In between Shakespeare and statistical analyses, Austen and annual reports, I indulge in historical romances. I especially relish reads whose heroines are spirited, steely-spined, softhearted survivors. And when it comes to strong women, author Mary Jo Putney always delivers.
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What would you give up and how far would you go to make a better life for yourself? Would you pack up what little you had and leave your loved ones and your rural homeland to seek your fortune in the big city? Would you walk 250 miles over mountains and moors while driving a herd of cattle to forge a new destiny? Just what would you do?
I remember the first time I saw New York’s Grand Central Terminal. I was in college. My Immigrant Fiction class had embarked on an excursion to New York City to walk in the footsteps of the approximately 12 million people who immigrated there between 1892 and 1954.
Like the immigrants before us, our first stop was Ellis Island, the official entry point. As we crossed the harbor to Ellis Island, I stood at the ferry’s rail, gazing at the Statue of Liberty who welcomed these people to their new home: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
After we visited both Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, we headed over to 42nd Street and Park Avenue to tour Grand Central Terminal, built in 1913. Perhaps some immigrants heading to different locales to live might have caught a train at Grand Central Station? It is possible. Grand Central Terminal was and still is the most famous railway terminal in the world.
However, Grand Central is much more than a railroad station. High above the exterior doors is the ethereal sculpture featuring Hercules, representing physical strength; Mercury, the god of travel and commerce; and Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and protector of cities. Under them is an ornate clock made of Tiffany glass. Then, there is the main concourse. I remember gazing across the expanse to the information booth with its famous four-faced clock; each face crafted of opal. And above was a ceiling of constellations, painted backward as if I were seeing the stars from God’s vantage point. What a wondrous sight!
Recently, I read The Elegant Out, written by Elizabeth Bartasius. Told in the first-person point-of-view, this work of fiction feels more like a memoir.
The main character, Elizabeth, is struggling. Stuck in a dead-end job, Elizabeth is a domestic abuse survivor. Even though Elizabeth has a new love, Gabe, a man who deeply cherishes her, and a son Jack, around whom her world revolves, her ex-husband’s abusive words still echo in her head. And that long-ago vitriol has affected her self-worth and self-identity.
In the mid- to late-1800s, a phenomenon known as “fasting girls” were documented in the Americas and Europe. These young girls, usually preteens, claimed that they could survive for long periods of time without eating.
During the Middle Ages, some saints were said to have been able to survive without nourishment. Because of this precedence, many of the Victorian-age faithful regarded these fasting girls as miraculous and saw this self-starvation as a sign of sanctity. As a result, these young girls became spectacles, put on display, often for a price and always at a cost.
Thankfully, the fascination with fasting girls faded. Doctors eventually determined that these girls had suffered from anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder where food intake is restricted as a way to cope with negative emotions.