INEZ: A Tale of the Alamo

Sometimes it’s hard to know how tfullsizerendero rate a book. For example, I’m not a great fan of the plot or the outcome of “Inez: A Tale of the Alamo,” written in 1855 by Augusta Jane Evans, but I was mesmerized by the author’s style of writing, especially considering her age. This was Evans first novel, and she was only 15 years old when she wrote it.  She was living in San Antonio, Texas, when she began penning the book.  She wrote during the wee hours of the night, keeping her project secretive, then presented the manuscript to her father when she finished.

INEZ was just the beginning of her life-long literary career.  The experience of writing INEZ prepared Evans for writing greater and greater novels. She was a literary genius who wrote eight hand-written novels and dictated a ninth in her latter years when her eyesight was failing.

MACARIA, her second novel, showcased her writing skills and her ability to create page-turners. Her third, ST. ELMO, is the jewel in the crown.

My late aunt was named “Inez” after the title of the book. Her mother, my paternal grandmother, was a mega fan of Augusta J. Evans’ books.  Inez was happy that her mother named her Inez, instead of “Vashti,” the name of Evans fourth book.

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Named after the book INEZ, my aunt Inez Wright, born in 1905, dressed for her part in a play called “The Awakening” about women’s suffrage.

 

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Coming Soon on Public TV: THE PASSION OF MISS AUGUSTA

THE PASSION OF MISS AUGUSTA airs on Alabama Public Television Sunday, October 2, at 6 p.m. EST.  The drama/documentary, produced by filmmaker Robert Clem, highlights the life of Augusta Evans Wilson and her best-selling novel, ST. ELMO.  The uniqueness of THE PASSION OF MISS AUGUSTA is that it is structured around two settings: the mid-nineteenth century and the mid-twentieth century.  The film is a visual smorgasburg of nostalgic landscapes and  imagery.  The story shifts from the 1860s to the 1950s, from black and white to technicolor, from sub-titles to sound.  The theme highlights the changing roles of women and the language of romance during those eras.

If you have the opportunity to see THE PASSION OF MISS AUGUSTA, don’t miss it.  The trailer is a treat in itself.

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Augusta Evans Wilson

THE PASSION OF MISS AUGUSTA goes beyond fiction drawing parelells between Augusta Evans Wilson and the novel’s heroine, “Edna Earl.”

Note: The ST. ELMO novel was made into a silent film in 1923 starring  John Gilbert , my favorite actor.saintelmobookcover-1

 

ST. ELMO: Book Review

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ST. ELMO, by Augusta Jane Evans, was written in 1866. ST. ELMO was the third bestselling novel (after BEN HUR and UNCLE TOM’S CABIN) in the 19th century, equivalent in popularity to the 20th century novel GONE WITH THE WIND. In fact, according to Margaret Mitchell’s biography, Rhett Butler was modeled after St. Elmo Murray. The book inspired plays and was adapted to film in 1923. The ST. ELMO silent film, starring John Gilbert and Bessie Love, is sadly a lost film.

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John Gilbert in ST. ELMO (Fox, 1923)

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The story begins at the foot of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Today that part of Chattanooga is named after the book.) “Edna Earl” is an orphan of humble means living with her grandfather. Early one morning, Edna stumbles upon a duel in which a man is killed near her home. Having witnessed the duel from beginning to end, she is permanently traumatized by the incident. The victim’s body is laid out in her house. When the victim’s wife comes to see the body, she dies from the shock.

Edna Earl is horrified by the damage that the senseless duel has caused. Meanwhile, Edna adores her grandfather, who is a blacksmith. One day on the way to her grandfather’s shop, she encounters a gruff, arrogant man who is in need of a blacksmith to replace a horse shoe. Edna directs him to her granphotoMA31468942-0002dfather’s shop. The man is impatient, swearing as he waits for her grandfather to finish the job. As the man rides away, Edna’s grandfather says to her: “He is a rude, blasphemous man.” Edna notices that “the rude blasphemous man” drops a book as he rides away in haste. The book is a leather-bound copy of DANTE with the initials SEM inside the flap. Edna learns to treasure the book for its text and illustrations.

When her grandfather dies unexpectedly, Edna tries to make it on her own. Just 13-years-old, she boards a train bound for Georgia. The train wrecks. Many die but Edna survives and is rescued by one of the locals, “Ellen Murray,” a wealthy widow. Edna begins to recover under the widow’s care. The two bond and Mrs. Murray decides to raise the orphan, as if she were her own child. Then, something happens that shatters Edna’s contentment. Mrs. Murray’s son arrives home.

Edna hears his harsh voice in the next room and realizes that he is “the rude blasphemous man” who disrespected her beloved grandfather. She returns his copy of DANTE at the first opportunity, realizing that the initials SEM stand for “St. Elmo Murray.”

Throughout the rest of the novel, Edna Earl is torn between loathing and loving St. Elmo. He’s the Byronic type that women love to loath and loath to love. “He’s like a rattlesnake that crawls in his own track, and bites everything that meddles or crosses his trail.”  But in time, Edna is “disquieted and pained to discover” in “his bronzed face . . . an attraction–an indescribable fascination–which she had found nowhere else.”

The conflict in their relationship stems from the issue of dueling, a common practice in Augusta Evans day. But the sub-theme–feminism vs. anti-feminism–is the theme that catches the modern reader’s attention. When I say “feminism,” I don’t feminism as we define it today. The book was written long before women had the right to vote. So while “Edna Earl” disapproves of women in politics, she believes that men and women are intellectual equals and applauds women with literary careers.

The book is filled with explosive, romantic tension that just won’t quit. The characters are not particularly realistic; instead, they are larger than life, and that’s what makes the book fun to read.  However, ST. ELMO is not easy to read. You will find allusions to mythology mind-boggling at times, but if you like character-driven novels, you won’t be able to put it down. You have to read it more than once to truly appreciate this book. Parts of the book are hilarious, but you might miss the humor the first time around. Much of it is tongue in cheek.

ST. ELMO is enjoying a resurgence of popularity today. Deadra Lore of St. Augustine, Florida, is writing a ST. ELMO study guide that explains the foreign expressions, mythical references, and difficult words peppered throughout the story. Several years ago, filmmaker Robert Clem created a docudrama called “The Passion of Miss Augusta,” which highlights scenes from ST. ELMO and compares the fictional “Edna Earl” with her creator, Augusta Evans. He explores the feminist side of Augusta Evans with riveting drama and insight.

 

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ST. ELMO inspired THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER

 

 

 

True Love Waits

The theme of THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER was inspired by “True Love Waits,” a program that took root in the 1990s to encourage young people to abstain from having sex before marriage.  I am familiar with the program because I participated in teaching abstinence to teens at a Baptist church.  The program culminated in “DC 94,” where youth from all over the country displayed covenant cards (pledging to abstain from sex before marriage) on the Mall in Washington.

The True Love Waits theme is spelled out in the following conversation between “Effie” and “Benjamin Wright,” the youth pastor, in Chapter 22:

“I like being your assistant or whatever you call it,” Effie said between bites of a sandwich.

“Assistant has a nice ring to it,” Benjamin replied with a grin.”

Effie returned his smile, pleased that he treated her like an equal.  They were having lunch at the Black-eyed Pea in Fairfax, and she had chosen a seat by a window with a view of the Moore House, an antebellum home that reminded her of the parsonage.  

She had been helping Benjamin with MYF, so they had been seeing a lot of each other.  She was aware that people at church thought they were dating, but Effie deemed the relationship platonic because Benjamin, who talked mostly about evangelism, had never crossed the line of friendship. 

“How do you like college?”

“The first year was awkward, but now I’m at ease.”

“I knew you’d adapt.  High school is one thing but college is different.  Most people are there because they want to be.  They’re serious about getting an education.  Changing the subject, there’s something I want to talk to you about.  True Love Waits.”

“What?”

“True Love Waits,” he repeated.  “Didn’t you read about it in the paper a few years ago?  It was a church sponsored program that taught abstinence.  Teenagers were encourage to sign covenant cards stating that they would remain celibate until they married.  During the youth rally in Washington, covenant cards with signatures were displayed publicly.  I wanted our church to participate, but Gideon [senior pastor] was opposed to the idea, but maybe he’ll reconsider this time.”

Effie pressed her lips firmly together.  How typical of Gideon to oppose something noble.  

“I want you to help me,” Benjamin added, leaning over the table.

“How?”

“Lead a group at MYF [Methodist Youth Fellowship] on dating and sexuality.”

“Me?”

“Yes.  You take the high school kids.  They’re easier to manage.  I’ll take the ones in junior high.  All you have to do is ask a few questions to get a discussion going, and don’t let them go off on a tangent.”

“What kind of questions?” 

“Should a couple kiss on the first date?  How far is too far?  That sort of thing.”

“But what if they don’t give the right answers?”

“I’m not worried about that.  I just want them to think about abstinence.  The discussion will be held with a Bible study, so the youth can explore what the Bible says about fornication and discuss the role and symbolism of sex in marriage.  When the course is over, we’ll hand out covenant cards.”

“When do we start?”

“As soon as possible, but I have to run this by Gideon first.”

“Oh no,” she blurted.  “Do you have to?”

“Yes, because I want to end the True Love Waits program with a Sunday evening service, and I need Gideon’s approval in advance.  Have you finished eating?”

She nodded.

“Good.  Let’s go by the church and ask him.”

“We?  You mean you want me to go with you?”

“You’re my assistant, aren’t you?  Besides, I think he puts a lot of stock in your opinion.  Maybe with your influence, he’ll agree to True Love Waits.  You know him better than I do.  How do you think he’s going to react?”

Effie shrugged.  “He’s a mystery to me.”

***

“Unrealistic!  You can’t stop teenagers from having sex.  Smarter to give them condoms.  No?  Then go ahead.  Do as you wish but you’re wasting your time.”

Effie looked at Benjamin wondering if he was thinking the same thing she was thinking.  A half-hearted endorsement was better than none.

“A word of advise,” Gideon cautioned.  “You’d be wise to form a committee of parents and teens before you start.  “You’ll need their support as well as their ideas for implementing this . . . what did you call it?  Save It for Marriage?”

“True Love Waits,” Effie cut in.

“Whatever.  And one more thing.  Once this chastity drive of yours getting going, make sure you don’t alienate young people who don’t care to participate.  A vow of celibacy is meaningless if you pressure someone to take it.”

“I wouldn’t dream of pressuring anyone,” replied Benjamin. 

Pass the Salt, Please!

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Before the invention of salt shakers, people used “salt cellars,” a.k.a. “open salts,” “salt dips” or “salts.”  They are fun to collect because most are inexpensive and don’t take up much room. Some are glass, usually clear.  Some are porcelain.  The smaller ones are “individual salts,” and the larger ones are “master salts.”

Years ago my sister Linda and I were in an antique shop in Clifton, Virginia, that sold pressed glass.  Linda showed me a tiny dish that I mistook for a candle holder.  We took it to the manager who explained that it was a salt cellar.  She asked if we had heard the expression “seated below the salt’?”  In Victorian times, the farther away you were from the salt, the less important you were in society.

individualsaltsLater, after learning about salt cellars, I was reading my favorite novel, ST. ELMO, by Augusta Evans Wilson, when I stumbled upon the following passage on page 124.  “He did not look at her, but resumed the conversation with his mother which her entrance had interrupted, and during supper Edna could scarcely realize that the cold, distant man, who took no more notice of her than one of the salt cellars, was the same whom she had left leaning over the Taj.”

abbysaltFrom that day on, I began collecting salt cellars and was so intrigued with them that I made mention of a salt cellar in Chapter 12 of THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER.  “Gideon’s a magnet for attractive women.  Their hands gravitate towards him.  Have you noticed?  Even your little friend Clara follows him with her eyes.  Women make a mistake chasing after men,” Mrs. Baldwin added with mild disdain.  “I know it’s politically incorrect to say this, but men are natural born hunters, not prey.  They like a challenge.  What a shame that Gideon has never found one, although Eleanor could prove to be the exception.  Effie, if you don’t steady your hand, you’ll drop the salt cellar.  It’s an antique you know.”

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In addition to individual salts and master salts, you can find double salts as well as mustard, pepper, and salt combos in flea markets, antique stores, and even thrift stores.spoons

Salt spoons are collectible also. They come in glass as well as sterling silver.  The glass spoons break easily.  I like the silver ones best, but they corrode if you forget and leave them in the salt.

Kosher salt works best in salt cellars because the grains of salt are larger than regular table salt.

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Most of the salt cellars I’ve seen were made in the 1800s, which makes them conversation pieces.  But collecting salts has a practical side too. I use my salt cellars not only for the dinner table but also for tea candles   If you’d like to learn more about salt cellars or start a collection of your own, consider 5,000 OPEN SALTS: A Collector’s Guide by William Heacock and Patricia Johnson.

When Do Books Need Subtitles?

Before choosing a title for your book, you might want to do an Internet search on the title you have in mind.  Your title may or may not be unique.  Although titles are not copyrighted, you need to make sure that your book isn’t confused with another by the same or similar name.

To be honest, I never thought to “google” the title of my novel.  I knew from the beginning that it would be “The Prince in the Tower.”  I chose the title before (or soon after) I started writing. The title is a reference to the main character, a fictional preacher who happens to be a John Gilbert look-alike.

I got the idea for the title after reading John Gilbert’s biography Dark Star: The Untold Story of the Meteoric Rise and Fall of Legendary Silent Screen Star John Gilbert..  Leatrice Gilbert Fountain, the author, refers to her father as “the prince in the tower” because he lived on Tower Road in Hollywood.

Even after I finished writing “The Prince in the Tower” and had it formatted for Kindle, I still didn’t think to “google” the title.  I had already chosen the subtitle, “A Modern Gothic Romance.”  And it’s a good thing I did.

Once the book was published, I noticed the title was in no way unique.  In fact, “the prince in the tower” or “the princes in the tower” brings to mind the hapless nephews of Richard III.  Check out “The Prince in the Tower” on Amazon.com, and you’ll see what I mean.

Not only did I choose an overused title, but the book cover features the Tower of London where the nephews were  imprisoned.

Fortunately, my subtitle sets the book apart from books under the same heading.  I can even change the subtitle as long I use a different ISBN. Without the subtitle, you can’t be sure if a book like mine is fiction, non-fiction, or historical fiction.

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“The Prince in the Tower” was inspired by him, not them.

“Oxalis” as a Literary Motif

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One of my favorite flowers is oxalis.  I never knew the flower existed until I read about it  in ST. ELMO by Augusta Jane Evans.  In the following paragraph, “Edna Earl” sees the flower and associates it with “St. Elmo Murray,” the man she is trying to resist.

Edna bent over her flowers, and recognizing many favorites that recalled the hothouse at Le Bocage, her eyes filled with tears, and she hastily put her lips to the snowy cups of an oxalis.  How often she had seen just such fragile petals nestling in the buttonhole of Mr. Murray’s coat.  (Page 290, ST. ELMO).

I was thinking about that and other passages in ST. ELMO  when i wrote the following scene between “Effie Beller” and “Gideon Baldwin” on page 69 and 70 of THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER.

“When are you fixing to come home?”

“In a few days.”

“Oh.”  Effie tried to hide her disappointment.  “I hope you’ll have plenty of sunshine at the beach.”

“And delay my return?”

They were standing in the sun room, and he was preparing to leave through the back door.  Impulsively she snatched a spray of oxalis from a ceramic pot and held it up to his lapel.

“What are you doing?”

“I’d like to put some flowers in your buttonhole if you don’t mind.”

“Why?”

“Because you remind me of someone.”

“Who?”

“St. Elmo.”

“I’m not a saint.”

“Neither was he.”  With trembling fingers, she slipped the posy into his buttonhole and started to walk away, but he seized her arm and turned her around.

I brought oxalis into the story again when “Effie’s” antipathy for “Rev. Baldwin” was near its peak:

He crossed the room to his mother’s dresser and returned with a handful of tissues.

As she dried her eyes, she heard him say in a voice unaccountably sweet, “I often forget  how sensitive you are.  You remind me of that dainty flower you gave me when I was leaving for Conference.  What was it?”

“Oxalis.”

“So incredibly small, so easily crushed.  Sometimes you wilt before my eyes and make me wonder what I have said or done to cause it.”  He paused for a moment, waiting for her to compose herself, and added, “Effie Belle.  Despite your belief to the contrary, I am not entirely the ogre conceived in your imagination, and If I can help you in any way–“

Every flower has a special meaning–or so I thought.  I based this belief on a book called “The Poetry of Flowers.” i was sure I could look up oxalis and find a romantic meaning.   However, the flower is not even mentioned in the book.

Some refer to oxalis simply as “clover” or “a creeping weed,” hardly a romantic description of my hallowed plant. Finally, I learned that oxalis is a member of the wood sorrel family.  Wood Sorrel means “Joy” and “maternal tenderness,” and that is an accurate description of the role that oxalis plays in THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER..

Often referred to as “shamrock,” oxalis is easy to find this time of year.  I found two different types of oxalis in a St. Patrick’s Day display at the grocery store.  My favorite is “snowy” oxalis, but you can also find oxalis with purple leaves and lavender flowers or with green leaves and pink flowers.

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