Karla from Flannel With Faith has written it. Wonderful post and important reminder.
I used to come across the word of the day, “moue,” pretty often back when I was reading Victorian fiction. I never looked it up. I guess, even as a kid reading Little Women, I understood its meaning in a general sense. It seemed to happen to the faces of the female characters when they didn’t get their way. In Little Women Amy was alway “pulling a moue” when she didn’t get her way. Of course Beth, the good sister, NEVER “pulled a moue” though she had more to endure than the other three sisters. It was an object lesson in putting a brave face on things. The message came through pretty clearly that it was far more noble (and therefore better) to be like Beth than to be like Amy.
I like Victorian fiction or maybe, more accurately, 19th century fiction. I’m not sure that we’ve ever done better in English than the novels of Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens. This was also era in which American fiction began to blossom and that, right there, is pretty amazing. Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper, and a plethora (since I’m writing about literature just like an English teacher) of female (they were called that back in the day) writers whose names have been forgotten but whose books were read more than those by male writers. Whatever the natal genitalia of the writers, the 19th century gave us great stories with three-dimensional characters involving themselves in realistic and complicated situations.
Wow. I remember feeling bereft the day I finished the last of the Thomas Hardy novels from the library at the University of Colorado. At that very time I was working on my senior paper which was about Sarah Josepha Hale and Godey’s Lady’s Book, a project that later evolved into my thesis.
In the process of writing my thesis I learned that when we look at history we don’t see very much. We see less of the iceberg than did the captain and crew of the Titanic.
My first encounter with Mrs. Hale or the 19th century happened when I was a little girl, so little that when I sat on a sofa my legs still stuck out straight in front of me. My dad had acquired a book at the University of Denver library book sale and he brought it home for me. It was A Poet’s Offering one of the coffee table books of the 19th century, a compilation of poetry organized according to topic.
Of course I couldn’t read it, but I could look at the beautiful engravings.
Immediately inside the embossed cardboard cover was an engraving of the woman who’d sponsored the compilation, Sarah Josepha Hale.
I have imagined the book being given as a Christmas gift back in 1850 and sitting on a velvet or lace covered table, thumbed through on rainy days and used as a reference in times when a certain thought, a certain poetic line, could turn around the course of a day. Most of the names in this book would be unfamiliar to people alive today, but they were famous in their time. Women were always “Mrs. Whoever” unless they were unmarried and then, chances are, they wrote under a nom de plume.
I gave the book my dad gave me to a Chinese professor from the University of Chengdu. I have a partial copy here that I scored on Etsy some time ago. He was struggling to compile a poetic lexicon of English and that’s essentially what A Poet’s Offering is. We knew each other in Denver the year after I had returned from China. He was a sweet, intelligent, kind and sincere man who’d been redeemed from the shit he’d endured in the Cultural Revolution and put at the head of an English department, then, miracle of miracles (to him) sent to America to study.
Every Thanksgiving I remember Sarah Josepha Hale for good reason — not only because she is one of my heroes and the person who inspired my masters thesis — in fact, she was the reason I went to grad school –but because SHE is the founder of Thanksgiving.
Who was she? She was — for more than 30 years (in the 19th century) — the editor of the most successful popular periodical in the world at the time: Godey’s Lady’s Book. She had a clear, tactful yet insistent voice and was able to gather popular support for many of her ideas and projects — including Vassar College, the Bunker Hill Monument, Mount Vernon National Monument, and helping Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor in the US, get into medical school. She employed Edgar Allen Poe as her literary editor, and her magazine was the first to publish literature ONLY by American writers. She wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb” for her own little girl who was named Mary and who did have a little lamb that went to school with her. She wrote an anti-slavery novel long before Harriet Beecher Stowe came out with Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
For YEARS she had pushed for a national day of thanksgiving, but it was not until 1863, when the US was in the middle of a civil war, that she was able to get the President to take the idea seriously. Her argument to Lincoln was that the people on this continent needed a reason to stop what they were doing and reflect on what brought Americans together.
From Sarah Josepha Hale, “Editor’s Table,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1858
OUR NATIONAL THANKSGIVING
“All the blessings of the fields,
All the stores the garden yields,
All the plenty summer pours,
Autumn’s rich, o’erflowing stores,
Peace, prosperity and health,
Private bliss and public wealth,
Knowledge with its gladdening streams,
Pure religion’s holier beams —
Lord, for these our souls shall raise
Grateful vows and solemn praise.”
We are most happy to agree with the large majority of the governors of the different States — as shown in their unanimity of action for several past years, and which, we hope, will this year be adopted by all — that the LAST THURSDAY IN NOVEMBER shall be the DAY Of NATIONAL THANKSGIVING for the American people. Let this day, from this time forth, as long as our Banner of Stars floats on the breeze, be the grand THANKSGIVING HOLIDAY of our nation, when the noise and tumult of wordliness may be exchanged for the laugh of happy children, the glad greetings of family reunion, and the humble gratitude of the Christian heart. This truly American Festival falls, this year on the twenty fifth day of this month.
Let us consecrate the day to benevolence of action, by sending good gifts to the poor, and doing those deeds of charity that will, for one day, make every American home the place of plenty and of rejoicing. These seasons of refreshing are of inestimable advantage to the popular heart; and if rightly managed, will greatly aid and strengthen public harmony of feeling. Let the people of all the States and Territories sit down together to the “feast of fat things,” and drink, in the sweet draught of joy and gratitude to the Divine giver of all our blessings, the pledge of renewed love to the Union, and to each other; and of peace and good-will to all men. Then the last Thursday in November will soon become the day of AMERICAN THANKSGIVING throughout the world.
More interesting reading about Sarah Josepha Hale here, on The Gad About Town.