Saturday, January 05, 2008
The Life of Henry Ward Beecher
by Anya Laurence
(iUniverse / 0-595-38010-7 / February 2006 / 154 pages / $15.95)
Anya Laurence's first book, entitled Women of Notes: 1,000 Women Composers Born Before 1900, published in hardcover in early '79, is still available at Amazon! That's certainly a first for this blog. Not only is this fact somewhat remarkable, but also the professional look of Love Divine will certainly allow it to hide in a forest of traditionally published biographies. Unfortunately for this very accomplished iU author, Love Divine has been unceremoniously hidden behind another biography of Henry Ward Beecher released only a few months after Ms. Laurence's book. To add insult to injury to this exceptionally professional iUniverse author, that book took home The Pulitzer!
For those of you who flunked U.S. History, Henry Ward Beecher was a very successful abolitionist preacher during the 1800's and also the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. He was an acquaintance of Abraham Lincoln and many more legendary disciples of the anti-slavery movement. Anya Laurence offers a tautly edited biography of Henry that includes numerous details about many members of his famous family and their positions within the culture of the time.
Henry died leaving a national scandal unresolved. He was accused of having an adulterous affair with the wife of one of his close associates. The newspapers carried the story endlessly, with viewpoints of both his guilt and innocence. A lawsuit and trial ensued, but the final question of did he or didn't he was never answered. Ms. Laurence never claims to know the truth of this affair. She presents the facts as they are known. The explosion of endless gossip and news coverage of the events may remind the reader of certain modern affairs of which we never seem to hear the end. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I am always looking for iU books that can comfortably reside on a shelf with traditionally published books, and Love Divine is certainly one of them. It is the first iU book I have seen with footnotes, and these have thankfully been abbreviated, with the details exposed in the bibliography. There is an extensive index, as well as a prologue and an epilogue. Although I am not overly impressed with the front cover photo or the details of the front cover design, the back cover is excellent. The author photo has been well chosen and the blurbs provide the prospective buyer with accurate information about the text and the author. In case you were wondering, The Proofreading Police failed to make their ticket quotas. They failed quite miserably, in fact. Most of the tickets they did write were for such dinky offenses that they most certainly will be torn up in court!
What's not to like? Love Divine has only one clear weakness: its brevity forces an overall impression of dryness in the text, much of which is composed of italicized passages from the writings of Beecher and his contemporaries. The multitude of names, dates, births, deaths, and other significant facts seems to crowd out the space left for author commentary and opinion. In short, Love Divine could be a lot more fun to read. To remedy this problem, either some of the quotes or facts would have to be eliminated or the book would have to be much longer. I am sure many true-blue fans of the subject matter will love it just as it is, but I think more casual readers may wish for a little more extrapolation of detail from the author. Compared to the 560-page competitor mentioned earlier, Love Divine will certainly score as a fine quick-read for many wanting just the facts, ma'am, but I personally prefer to read a lot more detail about most subject matters. Don't take my criticism too strongly, though. The great majority of POD authors could use some lessons in professionalism taught by Anya Laurence, and Love Divine, without a doubt, credibly earns four stars.
See Also: Tabitha's B&N Review