Cauli Le Chat

Cauli Le Chat
Cauli Le Chat, MPL Roving Reporter

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Star-Crossed Lovers of the Civil War

Even before William Shakespeare pawed (I mean, penned) Romeo and Juliet (ca. 1591-1595), star-crossed lovers were to be found in life and literature.  For starters, Willie borrowed material from at least two sources:
  • An Italian story by Matteo Bandello, which was subsequently translated into English by Arthur Brooke (or Broke) (1562), although some critics say Brooke's version has much original material; and
  • The multi-volume prose rendering of Brooke's/Bandello's verse by editor William Paynter (or Painter) called The Palace of Pleasure (1566, 1582), which some critics considered significantly inferior to the original.
Admittedly, Shakespeare added important characters and plot developments, and the play is magnificiently written in Willie-speak.  It just rolls off the tongue.

But the whole star-crossed romance thing goes back millennia.  Take, for instance, the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, as told in Ovid's Metamorphoses (8 C.E., or 8 A.D., if you prefer), retold in Bulfinch's Mythology.

Ask Me No More, 1906, oil on canvas
By Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

(Pyramus and Thisbe)

The point being, that this entire star-crossed lovers deal has a long and storied history.  So it's no surprise that we see the plot device recurring in contemporary romantic literature, particularly that aimed toward 'Tweens (readers ages 10-14) or young adults (ages 13-18), as well as grown-up audiences.

Which brings us to Civil War-torn Tennessee during the 1861-1865 War Between the States (or, as it is known down South, the War of Northern Aggression).

Teenaged Rachel used to live in Nashville, Tennessee.  Now she's an orphan and has moved to the Tennessee mountains to live with her grandparents.  Mountain life is strange to Rachel (or to most every city dweller).  She has difficulty adjusting, but she has a go at learning folk medicine and begins to acclimate.  Then comes the literal heart of the story:  ROMANCE.  Rachel falls in love with a young Union army soldier.  She's living in Confederate Tennessee.  Connect the dots.

Listen For Rachel, by Lou Kassem (Avon Books, 1986), is an engaging tale of historical fiction and romance.  Teenage girls should love it.  'Tween girls should, too.  Boys might also find it well worth reading, but they might be reluctant to admit it.  Kassem's prose flows evenly and easily, so that the book is a quick page-turner.  War-torn romances are particularly gripping.  Once the story has your full attention, you won't stop till the final paragraph.  You might even go beyond that into the blank ending pages, which, come to think of it, serve what purpose, exactly?  Autographs, like a school yearbook?  Just asking.

Is Listen For Rachel available in our Evergreen Indiana catalog?  Naturally.

Love Those Kitties on the Cover of the 1986 Avon Edition,

Cauli Le Chat
MPL Roving Reporter
Young Readers' Advisory News Beat

P.S.  Here's an outtake of "The Star-Crossed Lovers," by Duke Ellington, on the album Such Sweet Thunder (1957).  Hey, the Duke knew his music.  "If it sounds good, it IS good," Ellington said.  Composer Peter Schickele agreed, as he used this quote as the tag line to his radio music program, Schickele Mix.

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