Destination: Hudson Valley, New York, USA
It took a while–maybe 35 pages–for A Violet Season: A Novel to capture me. But once I was hooked, I could not put it down. Kathy Leonard Czepiel takes her time setting the stage for this historical novel, introducing all of the family members on a violet farm near Rhinebeck, New York in the late 19th century.
The conflict between husband and wife (Frank and Ida) lies nearly buried underneath their daily routines of hard work on the farm. Besides all the hand-washing, cooking, cleaning, vegetable gardening and helping with the violet harvests, Ida takes in babies to wet nurse. Although her husband is silent and authoritarian, it takes his truly unforgivable action involving their daughter Alice before Ida understands how oppressed she has been and to begin to believe that she might be entitled to make choices about her life. And she will do anything to save her daughter from danger.
This engrossing novel builds its themes on a framework of minute details about a woman’s life. The feel of the sewing machine pedal, the smell of illness and herbal cures , the texture of dried laundry on the line, the bone-tiredness of a work day after a night spent with a screaming baby. Czepiel has researched deeply and well, but even better, conveys those details as a living background for Ida’s and Alice’s lives. (You can read more about the author’s approach at A Violet Season‘s webpage.)Too many first-time authors seem to cram the results of their research into their books just because–well, they found it, so they should use it. In A Violet Season the details give the reader gets the sense they have stepped into the world of the 1890s, and they see the world through Ida’s eyes.
I had no idea that violets were so popular in the late 19th century, before roses eclipsed them. I had no idea they were raised in the Hudson Valley or that they were a winter crop. While I have long thought Northern New York State and the Hudson Valley would be a worthy destination for a road trip, after reading this book, I’m convinced there is even more to it than the images of painters of the Hudson Valley School, and the Dutch history.
Czepiel uses the fictional oral history of a woman to introduce sections, and that woman says:
People used to say they stood for love and loyalty. They were seen as modest, innocent flowers. You find them everywhere in literature. Keats called the violet “that queen of secrecy.”
The beautiful and fragile violets serve as a perfect image for the women whose lives were at the mercy of others. (Perhaps it would not be stretching a point to say that the thorny roses grew in popularity as women learned how to protect and care for themselves?)
(Keats poem is “Blue! ‘Tis the life of heaven, the domain” and celebrates all things blue, including “all the sweetest flowers–Forget-me-not, the blue-bell, and, that queen of Secrecy, the violet.” )
Another literary reference plays a more important part in the book. Unlike the fictional “history” included, this book was real and influential in the early stirrings of the women’s suffrage movement. Alice and Ida read from Women and Economics by Charlotte Perkins Stetson. When Alice read the book, she had these thoughts.
Mrs. Stetson saw marriage itself as a form of prostitution in which women married men because it was their sole means of financial support…In the end, the book left her despairing even more deeply, for if she were to have a choice, it would be between prostituting herself as a married woman or living her life alone as a working woman.
Portions of the book leave the Hudson Valley and the small town/farm background for New York City and the world of prostitutes–a difference in lifestyle that could be continents apart rather than a few miles.
Put A Violet Season on your must read book for exploring the eastern United States.
Disclaimer: The publishers provided this book for review, without any expectations. I say what I think. The photo at the top is from Flickr, and if you click on the photo you can learn more about the photographer and see more photos. The two videos are from the author’s webpage and are available on You Tube and from the publisher’s website. Links to Amazon allow you to benefit A Traveler’s Library when you do your shopping there. I hope you’ll find it convenient, because it costs no more to support us while you shop.
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