Sunday, March 27, 2016

Here's What's Coming Your Way, Starting at Midnight Tonight

On a muddy South Carolina battlefield, a sergeant sat propped up against a hedge and tried to focus on the spot where he thought his leg should be. There was nothing – only the tattered remains of his trousers and a pool of blood that grew ever larger. The whistle of artillery shells had stopped, and the sudden quiet was as jarring as the previous battle noises had been. Shock had deadened the pain, so that all he felt was exhaustion as he closed his eyes. Sgt. James McCaskey had fought and lost his only battle.

"From behind a hedge on that battlefield, a young private picked his way through the bodies, following orders to gather up the abandoned weapons and tend to the wounded. Pvt. Augustine T. Smythe was stunned by the mayhem that met his eyes, particularly the sight of a soldier who lay with his leg shot entirely away. He whispered a silent prayer, as was fitting for the son of a Presbyterian minister, that he would never again have to witness such horrors.

"The Battle of Secessionville, fought out in the early hours of June 16, 1862, on James Island, South Carolina, brought these two young men together for a single moment. But the events of the Civil War had been drawing them together for almost a year. James and Gus were approximately the same age. Both were first-generation Americans, the sons of Scotch-Irish immigrants to the United States. Both stood firm in their Presbyterian faith, and both believed passionately in the cause of their countries. Both wanted to enlist from the day the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter; both had to spend months persuading their parents to allow them to join the army. They set out for their first battle on the same day – November 7, 1861-- and both missed the action by arriving too late. Both chafed at enforced inaction and longed to get into a real battle. Each of their Scotch-Irish mothers might have warned her son to be careful for what he wished.

They were just two soldiers, alike in many ways but different in the one trait that mattered on that battlefield. One was North; the other, South. Sgt. James McCaskey belonged to the 100th Pennsylvania Regiment, known to their comrades as “The Roundheads.” They came from the farms of western Pennsylvania, determined to defend for all men the Calvinist principles they most valued – self-reliance, industriousness, and liberty. Gus Smythe served in the Washington Light Infantry, part of the 24th South Carolina Volunteers. He was a college student from a well-to-do Charleston family and an ardent supporter of the Confederate right to secede from a political union that did not serve the needs of its people. This is the story of how they came to their opposing positions, and how the Battle of Secessionville altered not only their own lives, but the lives of all those who shared their experiences. 

Get your free digital copy of A Scratch with the Rebels here starting Sunday, March 27th at midnight.

And order the full version of the book,  complete with endnotes, maps, and illustrations, here for only $5.00 plus shipping. (That's an 80% price reduction.)

Friday, March 25, 2016

And an Update

  • It was cold this morning, but our live oak trees had decided to open their catkin buds anyhow. Here comes another yellow cloud of pollen. Last night's local news announced that Memphis is the worst city in the country for people who have allergies. My swollen eyes, clogged sinuses, and serial sneezing habit did not find that news comforting.                                                           
  • The weather persons are predicting rain for Easter Sunday. My arthritic hip had already warned me of that!  I remind myself of an old Carol Burnett Show character--the old fellow who had to get warmed up before he could toddle off anywhere!                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
  • I decided to get an early start on running a few errands this morning, figuring that traffic would really pick up the afternoon because of the holiday weekend. I wasn't early enough. On one single 10-mile stretch of road, I witnessed two speeders being chased down and arrested, and then a spectacular head-on crash at what is normally a quiet intersection.  Fortunately no one seemed badly hurt, but the cars are in a million pieces. I'm home now and do not intend to venture out again until everyone else goes back to work.                                                                                                                                                          
  • I am also happy to report that Fresh Market does a fairly credible job of baking hot cross buns. I scored their last box of eight, which should last me through the weekend and beyond.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

RBOC--A Quick Overview of My Week

  • Wind is unreal, and it's scattering yellow pollen from our white pine blossoms all over everything. We had a puddle on the driveway this morning from overnight rain. By this afternoon, it looks like someone smeared yellow chalk on the blacktop. I thought about running some errands, but I just got the car washed, and I don't want to turn it orange.                              
  • I've been working on plans for another big give-away over on the Kindle website, starting next week. The second electronic edition of "A Scratch with the Rebels" will be free, and on my own website, the last copies of the paperback first edition are reduced to $5.00.                            
  • I've also been writing--working on the third volume of the Grenville Sagas, "Yankee Sisters: If Wishes Were Horses." It takes place at the beginning of the 20th century, where my historical background is not particularly strong. But you never know where information will turn up. I found a great explanation of the causes of WWI in my lecture notes for a Search course I taught at Rhodes College back in the 1990s.                                                                                    
  • A little later, I needed a description of an ultra-fancy hotel/restaurant on Pittsburgh in 1912, so I sent out a Facebook post, hoping some of my Pittsburgh friends would come to my rescue. Now I know at least six people on Facebook who live in Pittsburgh, but did they respond? No, the answers came from a Tennessee Lion, a Connecticut Lion, a Texas medievalist, a former student from Memphis, and a cousin from northeast Ohio. And the last two came up with the same "perfect" solution.
  • I got a Prevnar 13 shot two weeks ago (You know--the ""get this one done" ad?). No problem until this morning when I stepped out of the shower and discovered a large red blotch at the injection site. The website says that is normal, but I didn't realize my reactions were so slow these days!                                                                                                                                        
  • I tend to get seasonal reactions, both sneezing from allergies and food cravings related to specific dates. Starting on the first of March I set out to buy Girl Scout cookies, but despite checking their new website telling everyone where they will be, I've  only managed to locate two boxes, and those were not the varieties I wanted. Now it's almost Easter, and I'm on the hunt for hot cross buns. My usual sources have come up empty, but I plan to give it one more shot tomorrow. Luck's got to change soon!                                                                                      
  • Have a lovely holiday weekend, everyone!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

What Do You Know about the Twelfth Century?

You may think you know nothing at all about what happened nearly nine hundred years ago, but I'm willing to bet you've heard about some of the people and events that filled Bishop Arnulf's life. Among them are Second Crusade, the development of Gothic architecture, and the much discussed Becket Controversy.  Let me remind you of a few details

The Second Crusade (1147 to 1149) was urged upon the rulers of France and Germany by the Pope to recapture the city of Edessa and keep the travel routes open so that Christians might make pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The leaders of the Crusade were Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany. Oddly, Louis was accompanied by his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose name many of you will remember. Despite the fact that clergy were supposed to be total pacifists, many bishops, including Arnulf, went along with the Crusaders, ostensibly to care for their souls. But it was also a great adventure and carried with it the possibility of gaining personal wealth, the favor of the King, and a nice little collection of holy relics.  Arnulf himself did not enjoy the experience. He grew exasperated with the incompetence of the young Louis VII and the dalliances of his wife.  Arnulf abandoned the Crusade and returned home ahead of the rest of the French army.

Gothic architecture blossomed during the High Middle Ages. The first French church built in the Gothic style was the Abbey Church of Saint Denis, built by Abbot Suger and dedicated in the presence of the French king (and Arnulf) in 1144.  The Gothic style was characterized by soaring walls, supported by flying buttresses, pointed arches and elaborately vaulted ceilings, a light and airy atmosphere created by using thin walls penetrated by many stained glass windows, and ornate decorations, including water downspouts that took the form of grotesque gargoyles.

Bishop Arnulf envied the church and tried to copy its style when he rebuilt the cathedral at Lisieux. However, he was also a stodgy old conservative, so his new church often displayed the appearance of Gothic while keeping the thick 8-foot walls of the previous Romanesque style.  Interestingly, Arnulf feared thin walls would collapse. Instead, the old style he preferred has proven too heavy for the underlying ground of his cathedral, and there are places where the walls have to be continually shored up. The real Gothic churches have no such problems.

And of courses, there's the Becket controversy.  If you're old enough, you will remember  the story being told in movies like "The Lion in Winter" and "Becket" with all-star casts and academy award winning cinematography. Henry II of England, and Thomas Becket, his Archbishop of Canterbury, were once great friends who split over the issue of the powers of church and state--a controversy which still rages in much of the world today. In the long years during which the two men jockeyed for the upper hand, Arnulf of Lisieux was once again on the scene. He played off both sides, unwilling to anger either man and hoping to somehow be the peacemaker who saved the day. But in the process, he betrayed the trust of both of them. And when Becket was finally murdered at the altar of his cathedral in 1170, Arnulf found that he had lost both the trust of the monarchy and the respect of the clergy.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Who's Arnulf and Where's Lisieux?

Let's start by helping you get situated on a French map. in the 12th century, Normandy thought of itself as separate from France and contained an archdiocese and six dioceses, one of which was the Diocese of Lisieux, shown here as shaded. Then as now, it was a beautiful and lush area, with rolling hills, abundant fisheries, family farms raising chickens and dairy cattle, and apple and pear orchards. Think of Camembert cheeses, Calvados brandy, and chicken stewed in rich cream, and you'll have the cuisine of Lisieux.

Politically, however, there was turmoil--at least partially because the Norman invasion of England had resulted, first, in placing a Frenchman on the throne of England, and second, an English king ruling much, if not all, of Normandy, much to the displeasure of the king of France. Rich lords (and that included the bishops and abbots of Normandy) juggled their allegiances according to whose army happened to be in the area and who held title to their lands.

Arnulf was born into that confusing struggle at the turn of the century and knew from childhood that fate had destined him for a life in the church.  His grandfather was Norman the Dean, second most powerful cleric in he diocese of Sees.His uncle was bishop of Lisieux, and his older brother became bishop of Sees. He served his apprenticeship under family members and was, from the family's point of view, the obvious successor to his Uncle John of Lisieux in 1141. From the royal point of view, however, there were serious challenges to his ordination as a bishop. We'll talk more about the political background of all of this next week.  For now, all we need to record are these details:

  (1) It took Arnulf nearly three years to claim his bishopric from the Duke of Anjou, and it cost him a fine of over 900 pounds.

  (2) He inherited a diocese that had become a casualty of the war that raged over the throne of England from 1135 o 1153. Uncle John had supported Stephen and paid the price of seeing the city and cathedral burned nearly to the ground. When Arnulf finally made peace with Matilda and her husband, he faced a cathedral that was little more than a pile of rubble and a diocesan treasure of only 17 marks. [A mark was worth about 2/3 of a pound].

  (3) Arnulf was learning a very hard lesson.  His duty was to serve his church and his king, but there were no guarantees that the two would agree. Further, both church and king believed themselves to be superior to the other.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Meet Arnulf of Lisieux on Your Kindle

The Kindle edition of "The Dilemma of Arnulf of Lisieux" was formatted from a photographic copy  of the original, which was published by Indiana University Press in 1990.  (I was going to say that it felt like I was talking about an earlier century.  Then I realized it WAS an earlier century!)

What's even more amazing: all the endnotes, diagrams, and photographs from the original hardback are fully functional in this electronic edition -- no easy feat.  I haven't issued it in any other electronic format; the logistics are simply too complicated.  But those of you who read e-books know that there are Kindle apps available for all your other readers, so you'll still be able to read it if you like, even on your desk computer.  And since it will only be available in a Kindle edition, I've listed it with the Kindle Select program. Amazon Prime members and KOLL users can borrow it for free, if you're just curious. And for this week (March 14 through 18), it is free for all who would like a copy. Order here.

Anyway, one of the benefits of being a medievalist is that our subject matter doesn't really get "out of date" very quickly. So I'm hoping that people who are still interested in the "long 12th century" will still find much of interest and usefulness in this historical monograph.  For academics, it comes with full endnotes, extensive bibliography, four original maps and sixteen architectural photos of the early Gothic cathedral that Arnulf commissioned in the small town of Lisieux in Normandy.

For the layman (non-historian) and recreational reader, it's a story of crusades, warfare, and clashes between church and state, along with elements of incest, adultery, murder, embezzlement, family power struggles, evil popes, sinful kings, and a queen who outsmarts them all. What more could you ask?

And for the old-timers among you -- if you remember this book from 1990, when I was a brash new PhD with my first book and it was being discussed and sold at medieval conferences, I'd appreciate a brief comment left on its Amazon website.  I've posted little blurbs from the major historical journals, but nothing helps a book more than having somebody say, "Hey, this is a good book.  I remember it when . . . .. . ."

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Trouble with Memories

I have several irons in the fire at the moment, but somehow all of them seem to be raising the same sort of questions--many of them having to do with what we remember and how trustworthy our memories can be.  Here are the three situations that are uppermost in my mind this morning.

1. Reviews for "Yankee Reconstructed" are just starting to trickle in, and the one that was posted yesterday raised the question of historical accuracy.  The reviewer had questioned some of the incidents that happened in the book and had gone back to the history books to check up on me. Most of the "questionable events," I gathered, had to do with white-on-black violence during the era of Reconstruction. The reader did not seem happy with the discovery that what I had described was historical fact. The phrase that jumped out at me from the review was "disturbingly accurate."  I'm happy that some fact-checking proved that the details in my novel are accurate. But why should that be disturbing? Do we privilege only those facts that are pleasant -- the things we want to remember? And should the reader's preference for a pretty picture of the past influence what a historical novelist includes in a book? That's a question I had not anticipated.

2. I'm still reading the journal entries written by the sister of one of the main characters in "The Road to Frogmore." An interesting feature of this journal is that the author wrote most of it in English (although with a few French idioms thrown in because of her European education). But some of the entries were written in an elaborate code which she apparently created to keep others (like a snooping mother) from reading her thoughts.  The present owner of the journal (the great-granddaughter of the author) provided me with a key to the code, but it's still taking me a very long time to translate the hidden entries.

My first reaction to the hidden messages was that they were probably more accurate than the entries written in plain English. But now I wonder. Might the truth not be the exact opposite? Many of the coded passages have to do with the author's romantic thoughts about the man upon whom she is developing a huge crush. Did she hide her fantasies because they were too true or because they were simply wishful thinking?

3. I'm also reading a memoir about World War II, and -- like the reader above -- I'm finding the book "disturbingly accurate," although in a different sense. The author of the book is a friend of the subject. He listened to the ex-soldier's war stories over a long period of time, a great many of which were shared when the man was on his deathbed. During the events described, the soldier was at most eighteen, and that is the voice the writer has captured. What the reader hears is a kid speaking -- disjointed at times, sentences left dangling, lots of slang from the 1940s, frequent potty jokes, a preoccupation with sex in all its manifestations, and with an inordinate emphasis on getting drunk and vomiting on somebody's shoes.

I do not doubt the accuracy of the stories, although some of them are obvious exaggeration and braggadocio. What disturbs me is the sheer tediousness of the teenaged language. After all, I already know how a teenaged boy thinks. I raised one and taught hundreds of others. And I prefer not to be inundated with the repetitions of a limited vocabulary. In a memoir, I want to know what happened, but I also expect some introspection as the adult mind looks back at the experiences of a green kid. I am disturbed when memory serves no purpose other than a dirty joke. At the same time, I am also aware that the memories of war may be so horrible, so painful, that they can only be accessed when they come cloaked in those same dirty jokes.

So what do we really remember? What is an author's responsibility when dealing with memories? And how far came we trust anyone's memory, including our own?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

And Here's What the Gorilla Will Do for Us


To order books on Amazon, you must, of course, open an account and provide a credit card number. Beyond that, you can simply order one book at a time for your permanent electronic library, just as you have always done. But if you are looking for "deals" you may want to try one of these options:

1. Amazon Prime costs $99.00 a year, but it carries valuable benefits. You get free two-day shipping on anything  you order from Amazon, and that includes everything from appliances to groceries. You also get unlimited access to music, unlimited cloud storage for your photos, and access to over 800,000 Kindle books. Through KOLL (Kindle Owners Lending Library), you can borrow one book a month with no due dates. If you are a Prime member, seven of my books will now be available in KOLL.

2. Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service that costs $9.99 a month. You can subscribe one month at a time, or for various longer periods depending on how much you want to lay out in advance. This gives you free access to over a million books and thousands of audiobooks. And as explained above, seven of my books will now be available in Kindle Unlimited. You can download up to ten at a time, and once again there are no due dates. You keep them as long as you like. 

In both these options, the Kindle editions remain the property of Amazon, and you are expected to return them when you no longer want them. I get paid based on the number of pages you actually read, so long as you read at least 10% of the book.  (Of course, you won't be able to put mine down, so that limitation does not bother me.)  And you don't have to read the book all at once.  You can start it, put it down for a month or more, and then go back and read some more.  I get paid for the total you read, no matter how long it takes you to do it.


Here's the other part of the deal that I get for entering my books in KDP Select and giving Amazon exclusive rights to distribute the electronic editions. For each book, I can run a five-day free promotion offer in every ninety-day period. (That's something that is not allowed if the book is available on other distribution channels.) That's obviously a great deal for readers. But what do I get out of it? Well, it puts my books in the hands of more readers, it encourages Amazon to do separate promotions of books that do well when offered for free, and, with luck, the increased readership will produce more loyal followers and more reviews on Amazon -- which in turn brings in more readers.

Here's the Free Promotion schedule for this cycle.

In March, my history books will be available:
  • "The Dilemma of Arnulf of Lisieux" from March 14 through March 18.
  • "A Scratch with the Rebels" from March 28 to April 1.
In April we'll do the creative biographies:
  • "Beyond All Price" from April 11 to April 15
  • "The Road to Frogmore" from  April 25 to April 29
And in May the historical novels will be on offer:
  • "Damned Yankee" from May 9 to May 13
  • "Yankee Reconstructed" from May 23 to May 27"
Happy reading!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Giving the Gorilla What he Wants

I'm posting this blog and the next one on both of my blogging sites to make sure everyone understands what's happening at Katzenaus.

There’s an old, old joke about how one handles an 800-pound gorilla. The answers usually include saying “Yes, Sir!” and giving him whatever he wants.  For indie writers and self publishers, the 800-pound gorilla has always been Amazon. It dominate today’s book world, selling more books than anyone else, newcomer or traditional publisher. No one seems to have exact figures because they change minute by minute, but a safe estimate is that it has something in the range of ten million books available on its website.

From the time I first established my little self-publishing imprint back in 2009, I argued against allowing Amazon to gain complete control of my work.  Certainly, I published my books on the Kindle site and used the Amazon-affiliated CreateSpace to print and circulate my paperback editions. But I was also determined to utilize as many sales outlets as possible.  I always recommended Smashwords for its ability to place electronic editions in the Barnes and Noble and Apple i-Book catalogs, as well on an ever-increasing number of smaller book distribution sites.  It cost me more to get my books formatted for different sites, but I thought it was worth it, and for a while, it was.

I also spoke out against Amazon’s new schemes to get writers to give them exclusivity over certain books.  The promises of more support, free days, new promotions and things like paying lending libraries just didn’t seem worth giving one company a monopoly over publication. However, things change quickly in the publishing world, and I have slowly begun to realize that many of these changes are reader-driven. If one believes in a free-market system (and I do), then we need to listen when the market speaks.

In the past five years, the value of using multiple distribution channels has eroded noticeably.  In 2010, I could count on selling some 500 books a year through Smashwords with royalties of approximately $2.00 per book—well worth paying someone $50.00 to format a new manuscript for Apple and B&N.  Then—steadily—the numbers declined. In the first two months of 2016, I have sold exactly three books (total from 18 sales channels) through Smashwords, at a profit of $4.26. And meanwhile, formatting charges have increased to $100.00. It is simply no longer possible to justify avoiding exclusivity. 

What has happened? I don’t have some magic explanation, but when i look at my Kindle sales I see steady growth; when I look at Smashwords, steady decline. Obviously the people who read my books have made a choice, for whatever may be their reasons, to do their book buying on Amazon. And if that’s where my readers are, that’s where I need to be as well.

So . .  (drum roll for announcement!) . . . starting tomorrow, most of my books will be available exclusively on Amazon.  That will make them eligible for inclusion in the Lending Library and on the list of free books available to Prime customers. Already tonight, someone has borrowed a copy of “Damned Yankee” and read 190 pages. For those of you who have purchased any of my books from other sites, rest assured that the copies have been archived there. So if the dog eats your Nook, you can download another copy of my books from Smashwords.  However, if you want to make a new purchase, you will have to do so on Amazon. We’ll give it a 90-day trial and see how it goes.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Truth Is Still Stranger than Fiction

I may now be a writer of fiction, but my first love will always be history, and the stories than lie beneath the history.  Sometimes the truth is so strange that you cannot believe it happened. Sometimes you know you'll never be able to tell this story because no one else would believe it. And sometimes history resembles fiction but the real story outstrips the fictional one.

Such is the case with a story I learned about this past week.  But to get you in the mood, I'll start by reminding you of a recent plot line from the soon to be defunct "Downton Abbey." Sister Edith had an "illegitimate" child by a man she fully intended to marry. But before they could hold their wedding, he was called to Europe on business. Somewhere in Germany he disappeared, never to be heard from again.  Edith, now realizing she is pregnant, must find a way to hide her condition. She moves to London and enlists the help of a sympathetic relative. After the child is born, Edith cannot bring herself to lose touch with her. She manages somehow to arrange for a tenant family to adopt the little girl, an arrangement that allows her to watch the child from a distance.

But of course watching from a distance is eventually not enough. Edith makes excuses to visit the family and have contact with the child. Then she determines to confess her motherhood to her family (with the exception of her sister Mary), and begs to have them bring the child into the family estate as a "ward." No one ever suggests just admitting the truth. The adoptive mother, having now lost her child, grieves for her and at one point lures her away.  Edith and her father eventually find the child and snatch her back, buying off the adoptive father and arranging to send the adoptive family far away where they can never again see the child. For the modern viewer, two things stand out: society's complete inability to accept a child born out of wedlock and the total failure of everyone to consider what is happening to the child.

In the diary I've been reading, the writer is such a child. Born to a  young English girl and a prominent Canadian politician, she cannot be acknowledged by her father. So the mother takes the child back to England, where, I can only surmise, she can make up a story about a lost husband over in America.  But a member of the father's family cannot accept the loss of this child. She follows the mother back to England, hunts her down, finds the child and abducts her. She carries her off  to Europe, where she passes the child off as her youngest daughter.

The child is less than two at the time of the abduction.  Her "sisters" only remember that she was already walking when she came to live with them and that she cried all the time for "Mummy." She grows up never knowing who she is, nor does the family ever reveal her true identity. She only knows that she does not look like her "sisters," that her mother treats her differently, and that there is no record of her birth to tell her who she is.

In the diary, she mentions it only once. She writes: "I have felt deeply about keeping anyone in ignorance for my not owning a relation or a Madre [mother]} in this world and no likelihood of ever knowing anything, as but one person in this world knows anything of me. How I hate to be such a deceiver, creeping into families and getting friends by false pretenses." She wishes she could confess, but then realizes that she would then have to go far away and start life over as someone else. It's a stunning admission, clearing up much of her relationship with the woman she now calls mother, and telling us even more about the mindsets of the late 19th century.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Here We Go Again! It's Worse than "Who's Buried in Grant's Tomb?"

The identity of the woman named Amanda Ruggles, sister of T. Edward Ruggles,  remained a mystery.  Did she die on September 29, 1863, as Laura's diary told us? Or was she a late-comer to St. Helena, arriving, according to Harriot Murray Ruggles, on Christmas Day, 1864? Since returning from the dead is not a reasonable explanation, there had to be something more.

I turned to genealogy for the answers. Let's start with the identity of T[homas] Edwin Ruggles. He was born in 1838 in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the youngest child of Philarman and Eliza P. Ruggles.  The 1850 census shows T. Edwin, age 12, living at home with his parents and three older sisters--Eliza Ann, age 27, Amanda R., age 23, and Mary A., age 19. Massachusetts Death Records show that Mary A. died in 1858, so she was gone before the events of the 1860s. That leaves two older sisters. 

Then came the first clue: Sister Eliza Ann Ruggles shows up as having died on 29 September, 1863, in Massachusetts. That's the date of the first mystery Amanda's death in South Carolina, but the diary shows that after the body was placed in a coffin, brother T. Edwin traveled  back to Massachusetts. And there was the clincher:  The diary reads, "Mr. Ruggles went North today.  ELISA was to have gone with him."That explains why the death is listed there.  

The real Amanda did not die until 1888. What's happening in the records?  For that we have to go back to T. Edwin Ruggles, who married Harriot W. Murray, Ellen Murray's sister, on September 13, 1866. So now we have the connection between the two families. And it has become clear that the woman who died was not Amanda, but her older sister Eliza. But the remaining question is still, who got the name wrong when writing about that 1863 death?

Back we go to the question of who copied the diary! The 1863 death was a traumatic experience for Laura. She wrote about it in agonizing detail.  She had trained as a doctor and used all her medical knowledge, sitting up with "Amanda" night after night, but it was not enough to save her life. Laura was also aware that everyone on the island knew that she and "Amanda" did not get along. She feared that she would be blamed for her death. Given those facts, she was not likely to have gotten the name wrong in her diary. 

Now, one of the conventions in the diary is the use of names like Miss R. and Miss A., rather than the first names. That worked well until you had a Miss R[uggles] and a Miss R[ice] in the same story, as happened here. Much earlier in Laura's diary, she had referred to Miss Ruggles as "Amanda" and talked of their quarrels over the quality of "Amanda's" teaching  If someone else copied the diary, that copier may have decided to substitute the first names for the original abbreviations. And once the name appeared, readers would accept as fact, as I did.

But if it was Ellen who did the copying, wouldn't she have known the name? Yes, but . . . the copying was done in 1901 or later, some 40 years after the events, and details, as we all know from experience, tend to get lost in that long a time break.

Here's what I think happened. I envision Ellen turning to her sister Harriot's memory for help, with the question of "What was the name of T. Edwin's sister?" Harriot should know; after all, she's married to him. BUT, she did not know the first "Amanda." That young woman died on September 29, 1863. Harriot arrived in St. Helena on November 9, 1863. The two never met. Harriot only knew the Ruggles sister who came to St. Helena in 1864. So her quick answer to the question would have been "Amanda." And that's the record that has come down to us in the diary. Wouldn't Ellen have eventually caught the error herself when the second Amanda appeared? Not necessarily. The handwritten copy of the diary ends in May1864. The second Amanda did not arrive until Christmas of that year, so Ellen (or another copier) would not have been reminded of her existence.

So there's a major error in The Road to Frogmore. I can go back and change it in an updated edition, which I will probably do at some future point. However, for the moment, I am satisfied to have solved another piece of the puzzle.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Counterfeiters and Forgers, Beware. Your Handwriting is a Dead Give-Away

The manuscript  of Laura Towne's diary came to me through the Carolingiana Library at the University of South Carolina. The first page has barely legible notes. As far as I can make them out, they read:

“Ellen Murray ^ made this manuscript” has a correction above it at the caret, which reads “wrote the first page of. . . "  It is a passenger list from Miss Towne’s voyage on the Oriental.

At the next break, it reads:

 “After page I, the entire manuscript is in the handwriting of Miss Towne, who kept it originally in two small composition books.”

The notes themselves are signed by a woman who was a distinguished educator, a trustee at the Penn School, and the author of a well-received early account of the founding of the Penn School. I had no reason to doubt her conclusions, until . . . 

Until . . . . I received in the mail a photocopy of a letter written by and signed by Ellen Murray, Laura Towne's life-long partner. After little more than a glance, all my conclusions about the diary shattered.   I'm not a handwriting expert, but I have had a  great deal of training in reading 12th-century manuscripts, and many of the techniques are the same. To identify a particular scribe, paleographers look for repeated examples of unusual letter or letter combinations. They also consider spacing, slant, and letter size.

Based on that kind of evidence, I am reasonably sure that Ellen Murray could not have written both the letter signed by her and the first page of my xeroxed diary. The writing of the letter slants at about a thirty-degree angle to the right. The writing on the diary page is predominantly perpendicular, with the occasional slight slant to the left. The letter has very even spacing with straight lines; the diary items are listed irregularly. A capital N in the letter has points at the top; in the diary an N has distinctly rounded tops. The descending line of a final y or g in the letter loops around and returns to the base line. In the diary those letters have a descending line that ends far below the base.

And what about the diary itself? Ah, there the letter styles, the spacing, and the direction of the slant in the diary handwriting match those of the letter almost exactly. The top bar of a capital T has the same detached downward curve in both examples--and this form is not the standard taught in the 19th-century Spencerian penmanship guides. Most noticeably the formations of the name Ellen -- a signature on the letter and a frequently-occurring name in the diary--are identical.

Does that prove that Ellen Murray made the copy of the diary? No, not definitively, but it makes it probable. Is it logical that she would have done so? Yes, of course. In fact, it is more likely than the scenario that has Miss Towne making her own copy just a few weeks before her death. Ellen might well have desired a copy as a memorial to her dear friend, but she would not have wanted to claim the original as her own property. 

The most crucial questions are these. Does it matter? Did the identity of the copier influence what materials found their way into the copy?  And does this new conclusion change any of the facts of the story? We'll look at that next time.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

New Evidence = New Conclusions

In my last post, I gave you my "final" conclusions on who wrote Laura's diary and which version should be my guide. Having convinced myself, I went on to complete the writing of The Road to Frogmore, staying as close as I could to the story Laura herself had told.

And then . . .  came that late night phone call from a family member who might very well know more about this story than I do. She was complimentary about most of the book with only a couple of corrections. But one was a biggie. She pointed out that in my book, a woman named Amanda Ruggles died. But the caller is a descendant of Amanda Ruggles' brother and she insisted that Amanda had not died as I described. In fact, she said, she lived for many years after the caller's great-great grandparents (T. Edwin Ruggles and Harriot Murray) were married. Whoa! How could that be? I immediately dived into my evidence, and here's what I wrote back to my caller:

I was concerned after our conversation that perhaps I had gotten the facts [about Amanda Ruggles]  wrong, so I set out to recheck. First I read my description of her death in “The Road to Frogmore,” since it was written back in 2011. My reaction  upon second reading was that the story was too detailed for me to have made it up from whole cloth, so I had next to determine what source I had used. 

The dates of the events surrounding her last illness and death in the book are September 15, 1863 through October 1, 1863.  I first checked the Holland edition – the one you have.  On page 116, you will see that there is a huge jump in the dates – from September 13 to December 10. The whole period of Amanda’s illness and that of Ellen Murray is simply missing. The only summary appears on page 117, where her letter refers to “Miss Ruggles’ death” and then goes on to discuss Ellen’s continuing illness.

However, in the handwritten manuscript, there is a detailed, day-by-day account of Amanda Ruggles’ illness and death, with enough references to her name and that of her brother, T. Edwin Ruggles, so as to leave no doubt about their identities. I have copies the entire episode from the manuscript, so that you can read the story for yourself.

. . . . I have no explanation of why Holland omitted all of this, except, perhaps that it is very detailed and he grew impatient with all the worrying.  Who knows! But it’s important to know that the printed version is not the whole story.  (3) As for a later mention of Amanda still being alive . . . well, if you have her around after Oct. 1, 1863, it must be a different Amanda.  That’s quite possible, of course. 

There! Once again I had found a "plausible" explanation for contradictory evidence. But there was more. My caller had also sent me a photocopy of a letter written by Ellen Murray, and the more I looked at the handwritten copy of the diary next to the letter, the more convinced I became that Ellen had made the copy rather than Laura Towne.  I'll argue that case next time.