And The Ladies Of The Club
A Great Novel of Small Town America
"...And Ladies of the Club" by Helen Hooven Santmyer made an enormous impression on me when I first read it back in the mid 1980s.
There I was, an Englishwoman in my late 30s, living in London, UK, totally entranced by a very long tale of small town American life covering sixty years. This book certainly exerted a magic hold over me. It runs to almost 1200 pages so it has to put a spell on the reader to persist to the end.
It must have exerted a similar spell on the author as it is said to have taken her 50 years to write the novel that covers the period from 1868 to 1932 in the small town of Waynesboro, Ohio.
I lent the book to a friend and it disappeared (isn't it always the way?) and, about four months ago, I decided I wanted to read it again. There was nothing for it but to buy another copy. Again, I read it from cover to cover perhaps with even more enjoyment than the first time.
The First Line of the Novel
"The formation of the Waynesboro Women's Club was first proposed in the early summer of 1868."
A Synopsis of "...And the Ladies of the Club"
A Saga of Families in Waynesboro, Ohio
The story begins just three years after the American Civil War with the graduation of two young ladies, Anne Alexander and Sally Cochran. The book follows these two girls from leaving school, throughout their lives and into old age.
The first chapter is not only the start of Anne and Sally as adults, it is also the birth of the ladies' literary club. The two girls are cajoled into joining by their former teacher.
From here, we are introduced to the other ladies who join the club and to their families. We see Anne and Sally get married, have children, go through times of trouble and bereavement. At the same time we follow the stories of the other major characters lives too.
It's a complex novel but you soon get to know the characters and, as each new storyline is introduced, the author gives enough reminders to jog our memories about the people involved. Death, divorce, serious illness and scandal as well as births, marriages and other happy occasions fill the lives of the people we get to know and like or dislike.
And The Ladies Of The Club
Do You Like Multi Generational Novels?
Is this the kind of book you like to read?
The Republican Convention of 1880, mentioned in the novel
The Good Earth
Here's another book I intend to read again. Like "...And Ladies of the Club", I first read this story in the 1980s. It is about an ordinary family in China during the great social changes of the 1920s by Nobel Laureate author Pearl S. Buck.
History, Religion and Politics in the Novel
Meet Important Historical Figures
Don't think that this book is just a frivolous novel about the trivialities of everyday life. As important as the events in the lives of the characters are, the story is firmly rooted in the history the time span it covers.
Just as in real life, religion and politics can affect the lives of ordinary people, we see how these affect the lives of the families of Waynesboro.
Waynesboro is a predominantly Republican town, with a large proportion of German Americans living there. We follow the local politics closely through Sally's husband, Ludwig Rausch, who owns a paper mill and is the county organiser for the Republican Party.
Because of Ludwig's involvement in politics, we also learn how national politics and politicians affect the town in some instances. For example, General James Garfield's (see picture) attempt to win the Republican Presidential nomination in 1880 forms the background to several chapters.
Religion in the town influences the characters and events. It is mostly a Presbyterian town with both Reformed and Non-Reformed Presbyterians. We see the conflict occurring when the stricter Reformed Presbyterians are offended by the more liberal Non-Reformed.
Helen Hooven Santmyer, the Author,
Lived to See the Success of her Novel
This wonderful novel has indeed...touched the lives of millions...I was with Santmeyer a few days after the story of the discovery of her novel was on the front page of the NY Times. She was being interviewed in her nursing home in Xenia, Ohio, by Dan Rather.
Rather said to her, "How do you feel when they say you've written the great American novel?" Helen just chuckled and said, "Oh no. It's just a book about politics."
She lived for almost another year, checking the NY Times every Sunday, and saw her book as #1 every single week for the rest of her life. As one enters Xenia now, there is a sign that says, "Home of Helen Hooven Santmyer, Author."
Quote from Gerald Sindell in a review on Amazon.com
More About Helen Hooven Santmyer
- WOSU Presents Ohioana Authors | Helen Hooven Santmyer
A page dedicated to the author Helen Hooven Santmyer and is about her life and is illustrated with photographs of her when she was young and in old age.
Sarum, a Novel by Edward Rutherford
Sarum is the old name for the city of Salisbury in Wiltshire, England, UK, and the novel tells the story of the city through the stories of generations of a small number of families who lived there. It's fascinating and well thought out. It's a really enjoyable read if you like historical fiction.
Do You Like Historical Fiction?
Do you like historical fiction?
© 2010 Carol Fisher