Read When Will This Cruel War Be Over?: The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson, Gordonsville, Virginia, 1864 by Barry Denenberg Free Online
Book Title: When Will This Cruel War Be Over?: The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson, Gordonsville, Virginia, 1864|
The author of the book: Barry Denenberg
Date of issue: November 1st 2003
ISBN 13: 9780439555173
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 9.55 MB
Read full description of the books When Will This Cruel War Be Over?: The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson, Gordonsville, Virginia, 1864:When Will This Cruel War Be Over (The Civil War) / 0-590-22862-5
Quite frankly, this book is terrible and fails on many levels. Historically, it is useless, because it subverts real and important history in favor of overt racism. A single glaring example: on page 29 of the diary, the narrator describes the "weekly classes" that her mother gives to their slave children or, as she terms, "her little scholars". In a book set in 1864, in Virginia, in the midst of the Civil War, the plantation family is giving weekly lessons to their slave children to read and write! This is terrible history - teaching reading and writing to a slave was a dire offense in the South, thanks to the Slave Codes and Anti-Literacy laws, most of which originated in Virginia a century before this book is set! Teaching a single slave to be your personal bookkeeper was a serious offense; holding public lessons for all your slave children would result in the entire family being burnt out of town for being abolitionists or worse! Historically, any master intent on giving slaves lessons would have done so in the direst secrecy, in the dead of night, and only to adults (little children might let slip the secret). Such a master would sleep with a loaded gun by the bed, conscious that the slightest slip of tongue could result in a riot, in hangings, in the death and destruction of everything they owned.
Why does the author thumb his nose at history and insert this ludicrous detail, despite the incredible breach of accuracy? Two reasons, really. First, he can continue to paint the Southern plantation owners as paternalistic participants in the "fair and equitable" system of slavery. It's horrifying to see that the "slavery was good for black people because their masters took care of them" argument is still alive and well here. Second, our author can flaunt his racism by underscoring his idea that slaves were simple minded idiots who actually *needed* the structures of slavery in order to survive - the narrator notes with matronly frustration that the slave children simply do not *want* to learn to read and write and are stupid little barbaric animals, uninterested in the larger world around them.
Lest you think I'm being uncharitable, halfway through the book I started turning down the page corner every time a slave did something stupid, dim-witted, animalistic, or sub-human. I had to stop this practice, however, because I realized I was turning down every single page. It's not just that the narrator is "realistically racist", the slave actions that the author imagines for his fictional Emma to record are caricatures of people - his slaves are stupid, dim animals who are too foolish to appreciate freedom, literacy, or the simple privilege of having a family. By contrast, the fictional plantation owners are sweet and gentle masters who deserve lionization - although we just have to believe this when it is presented as fact, for we are given no examples of praiseworthy actions to back this up. He lavishes praise on them for not beating the slaves too often unless they are particularly stubborn or stupid, and for not breaking up families unless "necessary".
As much as the author cannot capture a realistic black slave in his writing, he cannot capture a realistic young woman. "Emma" is boring and tiresome. She simply does not do anything in this novel except write letters to a boy she has met only once, expound on the virtues of marriage to her diary, and sit by her ailing mother. We're well into the Civil War, with full-fledged shortages and starvation - you'd think we might see Emma in the fields, desperately trying to eke out a carrot or two from the barren fields, or we might see her at the market, haggling for a bit of bacon to feed to her ill mother, but these interesting scenes of shortages and famine don't seem to occur to the author. There is marriage to write about!
Emma's fictional "Cousin Rachel" (Emma is too stupid to realize that when you only know one Rachel, you don't have to keep writing "Cousin Rachel" every time) takes up at least a third of the book with her arguments against marriage, and Emma is obsessed with pointing out that Rachel is wrong. At first, this seems potentially intriguing - Has Rachel been jilted? Wronged? Has a secret and youthful lover died in an earlier battle? Has her father shamelessly abandoned her mother? - It isn't until the epilogue that it is revealed that, no, Rachel was just insane. That's why she professed relatively sensible concerns about 19th century marriage: insanity. I honestly cannot tell if the author is a misogynist or just boring and unimaginative.
I would not recommend this novel to anyone. Apart from the pro-slavery racism and paternalistic attitudes, apart from the anti-feminism and slavishly romantic main character, apart from the painful boredom of a young woman who never does anything with her life except mope around waiting for a boy she met once to ride up and rescue her, the entire affair was so boring from beginning to end that even "Emma" seems to realize how deathly dull her life is - many pages of her diary have a mere single sentence as an entry. In closing, I will leave you with these riveting examples of the evocative writing in this diary, with each entry produced in its entirety:
Wednesday, January 13, 1864 - I never realized how happy I was until this war besieged our land.
Tuesday, February 16, 1864 - There are many reports of smallpox in the area.
Tuesday, February 23, 1864 - Mother remained in bed all day.
Wednesday, March 23, 1864 - Mother is still feeling poorly.
Monday, April 18, 1864 - Mother died today.
Tuesday, May 10, 1864 - We received word of the death of Lieutenant Walker.
Tuesday, May 24, 1864 - Cousin Rachel and I talked in my room again this evening.
Saturday, July 9, 1864 - My watch is broken.
Sunday, July 24, 1864 - The weather is quite warm today.
Saturday, December 3, 1864 - We wait in breathless anticipation for news.
Sunday, December 11, 1864 - How long O Lord, how long?
Thursday, December 22, 1864 - I am growing thin and feeling weak. I can no longer even weep.
~ Ana Mardoll
Read information about the authorBarry Denenberg is the critically acclaimed author of non-fiction and historical fiction. His historical fiction includes titles in the Dear America, My Name is America, and Royal Diaries series, many of which have been named NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. His nonfiction books have covered a wide array of topics, from Anne Frank to Elvis Presley. After the publication of An American Hero: The True Story of Charles Lindburgh, Denenberg was interviewed for various documentaries including ABC’s “The Century.”
Denenberg was born in Brooklyn, New York and lived in Long Island, Binghamton, New York, and Palisades Park, New Jersey. “I was a serious reader from an early age and when I attended Boston University in 1968, majoring in history, I worked in a bookstore at night,” he says. “After college I was a book buyer for some fine, independent bookstores, some of the nation’s largest retail book chains and a marketing executive in publishing.
“At the age of forty I came to the startling realization that the glamorous world of power lunches, power politics, and power trips was not for me. I immediately went to work on the Great American Novel (since destroyed) and was rescued when my future wife, Jean Feiwel (then and now publisher of Scholastic Inc.) made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Scholastic had received a biography of John F. Kennedy that they deemed unacceptable: would I like to try and write one?
“The rest is history in more ways than one. I went on to write biographies of Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, J. Edgar Hoover, Nelson Mandela, Elvis Presley and Voices From Vietnam, an oral history of the war.
“Writing some of the first books in the Dear America series was a turning point in my career. Its popularity and the resulting readers’ letters made a great impression on me. This in turn inspired my writing and fueled my research. With my bookstore background and the help of numerous knowledgeable booksellers I am able to assemble an extensive bibliography on each topic I write.
“I think there’s an art to both writing and research. I’m a good writer but a better researcher.”
Something that has added greatly to Denenberg’s perspective on writing for young readers is his volunteer work as Director of Creative Writing and Library Services at the Waterside School in Stamford, Connecticut. Waterside, established in 2001, is an independent school dedicated to educating gifted children of the communities’ low-income families.
Aside from writing and teaching Denenberg’s interests include listening to music, reading (books not related to his research), swimming, practicing yoga and spending time with his family.
Barry Denenberg lives in Bedford, New York with his wife and daughter.
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