called “race relations” also starts in earnest. She hires Emily Johnson, a woman of color, to help her with the Second Street Boarding House. Widowed and struggling to run the house all on her own, Maggie is hungry for the friendship and support of another woman. Emily is skittish of revealing too much to a white woman and resists Maggie’s initial attempts to bond with her. But soon both women learn they have something in common: the loss of at least one child through miscarriage or death. Their friendship is further cemented when, after a fire devastates the Johnsons’ home, Maggie invites the homeless couple to live in her boarding house and works to help them start over.
By the time we get to The Enlistment, the Civil War has emerged and is on its path of destruction – a path that threatens one of Maggie’s family. Sixteen-year-old Frankie Blaine, her youngest daughter, is shaken when beau Patrick McCoy decides to enlist with the New Jersey 15th Volunteers. Frankie is at an age when she is starting to come into her own. She hates the war and challenges Patrick about why he wants to enlist His reply is, “we have to win this war. I have a duty, you know.” And she snaps back, “A duty? To do what? Die?” (The Enlistment, p. 4.) Frankie not only is afraid for her boyfriend, but afraid of what his injury or death would mean for her.
In addition, Frankie is frustrated that men are able to fight, not just as a duty, but also as an adventure – an adventure that is denied to women. “Frankie never could understand why boys and men were afforded a wide range of opportunities while those available to women and girls were greatly limited” (The Enlistment, p. 5). And so off she goes, disguised as a boy to be with the young man she loves and join him in a dangerous adventure/undertaking. However, things don’t turn out quite as she plans.
The short story, “The Christmas Eve Visitor,” brings us to December 1863. Part of Maggie’s family has experienced the Battle of Gettysburg, the other part is with the army or, in the case of Eli and Carson, serving as war correspondents. The War’s mid-point has left the family heart-broken for a number of reasons, including the death of one of its members. They are worn out and don’t have the stomach for any more heartache. However, their three young children have come down with fevers, which carries the potential of more pain. In the 1860s there was no such thing as antibiotics. A fever or cough could lead to death. The family has been beaten down by the circumstances of life and by the War. But then a strange little peddler shows up during a Christmas Eve snowstorm, bringing with him a host of odd gifts and a ray of hope. The power of the War and illness is beaten back by hope and love.
Finally, there is The Great Central Fair, a novella that takes place in June of 1864. Maggie and her family are safe now from the direct impact of the war. Even Lydia’s friend Capt. Philip Frost and Frankie’s beloved Patrick will be serving at Mower General U.S. Hospital in Philadelphia.
Although technically a romance, the story revolves around The Philadelphia Sanitary Fair of 1864, a fundraiser for the Sanitary Commission. Held throughout the Union to provide comfort and other aid to soldiers, such fairs raised an astonishing amount of money. They were a way people on the Home Front could work together to fight and end the War. By 1864, the War was like a nasty guest who had long outstayed its welcome.
The cataclysm of the Civil War dominated life for Americans in the 1860s. Its effects were horrific for those living in the South than in the North and had repercussions well into the 1870s and beyond. It also was more nuanced than most people today may think. That, however, will be a theme my friend and fellow author Stephanie Moore Hopkins and I hope to address in a collaborative piece of fiction.
In the meantime, the War will continue to be an unavoidable character in the Saint Maggie and related stories until the series comes to its conclusion.
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Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder