A Light of Her Own -- Inspiration Edition

This post was originally published at Late Last Night Books, where I had the privilege of being a guest blogger. https://latelastnightbooks.com/2018/01/20/a-jolt-of-inspiration-how-one-writer-found-her-story/

Judith's self portrait.

Judith's self portrait.

In the painting, she’s wearing a stiff lace collar as wide as her shoulders, and fine lace cuff at her wrists. In other words, no clothes a painter would actually paint in.

But Judith stares at us, her mouth open as if to invite us to conversation, and her left hand full of at least a dozen brushes. This woman in the late Renaissance dress is a painter, and a bold one. She’s wearing fine clothes, but she sits in front of a nearly-finished canvas, with one brush in her right hand. She’s demonstrating her mastery.

When I first saw Judith Leyster’s self-portrait at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, I stopped and stared. How had I never heard that there had been a woman who attained master status in a painters guild in the time of Rembrandt? And more importantly, who was she?

From a reader’s perspective, historical fiction is merely fiction set in the past. But from a writer’s perspective, historical fiction is an invitation to make sense of the past, and then make it interesting. I write historical fiction partly because I miss school, I suppose. I miss the requirement to dig deeply into some mystery, or to learn some new corner of the world.

But I also write historical fiction because I love the challenge of picking up threads of a mystery and then braiding them with philosophical questions that have meaning for us today, in a way that links our common humanity across the centuries. How did Judith Leyster gain master status when only men ran the competitive painters’ workshops in Haarlem? What, then, did her ambition mean for her personal relationships? To put it in modern parlance, how was her work-life balance?

Maybe it’s because I was raised Catholic, but I’m deeply interested in sacrifice. Blood and knives, sure, but also time. The hours and effort we sacrifice for those we love. In Judith’s story, I knew quickly that to achieve something phenomenal, she had to have dedication and fixedness of purpose. So I wanted to know what she gave up in exchange.

The historical record on Judith’s life is sparse, but we have reason to suspect she studied with Frans de Grebber. Frans had a daughter, Maria, who was a few years older than Judith, and Maria also painted. Well, two female painters under the same roof … It didn’t seem too much of a stretch too imagine they developed a friendship.

But Maria never joined the Haarlem painters guild. Her goals must have differed from Judith’s. I wanted to know what that would do to a friendship.

At the same time, I imagined that no matter how progressive the 17th century United Provinces (as the Netherlands were then called) were about gender roles, there must have been some opposition to Judith’s ascent. The artists’ market was crowded, and the new-found merchant class wealth, a precursor to the middle class, felt like a customer base that was about to disappear. Surely, there were powerful forces interested in keeping upstarts like that lady painter out of the business.

Those are two threads of my narrative braid – Judith’s friendship and the men opposing her. But she lived during the Thirty Years War, a destructive religious and dynastic contest among nearly all the states of continental Europe. Judith’s town was largely isolated from that conflict, but surely echoes of it reverberated, even if only in the tensions between the official Dutch Reformed Church and the banned, but tolerated, Catholics.

She also lived within visiting distance of Rene Descartes, who spent a good portion of his life in the United Provinces. Though Catholic, he had some reason to fear his native French government. Descartes has some musings on sacrifice, so, ah, perhaps a connection there ….

It’s easy to say what inspired the first spark of a novel, at least for me. One name, one place, or idea. But that spark catches flame on all sorts of kindling, and I find that the richer the source material, the more fun it is to write.

And I had fun with this one.

Carrie Callaghan lives in Maryland with her spouse, littles, and felines. Her debut novel, A Light of Her Own, is forthcoming from Amberjack Publishing in November 2018. Follow her on Twitter at @carriecallaghan

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My Year in Books: 2017

Reading sustains me. Joining my consciousness with that of another by way of the written word is the only worthwhile drug I know (ok, aside from wine).


This year I read 51 books, which I'm pretty proud of. Partly because my reading feels like an embrace of art in the face of our crass political culture here in the States, but also because it shows that I am reclaiming my own artistic life from the hardscrabble baby years. Those kids are cute, but man, they wear me out.

Two dragonsharks in combat. 

Two dragonsharks in combat. 

So, 51 books. Let's share some highlights:

Best book published in 2017: I didn't read too many new books, probably about 10, and though most of those were excellent, two stand out: The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck (which I reviewed for the Washington Independent) and Mr Iyer Goes to War by Ryan Lobo (which I also reviewed).

Best historical fiction: Song Yet Sung by James McBride. This masterful tale of enslaved people, escaped slaves, and slaveholders in mid-19th century Maryland managed to be both brutal and hopeful. It's the sort of book that almost makes me wonder why anyone else bothers.

Best literary fiction: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. This book took my breath away page after page with its wisdom and beauty, all wrapped in a page-turning plot.

Authors for whom I read more than one book: It was my pleasure to read two books each from Ann Patchett, David Eberschoff, Kazuo Ishiguro (before the Nobel!), and N.K. Jemison (three books in her case). All fantastic authors, and I delighted spending time in their worlds.

Best non-fiction book: I read nine non-fiction books, but even if I'd read more, I know I'd still be raving about Larissa Macfarquhar's Strangers Drowning. She asks what it means to consider the suffering of strangers as morally equivalent to the suffering of family, and then takes the reader through the lives of a few people who live by that conviction. It's a thought-provoking book with no easy answers. 

Best classic: My beloved friend Dorothy Reno writes the column "Considering the Classics" for the Washington Independent, and she inspired me to dip a little more deeply into the cannon. I'm tempted to say my favorite was modern classic Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin, but in case that raises any purist hackles, I'll also note that I loved finally reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. You might think you know that book ... but if you haven't read it, you don't.

This really just scratches the tip of my iceberg of fantastic reading. I had good luck this year -- there were very few books that I didn't like, and oh so many that I adored. 

This new year is going to be nerve-wracking for me -- my debut novel is coming out in November. And then there's everything else going on in Washington (which is pretty close to where I live, and seems to permeate most breaths we take). But I know the best way to stay grounded will be to keep my nose in a book, and I'm excited to do so.

I hope you find some refreshing, entertaining, thought-provoking, or even world-changing books in 2018. Last year I wrote about how to be a better literary citizen. This year my suggestions are milder. Be kind. Read books. Share your love for the written word.


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It's cold, dark, and there might be gold

The world is full of hidden treasure.

In northern Idaho, head west along the Salmon River Road. Follow the river on your left and stay out of the mountains on your right. (It's hard to do otherwise.) In about twenty minutes, you'll come to a small house with a cluttered front porch and a curious wooden stand to the side.


There you'll find the home of John Houlihan, former professor of chemistry and software entrepreneur. Current vegetarian and badass. John is in his nineties and spent three weeks last winter hauling water into his house every day when the pipes froze. 

He also owns a gold mine.

It's an old mine.

It's an old mine.

The mine prompted a bit of a gold rush in the late 19th century. Local men and men from as far away as California (including large groups of Chinese immigrants) came to hammer and blast their way through the mountain in hopes of striking it rich.

Unlike with some other gold rushes, the ore here wasn't found in the river -- so there weren't the large nuggets that years of coursing through water will cause. The gold had to be ground out of the mountain.

John showed us the original and replica equipment used back then.

In the early days, they'd get the rock out of the mountain with a hammer and a pick.

We have electricity now. In the mine's early years, they definitely did not.

We have electricity now. In the mine's early years, they definitely did not.

It was a long way down into the mine -- at least half a mile before the first vein of gold appeared. (John said a "vein" just meant a crack in the rock. So I guess my mental images of gold glistening like a creek running through the rocks were wrong.)

Miners worked 12 hour shifts. They were paid $4 a day plus three candles. Can you guess how long three candles lasted? Not twelve hours, that's for sure. So the miners would light the candle just enough to find a place to put their pick, then they'd blow the candle out and hammer away for as long as they could. In the dark.

One of the original candle holders.

One of the original candle holders.

Once all that gold-bearing rock was broken apart, the gold was still threaded through the rocks. So they had to get it out.

First, they used a jaws crusher to break the rocks into grit. 

This is a miniature version of the large (ten-feet high, I think) actual crushers.

This is a miniature version of the large (ten-feet high, I think) actual crushers.

Then they poured the grit into the cylinder mill, which was filled with large lead balls. The balls would grind down the rocks, wearing themselves down in the process.


Water washed the grit out of the cylinder mill, and the waste rocks would sink to the bottom. Then the workers would add pine oil to the water to get the gold to rise to the top. They'd heat up the results and have an impure bar. The onsite mill processed tons of gold in its lifetime.

Humans are ingenious. We'll think of all sorts of ways to break, bend, and sort the earth (and each other). We'll also go to extreme lengths to live amid beauty or preserve history. We're a fascinating bunch, no?

The view of the river headed back east.

The view of the river headed back east.

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Recreating lost art

In June, I was in Portland for the Historical Novel Society's conference, and of course I had to visit the Portland Art Museum. The museum is filled with stunning art work, both ancient and contemporary, and I highly recommend it. At the time, they were showing an exhibit titled, "Reunited: Francescuccio Ghissi’s St. John Altarpiece," which brings together eight parts of a segmented altarpiece and adds a ninth recreated panel to provide the complete image.

The recreated panel, by Charlotte Caspers

The recreated panel, by Charlotte Caspers

Gorgeous, right? But what most caught my attention was the display on just how the ninth altarpiece was recreated. Dutch conservation specialist Charlotte Caspers used both the techniques and the materials that the 14th century artist would have used originally.


My geek radar started flashing all over my mental screen. See, my debut novel is about a 17th century Dutch artist, and I spent a lot of the time trying to research just what sorts of materials she would have used, and what her process would have been like. So resources like this exhibit are like a glass of Malbec wine to me. Which is to say, irresistible and slightly intoxicating.

In case anyone else out there is curious about how artists hundreds of years ago made their paints, I figured I'd share the photos I took. Many thanks to the Portland Art Museum for putting this exhibit together!

Azurite, plus some blending tools in the background

Azurite, plus some blending tools in the background

Obviously, paints didn't come premade in tubes back then, so artists had to make their own. Some recipes were fiercely guarded; others might have been so widely known as to not have merited writing down (to the dismay of historical novelists everywhere). But generally artists needed at least two components -- pigment and a binding agent to get the powder to coalesce into paint. In the photo above, you can see an eggshell. Egg is one possible binding agent, and I guess that's what they used in the 14th century, though it doesn't work as well as others that later artists used. In my novel, as in real-life 17th century Haarlem, the artists preferred to use linseed oil as their binding agent.

Three plant-derived pigments: Madder (red lake), weld (or yellow lake), and grape black.

Three plant-derived pigments: Madder (red lake), weld (or yellow lake), and grape black.

Artists also had to get pigment. Pigments were discovered at different times throughout history, so if you're writing a story about artists set in the past, make sure the pigments (and color names) your artists are using are appropriate to the time period. (Yeah, I learned that the hard way.)

Three fabricated pigments: Verdigris, lead tin yellow, and lead white.

Three fabricated pigments: Verdigris, lead tin yellow, and lead white.

Hopefully you can see in the photos above the original materials used to create the pigments.

Two mineral pigments: Yellow ochre and brown earth.

Two mineral pigments: Yellow ochre and brown earth.

There's certainly a lot more to recreating materials and technique than what I've provided here. In some ways, historical fiction is a bit like art conservation (and recreation). We take hints and guesses about the past, accumulating enough evidence until we can connect the dots and create a convincing world. Art conservationists certainly know a lot more than I do about 14th century or 17th century art (that's putting it mildly), yet I'm willing to guess there are still things they don't know. So here's to trying to fill in the dots, whether it's through research or imagination.

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Loving your writing

When you're in a partnership for a long time, you eventually learn to eat crow. (Maybe literally, if that's the kind of culture you're in, but I'm talking metaphorically.)

Seven years ago, when I was neck deep in query rejections from literary agents, I had the idiotic idea to send my novel manuscript to my father for his opinion. 

It felt like someone had cut my arm off.

It felt like someone had cut my arm off.

Well. I was young.

His unvarnished opinion hurt, a lot. Not that my father wasn't nice -- he was -- but just that he pointed out all the places where I was falling short. I was reduced to tears. I curled up in bed sobbing, and all I could think about was how terrible my writing was, how my novel had been rejected countless times and would never improve. You get the picture.

When, soaked with tears, I asked my spouse what he thought, he looked at me in confusion.

"But don't you write because you love it?"

I think I threw a pillow at him and stormed back into the room to cry some more.

But over the years, I've realized that yes, my dearly beloved was right. I do write because I love it. I can't imagine not writing. My only tattoo is a reminder to myself that no matter where my writing goes, I am still a writer. 

Me being a writer, in spite of the madness.

Me being a writer, in spite of the madness.

Still, it can be hard to remember how much we love the writing itself, for itself, when we're caught up in the drama of trying to find an agent, sell a book, get on a best-seller list, win an award, or whatever. (Or trying to get into Pitch Wars!) 

So I thought I'd share some ideas for how to keep in touch with the core of your love for writing. Sure, it's fine to enjoy the thrill of chasing the dream. But I'm learning that the more I focus on the delight I find in the writing, and the less I stress about the auxiliaries, the more content I am. (I've written more about that tension between publishing dreams and personal happiness here and here. It's kind of a passion of mine.)

Some ways to find and hang onto your love of writing:

  • Focus on the process. What do you love most about the act of writing? Is it the fugue state you fall into when you're building a new world? Is it the opportunity to learn new things when you're researching a story? I use my historical fiction writing as a prod to explore aspects of humanity I might not wander into otherwise, like reading Rene Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy because I wanted him to have a cameo in my novel about 17th century Holland.
  • Be proud of what you've learned. Whether it's the concrete facts that you've picked up through your research ("the Spanish Civil War started in 1936") or the insight you've gained about humanity (people doing bad things rarely see themselves as the villains) or simply the craft progress you've made -- revel in it. Be proud of how you're using writing to grow as a human. And emotional, spiritual, and intellectual growth are arguably the true meanings of life. (Not publishing deals!)
  • Embrace the challenge. In the same vein, look at how you put your nose to the grinding stone to address whatever challenge faces you. From the difficulty of churning out enough words to combine into a "novel" to the feat of shaping those sentences into a narrative to maybe just learning how to spell better, you're like an athlete, working to improve. That's pretty awesome.
  • Separate your dreams from your actions. It would be nice, of course, to be a best-selling novelist. I'd love it for me and for you. But we can't control that. I really want to earn enough from my writing to be able to quit my day job in a few years so I can be home when the kids get out of school. That's a burden, however, that I can't place on the writing itself. There is too much chance and luck and talent, all things I can't control, factoring into that particular future. So I pluck the dreaming out, admire that dream, and set it apart from the actual writing.
  • Ask for a compliment when you need one. Everyone has their low moments, and we don't need to walk alone. It's ok to occasionally ask a friend or a critique partner for something nice. Since you don't want to do that all the time, take that compliment and file it away. Maybe you're good at description. Maybe it was just one particular sentence that was beautiful. Treasure the praise that you get.
  • Give your writing as a gift. This isn't my idea, it's Ann Lamott's in her fantastic Bird by Bird. (Read it, if you haven't!) She suggests writing a story or a poem or essay for a loved one. If you write something truly personal and heartfelt, it will be appreciated. And even if, like with most gifts, the gifter feels more gratified than the receiver, that's ok. You'll get pleasure out of it. The last Christmas of my father-in-law's life, I gave him a story about my relationship with him, and I'm so glad I did.
  • Keep a private journal. If you're having trouble conceiving of your writing as anything other than destined for massive readership and fame, try crafting something that is purely for you. Write a journal that you never, ever intend to share with another person. Not your spouse, not your child. Consecrate your intention for privacy by writing something deeply embarrassing or private in the journal. Digging that deep might prove beneficial to your writing too -- but ultimately, learning to write for yourself and you alone is the true reward.
  • Take a break. If you're getting too caught up in anxiety about publishing or not writing as well as you want, step back. Read some wonderful books. Feel the drive to write build up. If that urge doesn't manifest itself ... continue to take a break. When you need to write again, the words and the stories will make themselves known, and you won't have a choice.

Do you have any other tips? I'd be glad to learn of them here or on Twitter.

Happy writing.


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Historical layers (no, not hoodies)

What does a 14th century vampire have to do with a parasol?

We'll get there.

The mountains of Transylvania are dotted with castles, citadels, and crumbling fortresses, but only one castle bills itself as Dracula's Castle.

Which is strange, since the closest the historical "Dracula," Vlad Tepes, came to living in the castle was maybe spending a handful of nights there while fleeing invaders. The labyrinthine Bran's Castle is named after the pass it guards, but maybe it was the echo of Dracula's author's first name as much as Vlad's brief visit that solidified the castle's place in the world's imagination.

The castle started its life in 1378, when construction first began. Over the years, explosions, storms, and fires toppled parts of the structure, but people kept rebuilding and adding. The result is a maze of rooms that feels a little like a muggle version of Hogwarts.

If that architectural layer cake weren't sufficient complication for one castle, then there are the uses the castle's occupants have put it to over the years. After defending against invading Turks, then helping collect custom taxes from passing merchants, the castle served as a retreat for Romania's new monarchy in the early 20th century. The beloved Queen Marie and her daughter, Princess Ileana, used the castle as their summer residence. 

Finally, under the Communists the castle became a museum. It reverted to the royal family at the beginning of the 21st century, and after a couple of years, they decided to turn it back into a museum. It's now an extremely crowded (in the summer at least) tourist highlight.

But isn't it strange that one pile of stones can house both the blood of tortured Turks and the cozy porcelain fireplace alongside which a modern queen used to take her naps? Some windows still swivel out to allow defenders to shoot out crossbows (see below), while others have charming mullions.

Of course, historical fiction writers and readers know that history is made of layers. We live on top of an ancient city, metaphorically at least (and often literally). Beneath us are layers of civilization and culture left by those who came before us. Our economy is built upon knowledge gained and passed down, our writing is made of styles discovered and modified by those who created before us. As Susan Vreeland wrote in Luncheon of the Boating Party, "Art was collaboration, and standing on the shoulders of those who came before."

Queen Marie's charming bedroom.

Queen Marie's charming bedroom.

The best historical fiction exposes those layers, and shows how at any moment in time, humans are reaching both backwards, to receive the flame, and forwards, to pass it along.

A writing desk in Castle Bran.

A writing desk in Castle Bran.

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Communicating without words: Historical tidbits #1

I write historical fiction, which means I spend a lot of time researching the way people lived their lives in, say, 1632 Holland, or 1936 Spain, or 1880 Guadeloupe. As L. P. Hartley famously wrote, "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." There may be more commonalities than differences in our shared humanity across the years, but I find comfort in the uniqueness of a particular era. Maybe because it suggests the uniqueness of our own times -- and thus, ourselves. So here is one in an irregular series of historical tidbits from my research.

Four hundred years ago, most people weren't literate. They might be able to puzzle out the alphabet, or scratch their name onto a document, but that would be the extent of it. In 17th century Holland, school was more like daycare for children, a place for their parents to leave them as soon as they were weaned and walking, and the beleaguered master or mistress had to manage them all. Children aged three to seven attended infant school, then they were passed off for five more years of primary school. Both boys and girls attended, and neither learned much, though apparently the boys faced slightly stiffer expectations. 

I suspect the situation was worse elsewhere in Europe and certainly in the European colonies. Parents needed children to work, and few had the resources to allow those littlest workers to invest in their own futures for fifteen or twenty years.

So yeah, many people couldn't read much. But they still needed to communicate beyond face-to-face conversation. Writing has the advantage of permanence and portability; before recording, speech was neither. So naturally, people resorted to images. (*I don't want to overstate the case. Certainly there were many literate Dutch citizens, as evidenced by the relatively robust publishing industry of the 16th and 17th centuries.)

In some Dutch towns, the birth of a baby was announced with a small placard made of wood and covered in red silk, trimmed with lace. For a girl baby, the proud parents would place a square of white paper of the center of the board. Stillbirths were announced with black silk (or linen, for poor families), instead of red. Twins, naturally, had two placards. 

Babies weren't the only things that needed announcing. People had to have a way of finding the right store they sought, even if they were new to town. So, in a precursor to today's branding, different types of stores labeled themselves in different ways. An apothecary would hang a stuffed crocodile outside the door. A craft guild (say, St. Luke's guild for painters and silversmiths) would display its emblem and heraldry on the exterior facade of its guildhall in a public demonstration of guild strength and contribution to the town's prosperity. (I've used quite a few of these images in my novel about artist Judith Leyster.)

Criminals' bodies left to rot in the elements, swinging from the trees, were an eloquent way of expressing the consequences of disobeying the law. So too the heads of traitors left on London Bridge in England -- and I suspect seeing those reminders kept the stories circulating. A new visitor to town is sure to ask how that not-yet-decomposed body got himself into so much trouble.

Even the signature economic craze of 17th century Holland was an effort to communicate without words: the tulip. Owning a tulip and letting it flower was an incredible, ostentatious display of wealth. The highest reliably documented price paid for a single tulip bulb was 5200 guilders, and other less prized tulips still went for hundreds and thousands of guilders, at a time when eight fat pigs were 240 guilders, two hogsheads of wine were 70 guilders, a silver drinking cup was 60 guilders, and a ship (yes, a ship!) was 500 guilders.

Interestingly, clothing in the United Provinces (today's Netherlands) during the first half of 17th century was not used much as a means of communication. Reportedly, the mistress and the servant would be nearly indistinguishable in their humble brown dresses. Protestant modesty prohibited flashy clothes, at least for a time. Eventually, it seems, people couldn't help but express themselves, and skirts got brighter and doublets more colorful.

I could go on -- paintings alone were a major method of communicating using known iconography. Even the way a figure posed or splayed his legs told the savvy viewer something about the artist's intention. But that's enough for now. Certainly the advent of wider literacy doesn't preclude the use of communicating with images. We do that every day, with baby photos on Facebook or brand symbols on our jeans. Though I'm still waiting to see CVS switch its logo to a stuffed crocodile.


Daily Life in Rembrandt's Holland, by Paul Zumthor, Trans. Simon Watson Taylor

Tulipomania, by Mike Dash

Craft Guilds in the Early Modern Low Countries, Ed. Prak, Lis, Lucassen, and Soly

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Schooling a President

Apparently I'm on a "presidential boyhood home" kick. (Who's looking forward to hearing about presidential girlhood homes someday?) After touring George Washington's birthplace (and curious reconstruction) in January, we visited the place where Thomas Jefferson lived from the ages of two to nine, and also where he first attended school.

Tuckahoe Plantation, outside of Richmond, Virginia, is actually still a private residence. The grounds are open to self-guided tour (with an honor system payment), and guided tours can be arranged by appointment. We took a beautiful Sunday afternoon to wander the grounds ourselves, while the owners of the home unloaded groceries from the car and shot hoops. 

The Randolph family built the home between 1730-1740, and it's in a distinctive H-shape, with two large portions of the house joined in the middle. Thomas Jefferson's family moved to the house in 1745 so his parents could care for the orphaned Randolph children, in accordance with Mr. Randolph's will. He moved out when the oldest son came of age.

It's easy to imagine the young (white) children running out the door of the big house and following the chiding call of their teacher into the small schoolhouse to the left of the house. Even my five-year-old daughter, who affects to know everything, was surprised at the tiny scale of the school room.

But this is a plantation in Virginia, which means enslaved African Americans. Probably a lot of them for a farm that reached 25,000 acres at its height. To the right of the main house are three slave cabins. (The third cabin isn't visible in this picture; the building in the background is the stable.)

The stair treads up to this slave cabin door looked like stone to me, which suggests they are original. My heart ached to imagine all the pain those stairs carried, both at the beginning of another harrowing day of enslavement and at its exhausting conclusion. I imagine a good number of those children and their parents looked with longing to the other side of the lawn, where young Thomas and the other white children scampered into the schoolhouse. (Side note: I just finished James McBride's phenomenal Song Yet Sung, and I can't recommend it enough. He follows a cast of characters escaping, enduring, or perpetuating slavery in Maryland's eastern shore in the 1850s.)

The kitchen. Imagine working there on a hot Virginia day.

The kitchen. Imagine working there on a hot Virginia day.

I wonder too what Thomas thought as he watched those other children. I don't know enough about his history to have an opinion, and who knows, maybe he didn't have an opinion either. Maybe he had internalized the dehumanization of those enslaved black children so easily that it didn't occur to him to think they might yearn to join him. I'm sure that was the case for a lot of rich white children at the time. But who knows, maybe this particular boy had some other thoughts. That's where historical fiction comes in, right?

In 1752 the house returned to the Randolph family, and I guess some of them must have stayed there for a while. There's an appropriately creepy little graveyard with Randolph graves from the early 19th century. From what I could read, at least.

I don't believe in spiritual ghosts (though I wish I did). But I do believe in historical ghosts -- those echoes of history that reverberate through the generations. The legacy of slavery is an obvious one, and the inheritance of knowledge and education that we pass along every time a child steps into a schoolroom is another. The modern curriculum is probably almost unrecognizable from that which the young Tom learned in the 1740s, but I suspect the ghosts of what he learned and what he did are with us still.


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