Tag Archives: Augusta Evans Wilson

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.

 

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.

“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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Sunsets and Literature

photoMA31367462-0002How can anyone describe something as spectacular as a sunset?   Nothing can take the place of a photograph, can it?  Augusta J. Evans (1835-1909) creates a credible word picture of a sunset on page 116 of ST. ELMO, and the twilight that follows sets the eerie stage for the entrance of the Byronic protagonist “St. Elmo Murray.”.

The sun went down in a wintry sky; the solemn red light burning on the funeral pyre of the day streamed through the undraped windows, flushed the fretted facade of the Taj Mahal, glowed on the marble floor, and warmed and brightened the serene, lovely face of the earnest young student.  As the flame faded in the West, where two stars leaped from the pearly ashes, the fine print of Edna’s book grew dim, and she turned the page to catch the mellow, silvery radiance of the full moon, which shinning low in the east, thew a ghastly lustre on the awful form and floating white hair of the Cimbrian woman on the wall.  But between the orphan and the light, close beside her chair, stood a tall, dark figure, with uncovered head and outstretched hands.

She sprang to her feet, uttering a cry of mingled alarm and delight, for she knew that erect, stately form and regal head could only belong to one person.

“Oh, Mr. Murray!  Can it be possible that you have indeed come home to your sad desolate mother?  Oh!  For her sake, I am so glad!”

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It’s no secret that Augusta J. Evans is my favorite novelist and that ST. ELMO inspired me to write THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER.

Finding Inspiration in Quotes

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My favorite novel is ST. Elmo, by Augusta Evans Wilson (1835-1909). The book inspired me to write THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER.  Although my book is not a ST. ELMO remake, the similarities are not coincidental.

To pay homage to Augusta Evans Wilson and her best-selling novel, I introduced ten of my thirty-four chapters with a quote from ST. ELMO.  They are as follows:

“He is a rude, blasphemous, wicked man,” said Mr. Hunt as Edna reentered the shop.

“That passage leads to my son’s apartments, and he dislikes noise or intrusion.”

The expression with which Mr. Murray regarded Estelle reminded Edna of the account given by a traveler of the playful mood of a lion, who, having devoured one gazelle, kept his paw on another, and, amid occasional growls, teased and toyed with his victim.

She picked up from the spot where he had thrown his shawl a handsome morocco-bound pocket copy of Dante, and opening it to discover the name of the owner, she saw written on the fly-leaf in a bold and beautiful hand, “S.E.M.”

God help me to resist that man’s wicked magnetism!

“I go like Ruth, gleaning in the great fields of literature.”

“Mrs. Powell received a letter from a wealthy friend in New York who desires to secure a governess for her young children.”

“If she ever marries, it will not be from gratitude or devotion, but because she learned to love, almost against her will, some strong, vigorous thinker, some man whose will and intellect master hers, who compels her heart’s homage, and without whose society she cannot persuade herself to live.”

He strained her to him and pressed his lips twice to hers, then the carriage stopped at the railroad station.

“Edna, my shadow has fallen across your heart, and I am not afraid that you will forget me.”

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Winter at Warwick House

macariaAJEThe second semester of Effie’s junior year at George Mason began with a mixture of snow and ice, and classes were cancelled.  Cooped up in the house with nothing to do, she moseyed into the library with Macaria in hand, found a seat by the window, and gazed at the wintry setting below, taking note of the massive oaks glazed in glittering ice, which reminded her of ice palaces.

Slipping into a nostalgic mood, she proceeded to read the book, published during the Civil War as a Southern  propaganda piece disguised as a romance.  But Effie was more interested in the protagonists’ relationship than in the subtleties bolstering the Rebel  cause.  If only real life could rival romantic fiction!  Was God fashioning a lifelong companion for her as dashing as Russell Aubrey?

She sighed blissfully as she read the following passage:

“Irene, oblige me in what may seem a trifle; unfasten your hair and let it fall around you, as I have seen it once or twice in your life.”  She took out her comb, untied the ribbons, and, passing her fingers through the bands, shook them down.  He passed his hands caressingly over the glossy waves.

Impulsively, Effie removed the combs binding her own hair, and vigorously shook her head, casting untamed curls in every direction.  Then, with an elbow propped on the windowsill and her chin resting in the palm of her hand, she gazed dreamily upon the day’s spectacular finale.  As the sun dipped low in the Western sky, its blazing splendor filled the room, painting the alabaster walls with shades of crimson, plum, and gilded pink.

Effie stood up and maneuvered the chair to make the most of the remaining daylight then sat down and resumed reading aloud, vaguely conscious of footsteps in the hallway.

She was endeavoring to memorize a paragraph when, all at once, the door swung open hitting the wall with a loud band.  Effie leapt from the chair, sending the book to the floor, and stooping to retrieve it, found herself bowed low before Rev. Baldwin.

“Give me your hand!”

005956-R1-23-24He pulled her up until her eyes were on a level with his tie, and she could tell by the rigidity of his posture that he was fuming.  And yet, braving a look at his face, she gulped to discover a pair of dark dejected eyes shyly entreating her own.  They peered beneath a veil of ebony lashes, gently disclaiming the hard mouth and adamant chin.  Stifling a sigh, Effie dropped her eyes and wondered how anyone could appear so cruel, vulnerable, and incredibly handsome all at the same time.  She ventured another glance, but this time his languishing look shifted into something more ominous.

He reached into his pocket, withdrew an envelope, and bitingly announced:  “This letter pertains to you.”

She stretched out her hand to receive it, but he held it out of her reach.

*The above is an excerpt from THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, pages 158-159.

PapasLetterToEffieB.W. Wright wrote this letter–dated November 8, 1924–to the real Effie Belle Butler, my grandmother.  I named the fictional “Effie” after her.

ST ELMO: What’s in a Name?

ST. ELMO, by Augusta Evans Wilson, is my favorite novel.  The book, published in 1866, was so popular that towns, dogs, children, and cigars were named in honor of it.  The novel opens in a village at the bottom of Lookout Mountain. While the story is fiction, the village is real.  Augusta Evans Wilson visited Lookout Mountain and had friends in Chattanooga, so she chose the village at the foot of Lookout Mountain for the setting.  The village is now a subdivision called St. Elmo.

My dream of visiting St. Elmo came true last week when I was passing through Chattanooga.  I took photos of just about everything with St. Elmo written on it, including buildings and street signs.  The main attraction in St. Elmo is the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway.  The original railway was built around 1895.  The current railway was finished in the 1980s.  It has all the thrill of a rollercoaster and more because it goes up and down the side of Lookout Mountain.

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For more information about the village and it’s connection to the ST ELMO novel, I recommend CHATTANOOGA’S ST. ELMO, by Gay Morgan Moore, and ST ELMO YESTERDAY AND TODAY: “The Story of a Community,” by Jeffery C. Webb.

ST. ELMO and THE PASSION OF MISS AUGUSTA

If you’ve been following my blog, you may already know that I am a huge fan of  Augusta Evans Wilson and her book ST. ELMO.  Both inspired my novel THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER.

Filmmaker Robert Clem pays tribute to Augusta Evans Wilson and ST. ELMO in his film THE PASSION OF MISS AUGUSTA.  The film premiered September 12, 2013, in Mobile, Alabama.  I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m looking forward to viewing the DVD.  (I’m listed as one of the co-producers in the credits.)

“The Passion of Miss Augusta” is part drama, part documentary.  The film begins as a silent film version of ST. ELMO then fast-forwards to the 1950s with the main characters in modern dress.  As you watch the trailer (above) notice the differences between the silent and modern-day versions.

Augusta Jane Evans Wilson (1835-1909), America...

Augusta Jane Evans Wilson (1835-1909), American novelist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Who is Effie Belle Butler?

The first time I read ST ELMO, I wasn’t very impressed. I was a flighty 16-year-old, and my knowledge of literature was limited to the required reading list in my English class.  I was familiar with ST. ELMO only because it was my grandmother’s favorite novel. She kept it in her bookcase near the front door. One day I decided to borrow it.  My grandmother did not tell me when to bring it back but made it clear that I should not keep it too long.  I recall that she was relieved when I returned it.

Fast forward 29 years. My daughter was 16 and looking for something to read during the summer and asked for ideas.  I saw this as an opportunity to introduce her to literature.  She read everything I suggested:  JANE EYRE, RAMONA, TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES and similar novels.  When I could think of nothing else, I recommended my grandmother’s copy of ST. ELMO, which was handed down to me years after Grandmother’s death.

Much to my surprise, my daughter gushed that ST ELMO was the best book she had ever read.  Her enthusiasm prompted me to read it again.  Once I picked it up, I could not put it down. Without a doubt, it was the best novel I had ever read too.  I liked it so much that I read it repeatedly–nine times, in fact.  (My grandmother read it fifteen times.)

Written by Augusta Evans Wilson in 1866, ST. ELMO was almost as popular as BEN HUR and UNCLE TOM’S CABIN.  Towns, dogs, and cigars were named after the book and its Byronic protagonist.  Margaret Mitchell used “St. Elmo” as the model for “Rhett Butler” in GONE WITH THE WIND.

ST. ELMO was Augusta Evans Wilson‘s third novel.  She wrote nine and I read them all.  I also read her biography by William Fidler and learned that ST ELMO was made into a silent film in 1923, starring John Gilbert. Thus, the main character in my first novel, THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, is a John Gilbert look-alike.  I named the female protagonist after my paternal grandmother, Effie Belle Butler (1885-1965).  After all, my grandmother ignited my interest in ST. ELMO, which inspired me to become a writer, and I wanted to immortalize her.

The real Effie Belle Butler was just as obsessed with ST ELMO as my fictional “Effie Belle Butler,” but the comparison doesn’t end there.  The real Effie Belle had chestnut hair and sapphire eyes.  So does the fictional one.  The real-life Effie Belle had a best friend named Clara Banton.  So does the fictional one.

Actually, the best friend angle was a coincidence.  I borrowed the name “Clara” from a character in AT THE MERCY OF TIBERIUS (another book by Augusta Evans Wilson) and chose the surname “Banton” because it was in my genealogy.   But I had no idea that my grandmother’s best-friend and first cousin was Clara Banton until I saw the photo below with their names written on the back.

EffieandClaraEffie Belle Butler (left) and Clara Banton (right):  friends in real life as well as in fiction

Make the Most of Your OCD: Write a Novel

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is characterized by fixations and repetitive behavior.  I used to check the stove at least five times a night to make sure that it was off.  I’d also check and recheck the front door to make sure that it was locked.  This meant that half-way down the road, I’d feel a compulsion to go back home and rattle the door knob, just in case I’d forgotten to lock up.  Inevitably, the stove was off, and the door was locked.  Did that satisfy my compulsive behavior?  No.  My anxiety persisted until I completed these daily rituals.

The repetitions were disruptive and time-consuming.  Finally, I found a healthy way to channel OCD into a worthwhile project.  I had always wanted to write a novel . . . .

My grandmother’s favorite novel was ST. ELMO, by Augusta J. Evans Wilson.  The book was handed down to me and became my favorite novel also.  I read it seven times and liked it so much that one copy wouldn’t do.StElmoPhotosMy obsession with ST. ELMO led to an interest in the author, Augusta Evans Wilson.  I began collecting photos of her as well as the houses she lived in or visited.  

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I even made a pilgrimage to Mobile, Alabama, where Augusta spent most of her life, and to Columbus, Georgia, where Augusta was born and finished writing ST. ELMO.  Once I came within six feet of her.

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PrinceFrontAndBackSo, have I recovered from OCD?  Yes–or I’m in remission.  Either way, it beats writer’s block.