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History Buff is a site
for history lovers everywhere. It is also a site very interested in women
of the past. Although I (sadly) no longer have time to continue these interviews, here is an archive of Q&As about women's lives
in history. And please feel free to stop by History Buff's
sister site for archaeological discoveries making news today. Enjoy!
historical fiction writer I am fascinated by news stories featuring the
past as it's unearthed and reimagined and brought to life. I spend a
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Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Q&A With Historical Fiction Author David H. Jones
* While your novel TWO BROTHERS: ONE NORTH, ONE SOUTH is primarily about the Prentiss brothers of Baltimore during the American Civil War, what compelled you to integrate Hetty, Jenny, and Constance Cary so prominently into the story line?
Clearly, the remarkable battlefield experiences of Clifton and William Prentiss embody the quintessential "brother against brother" story of the Civil War. However, I wanted TWO BROTHERS to reveal a more comprehensive picture of American society during that turbulent period. To fully appreciate the story, it's important for the reader to understand the context of those times; the beliefs, attitudes, and motivations of a wide spectrum of participants, both military and civilian. Hetty, her sister Jenny, and their cousin Constance individually and collectively represent the transformation of women's role in upper class society, particularly in the South, due to deprivations caused by the war. Hetty and Jenny smuggle critical war materials across the Potomac and Constance blossoms as a writer of some importance; in addition to these contributions, they are the reigning belles of wartime Richmond. Known throughout the Army of Northern Virginia as the "Cary Invincibles" for their ardent patriotism, they make the first three pattern Confederate battle flags and frequently visit friends and relatives at military encampments. Hetty fearlessly crosses the lines on clandestine missions, barely escaping capture on several occasions. She is widely recognized as the most beautiful woman in the Southland and her romance with General John Pegram is a classic tale. It's no surprise that the poetic portion of Hetty's epitaph reads "Beautiful, Brilliant, Brave; Of Pure and Noble Heart, True and Generous Soul; In The Battle of Life Heroic, In Death Triumphant." How could I not want these three dynamic women to have a significant presence in this novel?
* How much of TWO BROTHERS is based on fact and how much is fiction?
The novel is closely based on real people and events; only a few characters and circumstances were created to benefit the telling of the story. As TWO BROTHERS was written as an historical fiction, I employed a strict criteria that there must be no evidence to the contrary regarding the imagined elements of the novel. Thus, the dialogue and scenes were written to be as historically accurate and authentic as possible.
* Tell us something surprising about Southern women in 19th century America?
Until the Civil War, traditional rules of American society prevented women from being conspicuous in public activities, as it was thought that such involvement would taint them and subject them to criticism, circumstances entirely unacceptable to their fathers, husbands, and brothers. Thus, women had to remain almost entirely within the domestic sphere. The emergence, by necessity, of women into the public sphere during the war forever transformed their role in society and helped set the stage for the women's suffrage movement that gained momentum later in the century. The prominence of woman in public endeavors also developed rapidly following the war with the emergence of ladies' memorial associations throughout the South. These powerful organizations were at the forefront of a campaign to recover the bodies of Confederate soldiers and arrange proper burial, something that Southern men could not accomplish due to constraints imposed upon them by Federal authorities. Southern upper class women achieved great success in this public forum and there was no turning back.
* How did you research the historical characters and events portrayed in TWO BROTHERS?
I discovered the Prentiss brothers story while researching the Civil War regiments of my ancestors. Clifton Prentiss served with my great great grandfather, James Touchstone, in the 6th Regiment of Maryland Infantry (US). I soon learned that Clifton Prentiss had a younger brother who served in the 1st and 2nd Maryland Battalions (CS) and that Walt Whitman wrote about the Confederate brother while a patient at Armory Square Hospital. My fascination increased dramatically when I found that both brothers were in close proximity on the same battlefield one week before Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox. I spent nearly three years researching primary sources such as military records, letters, memoirs, and period books and newspapers to document all aspects of the story. In the process, I became convinced that this was a story that must be told.
* Are you working on another historical fiction, and if so, what is it about?
Following publication of TWO BROTHERS, I learned that a descendant of another 6th Maryland officer compiled three journals in 1866 containing vivid accounts of his wartime experiences. In one portion, the battle on April 2, 1865 is described in detail and the officer reveals that he was close to Major Clifton Prentiss during the fighting. His firsthand account varies slightly with the novel's description of the climactic moment of the battle, which I had written consistent with the preponderance of available evidence. While I do not intent to revise the historical fiction, the rich details provided by these journals have me considering the possibility of writing a non-fictional account of the 6th Maryland Infantry throughout the war. It would essentially be a regimental history and I believe that it would be a good companion piece to my novel. Nevertheless, the finding of these journals demonstrates 1) that historical "fact" to subject to modification when new, credible information comes to light; and 2) that well crafted, authentic historical fiction is not that different from non-fiction, as both are based on the opinions and interpretations of historians. Our understanding of history evolves through various means; both historical fiction and non-fiction have a place in this process.
Thank you David! And feel free to visit David H. Jones for more information about Two Brothers.