UPDATE: I’ll let this simmer for another week before I pull a name.[asa book]155652787X[/asa] Just a quick note to let you know that the new edition of Gwen Bristow’s Celia Garth published by Chicago Review Press is out. I wrote the foreward, which I’ve copied here in case you’re curious about this novel, which is a great example of historical fiction written in the fifties.
Also, with the understanding that I won’t be able to actually mail this copy out until I’ve finished Six, I’ve got a copy of Celia Garth to give away. I’ll pick a name at random from the comments.
At age thirteen I discovered historical fiction by means of Gwen Bristow’s Jubilee Trail, and so began a lifelong preoccupation with stories set in the past.
By the time I was seventeen I had read hundreds of novels about civil wars (British and American), the Revolution, the Anglo-Saxons and the Norman Invasion, and ancient Rome and Greece. I considered myself something of a connoisseur, someone who could tell her Mary Renault from her James Michener. The stories I liked best were the ones that focused on the lives of women, who were so often banished to the periphery of the historical fiction bestsellers. Even at a young age I was skeptical of James Fenimore Cooper’s portrayal of the women struggling to survive on the New York frontier.
My impression was that male authors didn’t really know how to write female characters, and didn’t particularly regret that shortcoming. Women were wonderful for filling in detail and establishing background–a man had to have a family to fight for, after all–but the most a reader could hope for was a female with grit, that stock character who knows how to shoot a gun and speaks her mind now and then, but isn’t really fulfilled until she embraces her feminine nature.
Even female authors fell into this trap. Scarlett O’Hara is a strong-willed, spoiled, manipulative, vain wretch who wrestles her fate to the ground and holds it there determined to get what she believes she deserves. Except, of course, she fails, because Scarlett doesn’t know what she wants. She rejects the love of a good man, and is doomed to unhappiness.
Gwen Bristow took a different approach. Her female characters may be introduced to us as young and inexperienced; they may even be naive. But they are serious-minded individuals with strong feelings about matters other than engaging the interest of men.
This is certainly true of Celia Garth. A young woman with few family ties, she is ambitious and proud of her skills as a seamstress. She depends on her own intelligence and sense of self, and unlike many primary characters in early historical novels, she does not fling herself into harm’s way. Harm comes, nevertheless, in the form of a war for independence and a British army bent on not only subduing but also mastering and humiliating a rebel colony.
Celia has a strong sense of what it means to be a Southerner (first) and an American (second) in occupied Charleston. She does fall in love, but her choice is a good man with a family that loves and respects her. The conflict is not an internal one for Celia; she does not doubt her choices. The force that moves her story along is external: when the marauding British army takes everything she holds dear, the Revolution is no longer academic for Celia. Step by step she becomes more involved, of her own free will. Her love story, as touching as it is, is secondary to the role she takes for herself as a spy.
Bristow takes great pains to re-create 18th century Charleston as a war zone. Celia and those close to her are shaken, again and again, by the constant barrage of artillery fired from British ships in the harbor. The Revolution is not a sanitized affair; there is loss of property and injury and death, despair and grievous insult and loss of hope. There is division within the community; Celia’s cousin takes the king’s side and shows no empathy for Celia even in her worst days. The stories of the many secondary characters, good, indifferent, and bad, come together to bring wartime Charleston into three full dimensions.
Bristow was a proud native of the South. Her love for South Carolina and Charleston is palpable. Thus it isn’t surprising that in trying both to tell a true story and to honor her home she does in fact sidestep the issue of slavery. There is no contemplation of that institution; it just is. The many slaves in the story hate the British as much as their owners do. Readers may consider this a simplification or even an act of denial on Bristow’s part–or simply a realistic representation of how Celia sees and understands her world.
For Celia, as for many of Bristow’s female characters, personal happiness–family, marriage, children–is a byproduct of a life lived on a wider plain. Celia Garth strives for personal fulfillment in a whole range of ways, and by overcoming her many challenges, she earns her happy ending.
There may well have been real young women who lived lives like Celia’s, spying for the colonial forces during the Revolution. But these women’s stories have been forgotten. If there are records of their acts, the details will be spotty and open to interpretation; the historical record is what it is, and it doesn’t strive to convince anybody of the facts or even to make them palatable or believable.
The novelist does bear that burden, and Bristow is equal to the challenge. With Celia Garth she gives us a complex, ambitious young woman living in Charleston during the American Revolution–a setting as extraordinary as Celia herself.
I finished reading my copy just this weekend! I will be posting a review on my blog.
How odd. I didn’t even remember ordering it and don’t remember it being recommended to me, but was delighted to see it on my doorstep as I’d just finished my TBR stack. Then when I saw that you’d written the Foreward…
Ooh! This looks like just the kind of book I’d enjoy. Thanks for posting the foreward, Rosina. It’s piqued my interest. Please enter me in the giveaway.
I’ve picked this one up many times, but always end up with another title. It’s definently on my list now.
I’ve added the book to my “To Buy” list. Thanks for the recommendation.
Looks like a good one. Will be hunting it down soon.
Sounds great. I’ll have to go pick that up.
I am so silly – it’s never occurred to me that people wrote historical fiction in a time that is historical (to me, at least). Sounds good!
@Tiffany: And here’s something even odder to think about: Austen and Dickens did NOT write historical fiction. They were writing about their own times and societies. To us its historical fiction, to them it was gossip at the dinner table.
I have not read any of Gwen Bristow’s books, and there are thirteen of them in the library catalog. Thanks for the tip on a new-to-me writer with a deep backfile for me to work through! I’m starting with Celia Garth.
This book is in my top 3 of Revolutionary War historicals. I adored it when I was a youth. I’m so very glad it’s been republished. Thanks so much for telling us about it!
I am very much out of reading material as my two favorite authors (Rosina Lippi and her Wilderness series, LOVE THEM and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series) are both in the process of writing and releasing. I’m on the last book of each series, again, and need something to read. Please enter me in this contest! Thank you!
Please enter me, too! I’m always looking for new authors!
So fun! I read Celia Garth at age 13 and then several other Gwen Bristow novels. I recently bought a used copy of Celiafrom a second hand bookseller I met on Ebay. I left it lying out for my 14 year old daughter to find on her own, but no such luck yet! (A recommendation from old Mom is the kiss of death for a book around here!) This is the perfect historical novel for a young woman who isn’t quite ready for the sex scenes of The Wilderness Series or The Outlander Series.
I had never heard of Celia Garth so I would love to read about her.
Can’t wait to read Celia Garth, please enter me. Thanks!
I’ve not read any Bristow (yet), and Celia Garth looks like a good place to start. Thanks for entering me in the giveaway!
For the last 27 years, I have been keeping track of every book I read (not counting the thousands of children’s books I’ve read and am still reading to my four children). One of my earliest entries, from 1981, was Celia Garth. I rated it a 5, my highest score. I own a tattered copy of Calico Palace by Gwen Bristow that I read every couple of years, but I haven’t read Celia Garth since 1981. I would love to win a copy to re-read it.
Please pick me…Thanks!
That would be a very nice gift! Thank you for your generosity Rosina!
CAn’t wait for your new Wilderness book to be out for the public to read. I just starting to read a couple of years ago. Just got the names of two more authors to read from the above. Please inter me in your free book give away. Merry Christmas to all.
Love your books! Had seen this as a recommendation from Amazon. Sounds good and need something to read while I wait for the last in the Wilderness series. I’ve loved all 5 and hope that the 6th lives up to the rest! I want a good ending for every character.
I’d love to be in on the chance to win!
Ohhh Yeah! I actually have this book on my wishlist at Amazon. I love your Wilderness series. I have been a fan for a long time and have them all in hardback. Recently I bought all of them in paperback and did a non-stop re-read. It was delightful!
This book sounds great. Please enter me in the contest. Thanks!
Hi, Rosina….Just finished Into the Wilderness……..I really didn’t want it to end. Please put my name in for the Ceila Garth book. I’m on my way to pick up the next “Wilderness” book. Thanks. Sue M
Hope I’m not to late, but would you enter my name in the drawing for the Ceila Garth book.
If I’m not too late, I’d like my name entered too please.
This sounds wonderful! I’d never heard of her before. Thanks for sharing this with us.
This looks like an interesting read, can’t wait to get my hands on it. Please enter me in the contest if it’s not to late. I know how you feel about the snow, I’m in South Dakota. At least I can stay inside and read.
Years ago I read Gwen Bristow’s Calico Captive and thoroughly enjoyed it. For some reason she slipped off my radar. Thanks, Rosina for sharing your foreword! I will definitely read more of this author.
Life is so full of challenges –it is how you choose to face them that is the story–book sounds great!
Until this moment I hadn’t heard of Celia Garth – she sounds like an interesting author to read – I will definitely look for her work in the bookshops.
I appreciate the extensive research efforts associated with giving the world a better understanding of women in history. To be transported back in time and to feel immersed in descriptive writing, is truly the magic of talented authors! Thank You for sharing your work and others, with all of us.
I love your books, and also Evanovich & Hiassen. Now that is some trio!
I’ve read Celia Garth several times and have lost my copy. How I wish the last Wilderness novel was in bookstores everywhere!
I would love to read this book! :)
I have loved the Into the wilderness series and cannot wait for the last installment.Iread with passion Crosstitch series by Diana Gabaldon and then yours was recommended .It soon became my passion and I loved it.Mind you not much else got done around the house.Please enter me in the competition….
I just finished Into the Wilderness. It was delightful. Thank you for such a captavating novel. I love the detail of Daniel and Elizabeth, and the period, it made them feel so real. I was very excited as I was reading to have Jamie and Clair referenced, the Outlander series is another favorite of mine. As I have finished Diana’s series, it will be nice to have a great replacement! I too was housebound in the unusual snowstorm of the Northwest, it was wonderful to be able to just curl-up with a great book. Thank you! I look forward to your next novel.
I also read Celia Garth as a young girl. I lived at the library as a child. My mother always knew where to find me on Saturday afternoons.
I would love to reread this great book.
I read this book as a child myself…well, I was a preteen…It’s my favorite of Ms. Bristow’s. I’ve also read Jubilee Trail, which I loved, and Deep Summer.
Celia Garth was one of the reasons I wanted to write and I have written fan fiction for the Gothic Soap Opera, Dark Shadows< as well as a novel of my own making.
I practically lived to attend the library to find books not only by Ms. Bristow, but by other favorite authors of historical fiction, such as Victoria Holt and Georgette Heyer…even some Barbara Cartland books!
I enjoyed reading your comments above. Thank you!