Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Babes in History and Fiction: Part 3

I love reading about the lives women led in the past. Partly because it makes me glad I live now and partly to be proud of what my lady ancestors have accomplished. And, let's face it, fiction is way cooler than non-fiction for learning about the past. This series is to clue you in one some of my recent(ish) favorites.

Part 3: The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton, Jane Smiley
Set in our very own Lawrence, Kansas (or K.T. as Lidie calls it), this book is chock full of local politics as the Free Staters face off against Missouri slave owners. Like a grown-up Laura Ingalls Wilder novel, The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton mixes ordinary life-on-the-prairie hardship with the terror of living in a political powderkeg.

Lidie is an irreligious tomboy whom her sisters despair of marrying off. Luckily, an Easterner - Mr. Newton - comes along to sweep her down the river and over to K.T. Her descriptions of St. Louis and Kansas City are hilarious to me, especially since KC is described as little more than a dirt path with shacks and ruffians. Oh, those ruffians.

Lidie's new husband is an abolitionist which gets them into all kinds of trouble with the Missourians, along with the other transplanted Easterners funded by Newton's company. They have to chase off some Missourians encroaching on a friend's claim and defend Lawrence against a Missouri invasion after blood has been split. All this trouble and all Lidie wants is to figure out the cypher that is her husband of three months.

I've found this book to be more of a slow read for me than most fiction. I have only been able to read a chapter at a time because even though it's full of drama, Lidie is a very level-headed character and her narrative can be a little dry. Local history buffs will love it.

Read Part 1
Read Part 2

Historical image from American Memory.

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