Cover to Cover

Books by UNH faculty and alumni

There is Room For You, by Charlotte Bacon
The Beecher Sisters by Barbara A. White

Also of note:
Steven C. King '47
Donald Silverman '59
Janice Harayda '70
Wendy Murdoch '79
Kevin Tracewski '82
Lorne Ladner '92G
Eric D. Knapp '95

There is Room For You
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by Charlotte Bacon

Charlotte Bacon, associate professor of English, likes to remind us that we are all travelers forced to read strange maps and decipher unfamiliar codes in a constant quest to be at home in the world. In There Is Room For You, Bacon's second stunning novel, 35-year-old Anna Singer, a grant writer from New York City, takes a trip to India, thinking it will help her cope with her overwhelming sadness; within the past year, she has endured an inexplicable and painful divorce and lost her father in a car accident. She chooses India because it once was the homeland of her mother, Rose. Her mother is a British citizen who was born in Calcutta and lived there until she was 17; beyond these facts, Rose has told her children, Anna and James, very little about her youth. "'So dull, Anna,' she'd say, closing the spigot with a tight turn. An entire childhood cordoned off like a diseased town."

Although Anna doesn't think of her mother as a cruel person, she remembers the "single bed" coldness of her family's emotional life, which was colored by her mother's distant sadness. Now, though, Anna desperately needs a safe harbor, and is wounded enough to understand that she needs to sail through uncharted territory to find it. Rose, it turns out, is willing to share Anna's journey, albeit on her terms: She mails Anna a journal that she has been keeping for the past 30 years that details her life in India. Thus, the novel is composed of a double narrative: Anna's discovery of India in the mid-'90s and Rose's journal of India in the '30s and '40s, a narrative that serves as a map for Anna as she also discovers the devastating secrets that are the key to Rose's character.

This lyrical, immensely moving novel is about citizenship and shared blood, the boundaries we erect in even our most intimate relationships and the journeys that must be taken to cross them. As Anna learns more about Rose, she realizes "there are still acres and acres to cover, regions we will never get to. It's a wonder how vast a country a single parent can turn out to be."

The Beecher Sisters
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Historians of 19th-century America have likened the Beecher family to the Kennedys of the 20th century, a comparison that only goes so far if you consider that for the Beecher children, there was no family fortune from which to draw. Patriarch Lyman Beecher, a Calvinist minister, was constantly moving his growing family to churches that promised more fiscal stability, and of his 11 children, only Henry Ward Beecher ever attained real financial success. Like the Kennedys, however, the Beechers had a unique family culture that included utter devotion to a charismatic father, unrelenting competitiveness, a zest for religious and intellectual activity and an uncommon moral obligation to serve the public. Indeed, the story goes that the Beechers singularity prompted the Rev. Dr. Leonard Bacon of Yale to say in 1863 that the nation was inhabited by three types of people: saints, sinners and Beechers.

by Barbara A. White

But as Barbara White, professor emerita of women's studies, shows in her biography of the Beecher sisters, it was one thing to be a Beecher male and quite another to be a Beecher female. Lyman Beecher thought any male who had brains should enter the ministry, and all seven of his sons obliged. The four sisters—Catharine, Mary, Harriet and Isabella—did not receive the same encouragement. Catharine and her father were close, and Catharine remembered, "My father never in life praised me, although he used to say that I was the best boy he had."

Although Catharine might have had the temperament most suited to the ministry, it was not an occupation open to women in the mid-1800s. Instead, Catharine devoted her astounding energy to improving educational opportunities for women and to establishing teaching as a female profession. She was single-minded in her pursuits—White calls her "her century's combination of Martha Stewart and Dr. Spock"—and worked until the day she died at age 78.

Harriet earned her father's approval by writing stories. She ran with it, pioneering the genre of local-color realism and attaining the title of Most Famous Beecher when she published Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852. But it is White's insightful analysis of Isabella Beecher Hooker's life and career that makes this book a significant contribution to 19th century scholarship, as it is the first to uncover the breadth of Isabella's work in the women's suffrage movement. In many ways, Isabella is the most interesting sister of all because she transformed her life in her late 40s; she went from being a wife and mother, and someone seemingly well suited to domesticity, to a national figure in the movement, an adept organizer and an extremely effective public speaker. While we might be used to such transformations in the 21st century, it was unheard of in the 19th. But as White so thoroughly shows, she was a Beecher, and Beechers didn't do anything halfway.