I’m an author without a subject, a writer without a project. And it makes me antsy. For days I’ve had this slightly dissatisfied, uncomfortable feeling. I don’t even have a book to read that rivets me—one that interests me, yes, but not one that draws me at odd hours of the day and keeps me up too late. One result? I’ve been spending way too much time on Facebook, following the drama in D.C. and the U.K. both. Beyond that, I’m irritated with myself for idling away time. I think what I’ve done every day is what many retirees do all day every day, but my old Protestant work ethic is slapping me in the face.
But today, I’ve done something about it. I’ve begun some background reading, and already I’m narrowing my interests. The history of women in the nineteenth century has long been my major interest, particularly the women of the American West. In the 1990s I wrote four books about strong women married to husbands or attached to men who were flawed in one way or another—Elizabeth Bacon (Libby) Custer, Jessie Benton Frémont, Lucille Mulhall (Cherokee Rose), and Etta place with her ties to both Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
My more recent title, The Gilded Cage, sprang from my Chicago background, but it also drew me to a woman married to a robber baron. Bertha Honoré (Cissy) Palmer, married to Potter Palmer, builder of the Palmer House in Chicago and one of the handful of men who directed that city’s fortune in the last half of the nineteenth century.
Today I started reading The Gilded Age, a critical study of several individuals written by Milton Rugoff. I read about some women of the period, principally abolitionists and suffragists, and while both those causes interest me, I decided those weren’t the women I want to write about. I’m turning my attention to the wives of the Gilded Age—women married to robber barons. Were they weak, submissive—or was there some steel in their backbones? The last half of that century fascinates me in many ways—the world was still reeling from the transition from agrarian to urban society, and the roles of women were changing dramatically. It was a time of terrific social upheaval.
So, I’m back to being a student of the Victorian era, and I love it. Who knows if something will come of it or not? At least for a few days I feel a purpose driving my days again, and I’m a happy camper.
Lovely dinner tonight celebrating my friend Betty’s birthday—shh, I’m not saying which one. She and her husband own the Star Café in the Fort Worth Stockyards and entertained fourteen of us for supper. As is our custom, Betty and I split chicken-fried steak—so good. And good to see people I really enjoy.
Today is Bastille Day—an easy way to remember Betty’s birthday. But it is also a day when we celebrate the French Revolution and, in simple terms, the rise of the people and the fall of the monarchy. What I most remember about that event is being forced to read A Tale of Two Cities in high school and hating how bloody it was. And then hating how long the book was. But today, in this time of political turmoil, I think it’s instructive to consider radical, sudden change in government in contrast to the way it’s supposed to work here when the people make their will known. It’s a cautionary tale that would urge all of us to vote this fall.