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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Votes For Vixens: Tara Chevrestt Improves on The Bostonians

I like the historical subjects that Tara Chevrestt  chooses.  I wish I had a reasonable pretext to blog about her book Ride For Rights when I read it.  It was about a pair of society women who rode motorcycles across the U.S. during WWI to prove that women could be motorcycle dispatch riders.  Tara posted all her research to her blog , Book Babe . She did a very thorough job and there was absolutely nothing that I could add.  The only thing that I would want to add here is that Ride For Rights is still a candidate for my top ten reads of 2012, and I read it some time ago.

 This was the most original historical fiction book that I've read which was published in 2012.                                                    

The purpose of this blog entry is to discuss Tara's new suffragette novel, Votes   for Vixens.  What a great title!  My review is below.

The description made Votes for Vixens sound like it would be similar to the classic The Bostonians by Henry James.  I hoped that the characters and their lesbian relationship might be more engaging, and that the book might be more overtly feminist.  Tara met all my expectations.  I enjoyed reading Votes For Vixens far more than The Bostonians .I also found it to be an accurate reflection of the time period, its politics and its mores.

Once the protagonists first encountered each other in New York City, they lived in Italian Harlem.  This area of Harlem is now known as Spanish Harlem, and I hadn't realized that it was populated by Italian immigrants in the early 20th century.  Today NYC's Little Italy is in the Canal St. area.  I was born in NYC, so it's interesting for me to discover a previously unknown aspect of its history.

In Tara's note about her research at the end of the book, she said that her main source was Jailed for Freedom by Doris Stevens which is a suffragette memoir from the period described in Votes for Vixens. When I did a search for it, I discovered that Jailed for Freedom is available in various e-formats for free on Project Gutenberg . 

This book made me curious about the strategies used by the National Women's Party.  I found an article on the Library of Congress' photographic archive, American Memory, called  Tactics and Techniques of the National Women's Party Suffrage Campaign . I was very interested to find out about the pageants produced by Hazel MacKaye.  Her first was performed on March 3, 1913 in Washington D.C. on the steps of the Treasury Building.  100  costumed women represented female historical personages or ideas such as Freedom and Justice.  The reporter from The New York Times wrote that it was "one of the most impressively beautiful spectacles ever staged in this country."  Also mentioned was a MacKaye pageant about the life of Susan B. Anthony performed at the 1915 National Women's Party convention.

After I read that article I ran a search on Hazel MacKaye and found a blog post Dedicating The Portrait Monument that discussed the 1921 ceremony in the Rotunda of the Capitol Building to dedicate sculptures of Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in yet another Hazel MacKaye pageant.

Although this is a novel that deals with a lesbian relationship and there is some erotic content, it doesn't adhere to the conventions of either romance or erotica.  I found it to be realistic without affectations or illusions.  So I would categorize Votes for Vixens as literary fiction.  We need more historical novels like this one, and the chances are that Tara Chevrestt will write them.


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