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Kavanagh by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
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157 (1) 1890s (1) 258 (1) Abebooks (1) Armastus (1) collectors (1) fiction (2) First Edition (1) research (1) RT2 (1)



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If you want to know what this fairly obscure Longfellow novel is about, but don't want to go to all the trouble of reading it, here's a summary:

Once upon a time, two teenaged girls were friends. They were maybe sort of kind of in love with each other, but then a hot guy moved to town and they learned what real love is. (Specifically, it's heterosexual. Did I mention this novel was written in 1847?) Of course only one of the girls could marry him, what with the bigamy laws and him being a clergyman and all; so the other girl considerately pined away and died to clear the playing field for the happy couple, who spent their honeymoon in Italy doing missionary work and apparently nothing else, since they stayed there three years and came home without any babies, if you get my drift.

Did I miss anything? I don't think I missed anything.

Okay, fer realz: I read this novel because it's mentioned in a book about Emily Dickinson I'm reading as research for a YA novel I'm writing. Kavanagh was important to Dickinson, in part because she read it against her father's wishes. "He buys me many books," Dickinson wrote facetiously, "but begs me not to read them, because he fears they joggle the mind."

"He did not wish his children, when little, to read anything but the Bible," her friend, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, explained more seriously in a loving tribute to Dickinson's life and work; "and when, one day, her brother brought her home Longfellow's Kavanagh, he put it secretly under the pianoforte cover, made signs to her, and they both afterwards read it."

With a backstory like that, how could I resist reading it myself? Especially since it's über short?

Another reason I had to check Kavanagh out is that it's described as depicting "what is probably the first lesbian relationship in American fiction."

And I'm supposed to not read this how, exactly?

I have to say that if I hadn't been told to watch out for a lesbian romance, I would have skated right by it. Here's the hottitude in full:

"I have just been writing to you," said Alice; "I wanted so much to see you this morning!"

"Why this morning in particular? Has anything happened?"

"Nothing, only I had such a longing to see you!"

And, seating herself in a low chair by Cecilia's side, she laid her head upon the shoulder of her friend, who, taking one of her pale, thin hands in both her own, silently kissed her forehead again and again.

... "I am so glad to see you, Cecilia!" she continued. "You are so beautiful! I love so much to sit and look at you! Ah, how I wish Heaven had made me as tall, and strong, and beautiful as you are!"

"You little flatterer! What an affectionate, lover-like friend you are! What have you been doing all the morning?"

"Looking out of the window, thinking of you, and writing you this letter, to beg you to come and see me."

"And I have been buying a carrier-pigeon, to fly between us, and carry all our letters."

"That will be delightful."

"He is to be sent home to-day; and after he gets accustomed to my room, I shall send him here, to get acquainted with yours; — a Iachimo in my Imogen's bed-chamber, to spy out its secrets."

That's it, ladies and gents. Do you need a moment alone? I think I do. TO TAKE A NAP.

Seriously, the hottest part of that alleged lesbian romance scene is the reference to Iachimo and Imogen. I don't have time to spell it all out here (which is a nice way of saying I'm too lazy); but it's from a rather creepy scene in Shakespeare's Cymbeline. Iachimo is a slimy jerk who sneaks into the sleeping Imogen's bedroom. While he's there, he steals some of her jewelry and scopes out her nekkid bosom.

Kind of a weird reference for an innocent nineteenth-century village girl to make, right?

Other than the nonexistent girl-on-girl action, this novel is a perfectly pleasant read – a sweet story about various residents of a tiny New England village, including a rather pathetic schoolteacher who's always talking about that great novel he's going to write someday. He's so busy talking about writing, he never actually sits down and does any.

Some things never change.

Anyway. As you can see from my updates and the quotable quotes I fed into the Goodreads' database, Kavanagh is often quite funny and occasionally brilliant. But it's not something you need to rush out and read unless you're obsessed with Longfellow, and no offense but that's kind of weird. Or you could read it if you're obsessed with Dickinson and feel the need to read anything she read. Which is also quite weird; but in my own defense, it's my main character who's obsessed with Dickinson. I'm just trying to get into her head. My character's, I mean.

I told my son about this and he said, "Oh, yeah – that's like what some actors do, right? What's it called?"

"You mean method acting?"

"Exactly! You're method-writing!"

See? It makes sense when he says it. ( )
  Deborah_Markus | Aug 8, 2015 |
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