Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Civil War Letters of a Texas Family

Over the past three years, TCU English graduate students Kassia Waggoner and Adam Nemmers have edited and published a collection of letters through TCU Press. Yours in Filial Regard: The Civil War Letters of a Texas Family is comprised of the correspondence of the Love family of Limestone County, Texas: seventy-three numbered letters and about ten uncategorized pieces, mostly envelopes and letter fragments, spanning the years 1859 through 1866, with the bulk written during the war years of 1861-64.

The letters in this collection are written by members of the Love family, who lived in Limestone County, Texas, during the time of the Civil War. According to the Love family Bible, James Marshall Love and Terrisa Adeline Braden Love had eight living children at the time of the Civil War: Cyrus, Sam, James, John, Mary Elizabeth (Bettie or Betty), Eliza Terrisa (Tea), Robert, and Tennessee. The family, which had migrated from Tennessee to Texas, worked to establish a homestead near Tehuacana, in Limestone County northeast of Waco, clearing hundreds of acres for crops and raising many head of livestock. By all accounts, the family rose to prominence in the area, and as the letters reveal they were educated (even some of the Love women).

Once the call to war was issued, the Love boys answered immediately. Cyrus was the first to answer the call. Enlisting as a foot soldier, he joined Company G of the Seventh Texas Infantry. As was common with other families during the conflict, Cyrus was separated from his brothers Sam and John, who mustered into the Sixth Texas Cavalry in Dallas in September 1861. Although they enlisted at the same time and place, Sam and John were directed into different companies—Sam to G Company and John to F. James would later join the Twentieth Texas Cavalry, or Bass’s Regiment, in the spring of 1862. At the beginning of the war, Cyrus was thirty-one years old, James was twenty-five, Sam twenty-three, and John nineteen. Their youngest brother Robert, already eager to join the fight, was only fourteen.

As can be seen below, the brothers’ travels were extensive and varied widely depending upon their units. Rarely did these routes intersect, making communication through post, bearer, or the family network essential for staying in contact with one another.

Seventy-nine of the letters in this volume are written by the soldiering Love brothers—Cyrus, Sam, James, and John Love, and brother-in-law John Karner—to their parents and siblings in Texas. In addition, the collection preserves three letters sent between women on the home front. Beyond the extant letters, there is ample evidence to suggest that Terrisa (Tea), Mary Elizabeth Love Karner (Bettie or Betty), Ellen Love, Fannie Farnsworth, and Lou Karner, among others, wrote to the soldiers and to each other, establishing a complex, extensive network of correspondence from the home front to the various battlefields and back. Thus, the volume presented here is only a sample of a much larger body of epistles; absent, sadly, are letters that were received but not preserved and the untold number of letters that were damaged, miscarried, captured, or otherwise lost in the confusion of war.

We became interested in the Love Family Letters archive during our initial visit to TCU’s Special Collections when one of the archivists highlighted that there were female-authored letters throughout the collection. While initially disappointed that only three female authors appear in the collection, we began to consider the Love women’s role in the family communication network in a different light, finding eight named female recipients. Seventy-eight of the letters are addressed to a female recipient—this includes forty-four letters that are addressed to Mother and Father as shown in the below chart. Thus, women are the vast majority of the recipients found in this archive, which demonstrates the power women held within the Love family correspondence.

The Love women’s role, as recipients of the letters, was more complicated than that of mere reader. As the collection demonstrates, they were tasked with providing food, clothing, and equipment to the soldiering Loves as well as maintaining the family estates, proving that they were active, not passive, readers.  

In addition, the Love Letters were a fascinating opportunity to access the lives of a family that lived in this area one hundred and fifty years ago. We became immersed in the Loves’ Civil War world, identifying networks of kinship, events of significance, and the writing-hands and predilections of unique authors. What began, for the Love brothers, as a quick expedition to repel Yankee invaders became a tedious and terrifying conflict; though the authors professed confidence in their country and cause to reassure their family at home, their doubt and sadness could be read between the lines of the letters. Particularly fascinating, in this regard, are letters addressed not to their parents but to their sisters and friends, which reveal the true state of the war and their feelings about it.

A close study of the Loves’ epistolary practices reveals a wealth of information, especially regarding the rhetoric of nineteenth-century soldiers and their families. In addition, adding the perspective of the recipient affords scholars opportunities to view an alternate history of this important juncture of letter writing, which values the roles women were playing within discourse. While the Love Family Letters is but one example of how the recipients of a letter play an essential role in communication during the Civil War, the insights gained from this particular case-study illustrate that while women were usually the recipient in such collections, their contributions to the epistolary form during the war were multi-faceted and crucial to correspondence as a whole.

Friday, April 1, 2016

20books16 Challenge #4: A Book in a Series

I tackled the next 20 Books in 2016 Challenge with some alacrity. I decided to read a book in a series. Harry Potter sparked my love of reading book series long ago and it hasn’t faded since. Book series give you a chance to read about your favorite characters over and over again.

In honor of the rising popularity of the new Starz show Outlander (and some persuasion on behalf of a friend), I chose to read the series of books on which the TV show is based. I didn’t watch the show before reading the book because I wanted to get a real feel for the books before involuntarily comparing it to the show every time I picked it up.

Thanks to a long weekend in which practically two days were spent sitting at an airport, I was able to knock out the 850-page book rather quickly.

As is usual for me, I latched onto one of the main fictional characters, and I don’t plan on letting Jamie go anytime soon. Jamie, a young heartthrob, is a wanted rebel Scot. He’s compassionate, brave, and of course, attractive. What more could I want in a character? Jamie and Claire (the other main character) have motivated me to keep going with their stories and continue on with the rest of the series.

However, this book challenge is a hefty endeavor, seeing as though there are eight books in the series. But being an avid Game of Thrones fan, the first book in the Outlander series has proved that this will be right up my alley. Plus, I’ll be able to read the other seven Outlander books while I wait for George R. R. Martin to complete the most recent Game of Thrones novel (because as all GoT nerds know, he’s not the fastest writer).

Outlander has it all: time travel, a love story, a setting in Scotland, and of course, lots of combat.

So for those of you who enjoy reading a bit of fantasy and latching onto or obsessing over your favorite characters for a long time, this is the perfect series for you to pick up as part of our 20 Books in 2016 Challenge!


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Yeats, Joyce, and Irish Literature: an Interview with my Irish Lit Professor

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day everyone! Today is more than just the celebration of a famous Saint; it is the celebration of Ireland. With that in mind, I sat down with my professor of Irish literature to learn a little more about it.

Dr. Karen Steele teaches twentieth century Irish literature and is chair of the English Department at TCU. I have absolutely loved learning about Irish literature in her class this semester. I started by asking her about her favorite Irish literature and how she came to study it. Dr. Steele said she was drawn to Irish literature by a Yeats poem, “The Wild Swans at Coole.”

She said, I couldn’t really say why I loved it but it just, it drew me in and I hand wrote it and put it above my bed and I thought about it all the time.”

Once she found her way into Irish literature she looked for other ways to study Yeats.

“I wrote an essay on it, probably not very well, but it was heart felt and I looked for opportunities throughout my undergraduate studies to be able to work on Yeats,” she said.

Dr. Steele also mentioned that she studied Yeats through a modern poetry tutorial during her time at Oxford. This all contributed to Dr. Steele’s immersion into Irish literature.

“It was Yeats who brought me there, but I love to laugh about him now,” she said. “Because I think there is so much about his own personal life and his philosophies that are silly but I just found his poetry irresistible.”

After reading the poem and other pieces of Yeats work I can understand the draw that Yeats would have. But what other Irish writers are out there? Dr. Steele commented on her favorite piece of Irish fiction: James Joyce’s Ulysses.

“One of my great sorrows is I rarely teach [Ulysses] because it’s such a complex work, and it requires so much preparation to teach it I rarely teach it to undergraduates,” she said.

Dr. Steele said Ulysses is her favorite because “it’s so extraordinary that all of the jokes, all the fun, all the word play, all the messaging. It’s hard to get if you don’t have a lot of ground work first, so I rarely teach it but I love it so much.”

I haven’t read Ulysses yet (I will just have to add it to my Empire State building of a TBR list), but I have certainly read other works by James Joyce. One of my favorite pieces that I have read in Dr. Steele’s class was a short story called “The Dead.” But why is it important to discuss Irish literature in the first place? What do we gain?

Dr. Steele answered, “Being immersed in the literature is just a never ending entertainment. It’s complicated, it’s funny, it’s deeply humane. Every time I get to prepare to write something or read something about Irish literature I go home to my husband say, this is incredible it’s so smart, so funny.”

Dr. Steele also explains how Irish literature is also important to the global sphere.

“I’m interested in how literature has a role to play in guiding the state of affairs…” she said. “We often think of literature as the ivory tower. It doesn’t have any role to play in the world, but this is such an object lesson in how the culture was deeply invested and actually involved in the revolution and the formation of the state.”

Now that we have an understanding of why we should read Irish literature, where on earth should we start? Well, Dr. Steele had some recommendations on that too. She suggested reading Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín. Dr. Steele emphasized the importance of the novel's perspective of the Irish immigrant experience.

“It’s really helping us to appreciate how challenging it is as we’re thinking about the questions of refuges today. I think as a novel that really helps us to see why you can desperately want to leave and yet never feel even when you have opportunities in this new country how difficult that experience is.”

This has been something that I have been exploring all semester, and I really believe that Irish literature plays an important role in the study of literature. While I’m sure that I will learn even more the rest of the semester on this St. Patrick’s Day, I think I’ll start on Brooklyn.

Have a fantastic St. Patrick’s Day and please comment if y’all have any favorite Irish authors or books! What’s on your reading list?

-- Kit, intern

Saturday, March 5, 2016

20books16 Challenge #3 - A Book Recommendation from Matilda

As a kid, I always read books with main characters similar to myself, which is why I enjoyed the silliness of Junie B. Jones, the curiosity of Nancy Drew, and most of all, the book nerd in Roald Dahl’s fictional character, Matilda.

But while I simply admired Matilda’s genius, I was overly fascinated with her extensive and mature reading list. This is why, as an adult, I’m still hung up on it. I’ve chosen to read a book on young Matilda’s list for our 20 books in 2016 book challenge – a book I heard about from a fictional character.

Set in Victorian England, Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy is considered a classic. As I started reading, I realized quickly that this book contains some seriously heavy content for a young girl to be reading – even if she is fictional. Dahl definitely wanted his readers to grasp Matilda’s maturity.

In the book, beautiful and naïve Tess Durbeyfield is seduced by an upper class man, which leads to a child out of wedlock. This event makes her poor life even more difficult as she falls in love with another man only to be shunned by him, becomes entangled in a murder, and eventually dies a brutal death.

Like I said, a heavy reading topic for a girl in elementary school.

Though Tess of the D’Urbervilles contains some intense material and difficult language, I do not regret reading this one. It reveals the twisted nature of society’s rules and the condescending and hypocritical attitudes of men towards women in Victorian England. Matilda has many books on her list like this one with strong female leads, including Jane Eyre.

So thanks, Matilda, for the book suggestion for our 20 Books in 2016 challenge.

(In honor of e-book week, I would also like to add that this was the first book I read completely in e-book format.)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Adele Briscoe Looscan, Daughter of the Republic

What better way to kick off Women’s History Month than with Adele Briscoe Looscan, the first female president of the Texas State Historical Association! 

A “woman of her time,” she was “a combination of nineteenth-century tradition and twentieth-century progressivism. She flourished in the society of both women and men. She earned the respect of both. She was shaped by circumstance and by her heritage as a daughter of the Republic of Texas and was motivated throughout her life by her dedication to it.”
Adele Briscoe Looscan: Daughter of the Republic by Laura Lyons McLemore - the fourth in our Texas Biography Series - is now available!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

James Farmer on the Civil Rights Movement

"The dead will not return, and our martyrs will stay at peace. We survivors have got a second wind, and the young will draw their first.
Martin left us with a dream unrealized and a promise unfulfilled. Our nation deceives itself with the fiction that the task is complete and racism is dead and all is well. The myth surrounds us that America has suddenly become color-blind, and that all that remains is an economic problem.
No greater lie has ever been told, and the tellers of it, if they have eyes to see and minds to think, must know it.
The tired among us must recharge our batteries. The uninitiated must learn to gird their loins. We have not finished the job of making our country whole.”

Friday, February 19, 2016

My Blind Date with a Book

As a single girl trying to forget that Sunday was Valentine’s Day, I was super excited when TCU Press hosted a “Blind Date with a Book” sale.  I knew that if I needed to I could just say “yeah, I have a blind date” when people asked about my un-exciting Valentine’s plans. Part of the thrill of getting a new book is not knowing what’s going to happen in the book, and the event just added to that excitement. And man, it was hard to choose a book! I wanted to take the entire table home with me, but that seemed a little unrealistic.

But it turned out that I was really lucky. I wound up getting the book that I had stared at a dozen times at the Press and had wanted to read. And no, I didn’t cheat and look for this book before it was wrapped up (though I was tempted to). I was good and made sure that I chose a book that would be a surprise.  But the best surprise was that Dearest Virginia just so happened to fit perfectly into our #20books16 challenge! Our TCU Press #20books16 challenge is an awesome list of challenges that range from “a book with a purple cover” to “a book from your home state,” and as a native Texan and a Horned Frog, I could cross that one off of my list. Dearest Virginia, edited by Gayle Hunnicutt, is about her family who lived in the Fort Worth area. The letters in the book are from the 1940s, which I haven’t read about much so I will be getting a new narrative from my “adopted hometown” (though I’ll still always be a Houston girl).  

Now I’m not going to lie and say that I have the book all finished, with my English-major class load I’m already swimming (or drowning) in books. But Dearest Virginia has been a wonderful book to use as a break from my studies. It's a wonderful story composed of letters from a solider home to his wife. I look forward to getting to know the story more and, of course, for my next book challenge on the list!