This past winter I have been reading some early American/Colonial and post-Revolution history, because I am interested in the genealogical context. Understanding the settling of our country and the Indian wars does change one’s point-of-view. The books about the French and Indian War, also called the Seven Years War and the first-real-world-war, are interesting in that they are so far from the cowboy-and-indians movies that set the frame for today’s thinking. It is no longer politically correct to discuss the violence between the settlers and the Indians. Yet, through my reading of Allen Eckerd’s Conquest of America series and several other academic historians, I have had to face the reality of the hatred between the settlers and the Indians. The Indians were lied to again and again, and played off against each other by the French and British. The tribes, too, were quite willing to play the French and British off against each other, in their desperate efforts to protect their homeland. The settlers were land hungry and the clash of cultures along the frontier is a fascinating, and disheartening, story. The savages were savage, torturing and eating captives, killing viciously, etc—no wonder the settlers hated them. If your enemy is eating captured people, it is hard to see that they might have noble qualities or that their culture might have things to offer. Because my family lines were here shortly after 1620 and some, such as Captain James Parsons, fought on the frontier, I have been interested in digging into the info. That the settlers had no right to encroach on Indian territory and violated treaty after treaty is also part of the mix. The accounts of getting the chiefs drunk and having them sign paper treaties are too numerous. After all, taking land from savages was no bad thing to do, at least in the settlers’ minds.
When I tire of bloody battles with the savages in the wilderness, I read Regency novels from England—the post-Revolutionary period just after the bloody French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution, but across the sea, which tends to give one an interesting context of both sides of the pond. Fops were equally savage in their social wars, but they only maim and eat others metaphorically.
So then, I move forward in time and read British novels written and set in the mid-20th century—post WW I through the 1950′s. My favorites are Angela Thirkel’s 37 volume Barsetshire series, an up-take on the Barsetshire novels of Anthony Trollope set in the Victorian times. What she does is start with the grandchildren of his characters and go forward. Her father was a poetry don [professor] at Oxford and her literary references and allusions are marvelous. Since I taught British poetry and literature for 28 years, I can actually see where she has taken phrases from Hamlet or Macbeth or Dickens or whatever and woven them into her dialogue. It’s delightful, but probably most enjoyed by those with a solid foundation in British lit. I re-read her books every couple of years—in order. She writes during the time of WWII and the post war years—-a severe look into what happens with the loss of empire through the eyes of those out in the provinces [i.e. us out here in the Midwest].
In the past six months, I have read 25 + books about American Colonial history and settlement, British novels, British biographies and autobiographies, and books about British culture—in addition to a number of American novels for my book club and books dealing with my other interests. I also read a lot of web articles from progressive political sites, plus magazines such as The Atlantic, Harpers, Newsweek, The American Spectator, genealogy periodicals, not to mention that great American entrepreneur, Martha Stewart’s magazines: Living, Body & Soul, and Food. My sons think I am an idiot, but actually I am quite well read in my particular interests, which are not their interests,
as I loath philosophy as a discipline [well, European philosophy is what I loathe, as I find Buddhism fascinating] and I seem to be unable to deal with numbers at all—-son #1 is an Assistant Professor of Buddhism at U. of Calgary and son #2 is a number crunching businessman. One of the delights of retirement is time to read—and the ability to delve into my interests instead of reading endless student-written journals and essays.
In May and June, I began reading and re-reading many books about the Mitford sisters, which I discuss in my next posts.