Title: Hannah Fowler
Author: Janice Holt Giles
File Under: Historical Fiction, True Love, Spirited Woman
Age Group: Adolescent girls and up.
Sometimes I venture into the treacherous waters of marriage advice, but not often. As some other bloggy friends have noted, it does seem like as soon as you make a pronouncement, that’s when you get into a fight with your husband! Not worth it! Whereas I have no three-year olds around to disasterize when I airily state a disciplinary principle.
I prefer to go about the whole question either abstractly or obliquely. The problem with the abstract approach is that a person brings her own context to the discussion. Lately I’ve been realizing that the very women who most want to scrutinize the ins and outs of relationships in a marriage, equality, leadership, and all that — are the spirited women! So by definition we agonize over how to express precisely what we mean, without letting go of what we see as the main feature of our character, and indeed probably the very thing our husbands admired in us in the first place.
After all, a person who is compliant by temperament probably needs a dose of get-up-and-go, not an endless parsing of what submission really means, mutual or otherwise.
No, it’s the spirited woman who struggles with the whole concept.
So here I offer an oblique discussion: A book! I love this book. First, the author has an interesting story of her own, well worth reading. She also wrote 40 Acres and No Mule, about her life in the Appalachians with her husband, an introspective and strong man. Janice Holt Giles is one of those wonderful novelists of our country’s pre-contemporary period (not acknowledged by later feminists and indeed unjustly ignored) — an educated, articulate, insightful woman who contributed to our literature and historical record.
In Hannah Fowler, Giles achieves a difficult task: making a simple (that is, non-intellectual and virtually silent) woman appealing and life-like. The book is one in her historical fiction series about Kentucky, but it definitely stands alone. It has a lot in it to satisfy all sorts of requirements in a story, including a kidnapping by Indians! But what I love is Hannah’s independent spiritedness that she puts at the service of a strong and tender love. She is a paragon of what it means to submit to a manly man without losing one iota of your essential spark — in fact, finding fulfillment that you otherwise would know nothing about!
I think that this book, so valuable from so many perspectives, has its greatest value in its depiction of admirable married life. There are few stories that really satisfy in this regard. Most of them (Austen included) bring us right up to the gate but never let us see the race. I give this book to my daughters as they head off for marriage.
See what you think.
For a good and complete list of children’s books, buy my friend Theresa’sA Mother’s List of Books.