Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I’ve recommended an author to a couple of people lately, as I’d noticed that they like to read mostly gentle books, with mostly kind people, and nice endings. I discovered her in Elementary School, in our little school library, and for many years I considered the first of her books that I read ---THE ROLLING YEARS---to be the best book I’d ever read. I re-read it every year for a long time, and except for being totally awestruck by Steinbeck’s EAST OF EDEN, (MY nominee for THE Great American Novel), I still consider it my favorite book.

Her name is Agnes Sligh Turnbull, and she was born on this day in 1888, a time in which Lady Authors, or Authoresses, as they were generically Plume-Nommed, were expected to write of hearth and home and perhaps flower-pressing and embroidery, with a tender, innocent romance culminated by clasping hands beneath a bough.

She looks kind and intelligent, and I like the way she smiles, as if she holds a wonderful secret. I’ll bet she was one of the first in her family to bob her hair; I imagine she could drive a car, and I like to think that she was a good cook, for her descriptions of cooking and food of the bygone eras are most evocative.

She IS a gentle writer, but her scope is far wider---in THE ROLLING YEARS, she wrote of young widowhood and tragedy and loss and war:

THE DAY MUST DAWN is a view of the gritty Pennsylvania frontier, through the eyes of a woman committed to securing a better life for her only daughter. The book portrays some of the tragic events which happened in the author's native western Pennsylvania, and gives a wonderful portrait of the triumph of human spirit.

THE GOWN OF GLORY is the one I always recommend to be read first of her books---its gentle simplicity of a Pastor’s family and their years in a small parsonage at the turn of the century is sweet and charming, with just enough hardship and loss to enhance the storyline, and a hopefully fulfilling ending.

And, until I went searching for pictures of her books to use, I did not know of her great popularity and remembrance amongst the dog-lovers of the world---she must have been quite a devotee, herself, for one of her quotes was printed on dozens of posters featuring pictures of dogs:

She was born in western Pennsylvania, the setting of so many of her stories, and then lived the last sixty of her ninety-three years in New Jersey.

It also brought me a little pang of regret to read the date of her passing, for since she was an author of my childhood, I had no idea that she lived until 1982. Knowing that she was alive when I was all grown up, and I could have written to tell her how much I had enjoyed all her wonderful stories and characters---I still feel the rue of missing that.

It was as if Jane Austen had still been alive in my lifetime, and I could have sent her a letter of thanks for all that her books and her words had meant to me.

And I SO wish I had.


Beverly said...

Rachel, I am so glad you shared your love for the books by this author. I will definitely follow up because I do love a gentle read.

I have books that even though read many decades ago are very close in my heart.

Tonja said...

There are so many books that that require such intense attention to detail and character that it becomes a chore to keep it all straight in your mind. And, it is a not an easy thing to keep my attention on anything for very long these days! These sound easy and comforting. Thanks, friend!

Chesapeake said...

Loved Turnbull, and you have now inspired me to go find Gown of Glory to read, and probably take to my mother for her enjoyment.

Did you ever read Elizabeth Cadell? English author.
I have some in storage and now want to go root them out.

Kim Shook said...

I believe that I'm one of the folks that you introduced Miss Turnbull to. I adored everything I've read except for The Winds of Love.

You said, "gentle books, with mostly kind people, and nice endings" - yes, THAT, exactly is what I need lately!

Maggie Ann said...

I have enjoyed some of her books very much! She was a gifted writer for sure.

Susan Gatti said...

So happy to see an acknowledgment of Turnbull's work. She wrote astutely for a particular market that sought affirmative themes, often set in historical periods or locales of interest. Turnbull was, above all, a professional writer who assessed the desires and interests of her readership. Her writing style was clear and direct, and her characters were well defined. While it is natural to downplay mass-market writers, readers can appreciate Turnbull's ability to offer her wide audience a truly rewarding reading experience.