Not much time to write an introduction this time. This covers the rest of 1862 and explains how Abiel became separated from his original regiment (dysentery).
It is with much pleasure that I now seat myself to answer your kind letter of the 21st, which came to hand yesterday, just as our company had fell into line to go out on picket. You can judge that the two miles we had to go before we got to our picket lines did not seem short, for I was so impatient to read your letter. You cannot imagine what a bright spot in my life it is to receive a letter from home. All others are but tame in comparison. I waited untill I arived at my post before I opened it, then expecting to divide my attention between the rebels and your letter. But I found it impossible. Not untill I had read and reread the letter did the rebs have a thought.
Our picket line runs on one side of a field about forty rods wide, and the rebel lines are on the other side, almost in speaking distance of each other. However we are in no danger of being shot by the other, for there is an order strictly forbidding picket shooting. So you see, we stand and look in each others face without without the least show of animosity, when we are only waiting for an opportunity of meeting each other with the worst passions of which human nature are capable.
This morning we gave them an opportunity to have a shot at us without breaking the rule of picket shooting. There was some rebel cattle on neutral ground, i.e., the strip of land between the picket lines, which we thought we could drive in. Accordingly, some of us went out around the cattle and the rest of us were to head them off and drive them through the gap into our lines. This program we thought good, but it did not met the approbation of our friends across the field. No sooner had we started for the cattle, than they brought a gun from their fort to bear upon us and sent a shot at us, which flew high over our heads, so we kept on after the cattle. They fired two more shots at us from the cannon. By this time we had got down near their picket lines, and they began to fire at us, which made it highly improper for us to go any farther. So we thought it best to retreat, while we could do so in good order. None of us were hurt.
We had a very cold wel [sic? or perhaps an error for "wet"] disagreeable time on duty. I often thought of the warm, comfortable place at home that I have often filled. It was not with regret that I thought of the joys of home. The memory of them but makes dearer to me the free institutions of my country.
We had a smack of actual service the 27th. Our regiment was called upon to assist the Maine 7th in making a reconnaissance in force. We were marched out to our picket line and placed in ambush, to cover the retreat of the 7th, in case they were forced to retreat. When we were loading, our Colonel said, "Now boys, if you are called upon to fire, I don't want a bullet to fly over an enemy's head now mind." We had to remain in our position an hour. You would have been amused to see our occupation, expecting an attack every moment. Some of them were playing pin, some were playing "mumble de peg", others telling stories making ludicrous remarks about our position, and so on.
The seventh were successful. They drove back the enemy's pickets and penetrated to within a hundred and ten yards of their battery, and then retreated without losing a man. When this news came to our regiment, there was more downcast, disappointed-looking faces than there was before, when we were expecting to be engaged in a bloody strife in a few moments. However it could not be helped, so we were marched back to camp without seeing an enemy.
I wish I could write you some news about the proceedings of the army, but I cannot because I have no means of knowing any of the movements except those made by our own brigade. I have not had a paper in two weeks, don't have anything to read. No news reaches us that we can depend on. There is no papers brought up here to sell, so you can judge of the disagreeably ignorant state, in regard to the news, we are in. I wish you would be so kind as to send me a paper of some kind occasionally. A tribune, an Allegheny paper, an illustrated or literary paper, in fact, anything in the shape of a newspaper.
I thank you for your kind offer to send me more money, if I wanted it, but I shall not avail myself of it. I have a number of postage stamps and some twenty cents in money, I guess. I shall do very well till pay day, as there is no way to spend money here, and pay day will come before long, whether we get any pay or not.
Lester Eaton is at Newport News, sick of the camp dysentery, dangerously sick. The hospital nurse who was up here the other day said he did not think he could live. I have not seen him since we left there, and what is worse, none of us can get a pass to go down and see him. Do not tell his people of this, I beg of you.
Father, I am glad you did not enlist. I fear the old men are those who are sick most, while us young bucks are as tough and hardy as grizzly bears.
Susan, I don't want you to dream about me so much, for you always dream bad dreams and they make you unhappy. I know, and I do not like to have you worrying about me, when I was never in better health in my life.
Dear sister, you wanted to know if we kept up the practice of reading in the Bible every night. I can answer only for myself. I do nearly every night. We no longer have family prayer, for our family is scattered, but I hope that we all engage in silent prayer, which the Lord can hear just as well. I hope that I may be prepared to die, so that if I am to die on the battlefield, that it may not be without hope of meeting you all in heaven.
With this as my desire,
I remain yours as ever A. T. La Forge
[written around the edges of several pages of the previous letter]
We have advanced nearer the enemy's lines, since I wrote to you before. We're now about half way between the York and James rivers, four miles from Yorktown. We are daily expecting a battle at Yorktown. When the guns open on that place, I suppose there will be an advance all along the line between the rivers the[?]. [possibly "there"?] It seems that the rebs will fight here if any where, for they are fighting for their capitol. This may be said to be the door to Richmond.
Besides all this, they have also the advantage in position. Nature has fortified the place for them. If you will look in my atlas at the map of Virginia, you will find our position near the lower right hand part of the state. You will see Yorktown Warwick C[ourt] H[ouse]. We were camped at Warwick courthouse.
Please turn to Page 2 now. [In the atlas, presumably.] We have moved up nearer Yorktown and near Warwick creek. This creek is mostly in the hands of the rebels. In some places, their pickets are on one side and ours are on the other. Imagine a line of fortifications extending from Yorktown to the mouth of the creek and you can tell something of what we have to contend with. Sister, I hate to ask you to do such a thing, but I must I wish you would send me a row or two of pins in a newspaper. I would not ask you to if I could buy them, but I cannot, and I know it will give you pleasure. So goodbye. ATLF.
It is with much pleasure that I seat myself to write to you. Since my last letter I have had some experience in fighting, and I can say that it is not funny. I will tell you particulars. April the 29th our Division was called out to make a reconnaissance in force, that is an examination of the enemy's lines and fortifications. Our Regiment was in the advance. We were formed in line of battle and advanced beyond our pickets, and then began to look out for the rebs. But never a rebel did we see until all at once we herd a volley of rifles. And the balls went whizzing by our heads, cutting off the twigs and thugging into them in such a manner as to one very uncomfortable. We kept advancing toward the enemy without a waver, when suddenly we were brought to a standstill by coming upon a slough which it would be very improper for us to cross. The rebs still continued to fire at us, so our Colonel gave us the order to conceal ourselves behind trees and return the enemy's fire whenever we could see them. The trees were so thick that we could not see them, and judging from the poor shots they made after the first volley, they could not see us very plain.
I looked in vain for a rebel, but could not see one. I think if I had, I could have taken as good aim at one as I could at a target, for though excited, my aim was as steady as ever. After remaining here half an hour, our skirmishers were deployed to protect our retreat, and we came back to camp having nobody hurt in our regiment. One in the 56th New York Volunteers, the regiment Richard belongs in, was mortally wounded.
I have sorrowful news to tell you: Lester Eaton is dead. He died in the hospital at Newport the 26th of April. His disease was fever and dysentery. There has [been] three letters came for him from his folks since he died. Oh, how his father and mother and brothers and sister must feel! But I will say no more on this painful subject. Leander is quite sick, and I have been a little. You can see by this writing that I am somewhat nervous. We have just received two of the four months pay due us. I send you twenty three [and] one half dollars. Joseph: does not that note against Nelson Crandall become due this spring? The new ten cent piece enclosed is for little Mattie. Please give it to her. I believe I have nothing more to write at present. Only please burn this after you have read it, if you can do that. And oblig[?]. A T La Forge
[Note: Obviously the letter was not burned as requested, but it's curious why that request would be made. Abiel's first brush with actual combat would be his last for an extended period for reasons made clear in the next letter.]
It is with pleasure that I seat myself to inform you of my whereabouts, at which you will doubtless be surprised. I am sure that I am.
When the 85th moved toward Williamsburg, when the rebs fell back, I could not go with them. I was just coming down with the Virginia fever. I also had the dysentery. Both of these ailments took hold of me pretty strongly after the regiment moved. I grew light rapidly under their close attention. In the course of three weeks I lost twenty pounds. I was taken to the hospital at Yorktown, and from there was brought North on the Vanderbilt, where were first taken to Washington, but the hospitals there were all full so we were brought around here in the boat.
[Recall that in the last letter, just after Abiel noted the death of a friend from dysentery, he noted that he had been "a little sick" and we can imagine that it was the beginning of this illness. My initial searching hasn't turned up an obvious candidate for "Virginia fever".]
As soon as we were moored to the wharf here, the good people begun to bring on board and give to us all kinds of delicacies, such as we had not tasted since leaving home. Arrangements were soon made, and a hundred and eighty of us were taken to the Adams house hospital, where we receive the best of treatment.
We arrived here the 17th. Visitors are coming in every day, bringing all sorts of nice things for us.
I am quite well now. Entirely well of my fever, but quite weak.
My love to all,
From your son and Brother A T La Forge
It is with much pleasure that I seat myself for the purpose of again communicating with you by the pen. I received your kind letter of April 31st, which gave me much pleasure, for I had been waiting what seemed a long time for a letter from you. Yours did not arrive until we had changed from the Adams House to the McKims Mansion hospital, where you must now direct your letters.
I have entirely recovered from my sickness and am detailed on duty here in the hospital as orderly for the Surgeon in charge, so my cake is dough for going back to the Regiment, for which I am very sorry.
[Note: Given the number of invalids mentioned above, it's curious (and unexplained) why Abiel was not sent back immediately to his regiment if he was truly "entirely recovered" as he repeatedly insists. One wonders whether he may have remained in more fragile health than he was willing to admit in letters. It would be about two entire years before he again saw combat, though at least a little of that toward the end was due to bureaucracy. As will become apparent in the next year, he was given increasing clerical and supervisory responsibilities in the various camps he moved through. And given his later performance, it's possible that someone recognized his competence and decided he'd be more use off the battlefield. I don't remember if he remarks on this explicitly in the 1863 letters.]
Our Regiment has been in a severe battle lately. George Green and I believe Orvill Barney have been wounded and sent North to New York City. I suppose they have written home by this time. If they have, I wish you in your next letter would let me know the extent of their misfortune. I am anxious to hear. Also tell me if any [of] the rest of our boys are wounded or killed.
Crandal is a prisoner in the hands of the rebs, our Major dangerously wounded, and our Lieutenant Colonel slightly wounded, and a good many of the men killed, so they must have fought well.
Strawberries are ripe and have been for a week or two. The ladies bring them in nearly every day. They are exceedingly [kind?] to us, and I am sure I shall never forget them. Still I should much prefer the nursing of my sister's, but I can't expect to have as good nurses as as you are.
We have had pleasant weather most of the time we have been have been here, but for several days in succession we have had rain nearly all of the time. However it was needed, for the ground was very dry.
There are a number of the boys from our regiment at this hospital. I like this place much better than the Adams house, for then we were on one of the principal streets of the [city?] and the rattle of the carts and wagons over the pavements was almost incessant night and day. I found it very difficult to sleep at all. While here we are out of the town and away from noise, with a pleasant rural prospect and much more healthy. My business is very pleasant but rather confining. I have to be here from seven in the morning until six at night every day, yet I have plenty of time to read and study while I am here.
There are two hundred and seventy three patients in this hospital. It is situated on an eminence overlooking the most of town. There are three buildings, two story barracks forming three sides of a square, and the McKims Mansion where the Doctors and lady nurses live, then the laundry, cooking house, and officers' dining room, where the Doctors, Stewards, Ward masters, Clerk, and myself eat. And we live well, I tell you. I can write no [more?] at present. Oh yes, I can too. I wish you would send me a five dolor bill, if you can raise it. I have been sick and spent all my money and I want a pair of boots. You did not write whether you received that twenty three dollars fifty cents which I sent you. We only got two months pay, and I sent you the above amount of that. So fare well at present.
God bless you all, Your Brother, A. T. La Forge
It is with much pleasure that I embrace this opportunity of answering your kind letter of Aug 27, which I have the pleasure of saying found me in good health, for which I am very thankful.
Baltimore is very much excited now, owing to the recent successes of the rebels. The rich rebels who, but a week since were wishing for Jackson, now that there is a prospect of his coming, are trembling for fear of the destruction of their property by the Union soldiers. For it is a pretty sure thing, if the rebels take the city, our troops will shell it from the forts which command it, and which can be held against any force that the rebs can bring to bear on them.
It is very plain to be seen that the destruction of their property would give them more pain than the occupation of the city by the rebs would give them pleasure.
But the poorer classes of rebs are jubilant, for they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Whenever they can get a soldier out in some unfrequented place, they are sure to pitch into him and almost always sure to get flogged and put into the station house for their pains. Many are the fisticuff fights we have to engage in to uphold the honor of the Union.
You would be surprised, and justly too, at the ignorance we are in [as] regards the number and purposes of the rebels in Maryland. That they are commanded by able generals is very evident, but what there intentions are--whether to march on Pennsylvania or Baltimore or Washington, or to await attack--is more than we are able to conjecture with any feeling of safety.
Father, have you and Susan given up going East this fall? If you go, give my best respects to friends at the dear old place. [Note: "East" in this case is presumably the New Windsor area on the Hudson.] Tell little Josiah he must enlist when he's old enough, but not before. Tell uncle Josiah [Fuller] I wish I was down there to eat grapes with him. Say to Aunt Sophy that I am coming down to see her and the rest of them after a while. Of course that means after the war.
I am glad the crops are good up there. In my opinion, the crops will be better than the prices. I remember the last work I helped Joseph do was to turn over some beans which were damp. Now if you had some more to turn over, and I could be up there and spend one night with you, I should be content to turnover beans all next day to pay for it, and think it a cheap bargain at that. For I judge I should get a pumpkin pie by the operation, and perhaps one or two kisses from very dear friends. What do you think?
How very truly can I say,
Where e'er on earth I am doomed to roam,
My heart is still with friends at home.
[Note: Now here's an interesting puzzle. These two lines definitely sound like Abiel is quoting something. And a Google search on various tweaked versions turns up a set of lyrics entitled "Good News From Home" attributed to one Ethel Holm. The problem is, this source says of the author, "Ethel Holm was born on Saba at Windwardside September 4th, 1901. Daughter of George William Christian Holm and Eldarena Hassell. She was a sister of Captains. Irvin and Ralph Holm." Further investigation indicates that attribution is mistaken and turns up a set of uncredited lyrics published in 1860 (much more reasonable!) in The Red, White, and Blue Monster Song Book (vol 3), edited by J. Diprose.]
Oh, I forgot to say I have reserved a very small share of a very fine, fresh, little girl here, very handsome and of strong union proclivities. She is rather shy and bashful, but she likes me pretty well, but won't let me kiss her unless I steal it. [Note: This flirtation seems to have had no lasting effects.]
Now don't go to to forming any rash ideas, but give my love to all just the same as if I had not told you what I have, and remember me as yours affectionately, A.T. La Forge, Orderly.
To Mr Joseph Potter, Andover, Allegany. Co. NY.
Your kind letter of the 13th has been received. I was very glad to hear from you so good a report of yourselves.
Now Jane, you see that much of my letter is addressed to you and Susan both. Now as Suse is gone, the rest is to you entirely, providing you will give a few messages to the rest. [Note: Evidently Susan is absent for some reason? There seems to be a reference in the next letter to her "going east". This absence isn't explained, but the jokes to Joseph about being "a single man again" also indicate some sort of extended absence.]
The danger to Baltimore has passed. We have no farther apprehension of the rebels taking the city. Mac, has driven them from "My Maryland" and I hope he will follow up his success and drive them down to their capitol, and take that, and thus virtually ending the war before the rainy season commences. How I wish he could.
Joseph, how is your crops this year? Do they turn out well as you expect? I wish you would let me know what grain, cattle, butter, cheese and such like are selling for there. Clothes are very high here. Of course they are the same there.
How do you like sleeping alone, Joseph? You are a single man again. How do you like it? We have confounded work getting our pay. I wish you would send me five dollars as soon as you can. I have lent all the money of last payday which I have not used, and can't get it till we are paid, and I want some money before that.
Well mother, how do you enjoy life now? I hope you are well, for without health nobody can enjoy life, is not that so? Doesn't it do your heart good to see so many patriotic young men coming to their country's call, as there has, from the country about there? I should not think any would have to be drafted from Andover or Independence. Do you think there will be any?
[Three-inch section of the letter has been cut out.]
I am expecting a letter from Susan and father. I have received one [from] O L Barney,
My love to all, Yours truly Abiel T La Forge, Orderly McKims
Company C 85th New York Volunteers, Sick Division McKims
Joseph Potter, Independence
Your kind letter of Sept 27 was received last night and I haste to reply.
I was quite surprised to hear from you so quick. I even doubted your going East at all, but your letter sets me at rest on the subject. Is there any place you have been yet that you recognized? I am sure I did not remember any of the old places around there when I went back, but you were older than I and probably remember more than I did.
I am sorry Uncle William [LaForge?] is in such a bad condition. How I wish I had a weeks furlough to come up there, go around with you, and Father.
You write that you do not know where father is. I suppose he has turned up, since I'll warrant you father enjoys himself hugely. He will try to keep you down there all winter, see if he don't. He knows the country so well about there that he will not see half he wants in a good while.
You have been up on Solomans Baarrack [?] before this time. What a beautiful view there is from there: New Burgh, Poughkeepsie, Mateawan, New Windsor, and all those places we used to know so well. And there is little Pancake and Four corners, where used to live and go to school. How dear the associations of childhood seem when we contemplate them in after life. Do not think by my writing that I begin to feel like an old man. Nothing of that, I assure you. But to think of the old places sometimes makes me feel lonely.
Uncle Josiah is as hale and hearty as ever, I suppose--still drawing two loads of water a day, just as he used to when I was there. God bless him. He has a kind heart. Give him my best love.
I judge, by what you write, age begins to tell on aunt Sophy. How kind she used to be to me! I know I used to think her love was more like a mother's than an aunt's. Therefore give her for me the love of a son.
Ask cousin Sal how she likes married life by this time. I believe she had a baby when I was there. How does the little thing do now? I forget whether it was a girl or boy.
Give my love to all our kind friends, both great and small. I wish I could be there to express it myself. But that I am unable to do so, I must be contented with the pen's dumb eloquence.
Has cousin John Gordon (I believe this is the name of Susan's husband) gone out West as he expected to when I was down there? He had a promise of a position in a copper mine out near lake Superior.
Tell little Jo I shall write to him soon. He is a good writer for a boy of his age, I tell you.
Tell Father, if he visits his old friend in New Burgh, to give my best respects to them.
From your loving Brother, Abiel T La Forge, Orderly
Your kind letter of October 3rd I just this hour received, and enclosed found the $5.00 you was so kind as to send me. The letter was miscarried. It went first to Washington, then to Newport News, and then to Suffolk where our regiment now is. My first lieutenant kindly opened it and, seeing it was of importance to me, forwarded it.
We were paid some time ago. Thirty dollars of my pay I sent to my old friend John Clemence to be invested for me. He wrote he would invest it in the best manner possible at this time.
Cousin Geo[rge] Hall was over to see me week before last. He knew me as soon as he saw me, but I did not have as good a memory. I knew I had seen before, but where I could not tell. We had a good visit. He took dinner with me and then returned. I promised to repay the visit and was going over last Sunday, but I heard the regiment had left, so I did not go.
Well Susey dear, I am about to return to my regiment. I asked Dr. Quick yesterday if he would not send me back and he said he would. I am ashamed to stay here any longer, an enlisted soldier and doing nothing, never seeing an enemy unless a prisoner. I shall probably go back between this and the 20th. I hope you will write soon and send it here as before. If I am not here, they will know where to send it.
I did not know how well I was liked untill I told them I was going back. Everybody now seems trying to make me believe that I am a capital fellow and all that. A young clerk--that I came near fighting a duel with when I first came here--swears, if he could get his pay, he would desert from his regiment and go with me to mine, if he could get his pay. Of course, you will think by my writing this I am very vain, and I guess you will be more than half right.
[Note: As we see later, Abiel seems to inspire this sort of response in people, though it isn't clear at this early date quite why. But presumably the charisma we see later in battle came out in more peaceful interactions as well.]
Give my love to all, and tell me next time if you enjoyed your visit as well as you expected before you went.
Your loving brother, A T La Forge
Why I do not get a letter from you, I do not know. Have you received none from me since I have been here? I wrote you a letter the first week I was here, but the pleasure of an answer from my dear sister I have not had. I believe you must have written to me and the letter has [been] sent astray.
"Wall", I am not back to to the 85th yet and I cannot tell when I shall be. No men have been sent to their regiments from here for some time. The camp is gradually being broken up, and moved to a place about three miles above here, where it will be more sheltered from the wind and therefore warmer. The position of this camp is very beautiful for sumner, but far too bleak for winter.
[Note: I've left Abiel's "Wall" ("well", presumably) as intended to depict a dialect pronunciation, given the scare-quotes. The comment that no one from the hospital is being sent back to their regiments may go some ways to explaining why Abiel still lingers. But his comments in the next paragraphs suggest why he continued to be kept there well into the next year. It may be that competent and responsible clerks were valuable enough to be held on to.]
We have already had some very cold weather, colder than it was any time last winter. The Potomac was nearer frozen over, at two different times, than it was at any time last winter. Still, we are having very agreable weather most of the time.
I am now acting as sergeant of the squad to which I belong. I have to make out the requisitions for rations, give them passes, and am held responsible for their good order, and so on. When I first came here, we had to bring all the wood we had over two [and] 1/2 miles, but now we have all the wood we want to burn issued to us, which is a great deal more pleasant. I can go into town at any time, for I have a general pass from Colonel Belknap, who comands this post.
Last night I was sitting by the fire and wishing that I was either with my regiment or up at Josey's, and I do believe if I could have my "druther," I would be with you in Independence till after New Year, which is now so close at hand, and then back to the army again. In that letter you sent me while at McKim's, father wrote he was going out West again. Has he gone yet? If he has, don't you suppose he will be back again next spring? If he would settle down some place, he might get along quite well. If he is still there, give him my love. And mother: how does she stand the cold weather this winter?
It is getting dark, so I must close, wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year
Your loving brother, Abiel T La Forge
Acting Sergeant in charge of squad
[written along edge]
I have not the mony to put postage on this letter.
To Mrs Joseph Potter Independence N. Y.
Address Post Hospital Near Alexandria, Va. Co. C. 85th Regt.NYSV
This category of tags covers literary characters who are portrayed as being in intense or romantic friendships with other women where there is no overt erotic component and typically where they are not living as a committed couple. Check out the permanent page if you want to follow up on links to the publications that discuss these works.
This is a hard movie to review without diving much too deeply into social and political issues that for the most part aren't mine to comment on. Even in the barest summary, alarm bells start ringing: medieval European travelers to China arrive at a critical point in a cyclic invasion of ravening monster hordes to help win a decisive victory. And all the gorgeous visuals, the prominent female lead (who is--miracle of miracles--not a romantic interest), the big name Chinese director (Yimou Zhang), and the creative presentation of a multi-lingual story cannot entirely redeem the movie from being a White Savior vehicle for a Hollywood star. All that cannot erase the knowledge that a nearly-identical movie that didn't ease white western movie-goers' insecurities by centering Matt Damon's character in the plot would have struggled to escape art house theaters in the US market (as, for example, the director's previous works Raise the Red Lantern and House of Flying Daggers, to cite titles I recognize in his IMDB listing).
It isn't that the movie (and especially this choice of director) didn't try its best to rise above the White Saviour/ travelogue tropes--and succeeded far better than one might have expected--only that escaping them was impossible, given the underlying story. Even the standard trope of "supposedly civilized European is revealed as filthy barbarian in contrast to sophisticated Asian culture" can't escape centering the western gaze, if only because the movie instructs us to identify with Damon's character, and because his critical contributions to the victory carry the message, "What this advanced civilization needs is a virile barbarian."
And yet...and yet...this is a stunningly beautiful movie. For a "fight the unending monster horde" plot, the events hold together and have a solid underlying logic (if a questionable ecological dynamic) that makes the eventual resolution both earned and rational. It gets massive props from me for not inserting a romance between Damon's character and Commander Lin (Tian Jing) in a setting where the default Hollywood plot would require one. The Chinese characters in the file were cast with Chinese actors or actors of Chinese heritage (as best I can tell), and as a linguist I loved the handling of spoken/subtitled language. I enjoyed this movie as entertainment, but in doing so I recognize that there are a lot of currents flowing through it about representation and Hollywood power dynamics that I am not a right person to evaluate.
It's the last weekend of the month, so it's time for another Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast to go live! This month we're looking at the exciting and implausible life of 17th century playwright, poet, world traveler, and spy Aphra Behn. Check out the show on your favorite podcast aggregator. If you enjoy it, I strongly urge you to subscribe and to rate the hosting show (The Lesbian Talk Show) to help others find it more easily.
You might think the subject line is an elaborate metaphor, but you'd be wrong.
You know that logic puzzle where you have to transport a wolf, a sheep, and a bale of hay across the river in a canoe and can only carry one of them at a time? My current logic puzzle involves two very skittish cats, a house with many hiding places, a garage with many hiding places, and a house-to-garage door that doesn't always latch properly. It happened something like this...
About a month ago, I took delivery of two new-to-me cats whose owner had died. Between the disappearance of their owner, the chaos of large numbers of strange people packing up their home, the trauma of being forcibly caught and put into carriers, and the strangeness of their new environment, the cats decided that they were in imminent danger of being devoured alive and promptly hid (see inventory item "house with many hiding places"), only sneaking out in the dead of night to eat, drink, and use the litter box.
They became, in a word, invisible. There were occasional brief sightings at night (did you know that all cats are gray in the dark?) but other than that the only evidence of their presence was what was taken and left. Hold on to that thought.
Due to seasonal house settling, the house-to-garage door currently needs forcible encouragement to latch properly. (See relevant inventory item.) This is done when I leave the house, but not always when I'm at home. Air pressure differentials sometimes leave the door slightly ajar. See also inventory item "garage with many hiding places".
After a while, the gray cat (did I mention there is a gray cat and a black cat? but all cats are gray in the dark?) began venturing timidly into visibility. This was reassuring. The black cat had not yet made an appearance for some time, but was known to have been the more skittish of the two. And the amount of food disappearing and...um...deposits in the litter box seemed consistent with the presence of two cats, though it varied from day to day.
And then, Sunday afternoon, I opened the door to the garage to move the laundry to the dryer and saw a black cat dash for cover. See inventory item "garage with many hiding places". See also "door that doesn't always latch properly." So now I had confirmation that the black cat was located in the garage (and was alive!), but no confirmation of how long it had been there or where it was hiding. I also made an assumption, though a warranted one, that the black cat in question corresponded to the one I had taken delivery of.
Here, then, is the logic puzzle: how does one move the black cat from the garage to the house under the following restrictions:
Oh, and one bonus given condition is that the gray cat likes to hide under the bed in the master bedroom and can be identified in that location via flashlight.
Here, then, is my strategy for herding invisible cats. (Please note that this story is told for entertainment purposes and is NOT a request for advice, assistance, or catsplaining.)
You may notice that the third bullet point (black cat must not leave garage by door to street) has not been accounted for. On this one, I must trust to previous behavior (obviously the cat is still in the garage despite the coming and going of the car twice a day), presumably driven by the first bullet point (neither cat will appear in the open when human is present).
When I took delivery of the cats, they came with names that didn't feel right to me. Thanks to a suggestion on Twitter, the top name candidates are currently Schrodinger (for the cat that either is or is not in the garage) and Cheshire (for the cat visible only as glowing eyes under the bed).
I decided that the end of 1864 was a good point at which to go back and cover the earlier material. When I decided to start creating this edited and annotated version of the material, I was in the middle of processing the 1864 entries, so it made sense to start from where I was and go forward. But since it's time to start setting up the fixed version of the material on my other website, I want to go back and fill that gap.
Abiel enlisted in Company C of the 85th New York Volunteers in October 1861, so his first letter below is only a couple months after his elistment. This first year is only letters. He didn't start keeping his "mems" (memorandums) until later. As that later parallel material shows, his daily diary entries had a somewhat different flavor from the letters he wrote for family consumption, even though the diaries were also being sent back to his sister Susan and he must have assumed she would read them.
This set of letters will also explain how it was Abiel was separated from the 85th NYV and what landed him in "Camp Convalescent" where we saw him in the previous material on this blog. Contemplate that he contracted dysentery in mid 1862 and didn't return to active duty until two years later (although it feels like part of that was due to the slow machinery of military bureaucracy).
Those who have been following along may be startled at how much less sophisticated the opening of Abiel's first letter sounds, but he seems to settle into his style rapidly.
Dear father, Sister, and friends,
It is with pleasure that I improve the leisure furnished by a rainy day to inform you of the reception of your kind letter [of] the 16th, which I was rejoiced to receve. It found me well and waiting most impatiently for a letter from you. You cannot imagine how delightedly I read it now! Don't wait so long again. I will try to write as often as once a week and I hope you will do the same.
I could not help laughing at the news you had received of two of our men being shot while out on picket duty. There has not been a man shot. There is not any danger in standing on picket duty while on this side of the river. Over on the other side, they have some fun with the rebels sometimes. I was sent out as picket last Sunday. I had to take my blanket, a canteen of water, and one day's provisions in my haversack. It's fun to be off in the woods with two or three jolly companions. I like it.
In the first sheet of my letter I was extoling the fine weather. Yesterday there was a change in the prospect. It commenced raining about dark and rained all night. All of today, so far, and some snow fell also. But as I was saying, about dark it commenced raining, and before midnight we were drowned out. Yes, fairly drowned out. The water came in under our tent, wetting our bedding, which caused us to get up quicker than ever we did for roll call.
We at once procured a lantern and spade and went to work, and soon had the satisfaction of seeing the water retire from the tent into the ditch we had made. If it had been the retreat of a body of rebels it could not have given us more satisfaction! We then went into the tent and built up a good fire, without which we would have been very uncomfortable the next day. Today we put a brick floor in our tent, which will protect us against any future incursion of water enemies.
Our tent is wedge shaped and about eight feet square. Five of us occupy one of them. We have bought a little stove which, with furniture, cost us five dollars and which comes very handy to cook, warm our tents, etc. The canvas of which our tents are made is thick enough to prevent the rain from penetrating by falling on it, but it will come under, of course, if not properly protected by a ditch.
I hope it will soon clear off, for sunshiny weather is much more agreeable than stormy in camp. I thought we had got here too late for any of the southern fruit, but we are just in time for persimmons. They are a rich lucious fruit about as large as a good-sized green gage. I wish you could have some; They would suit you.
I understood that somebody had sent you [inserted above the line] meaning the people there [end of insertion] word that our regiment was dying off at the rate of ten a day. It is not so. There has [been] not one died since we came here that I know of. You tell the people so.
Write all the particulars, for they are what I like. Yours with love dear friend.
[The following letter was probably actually written in January of 1862, although it was filed with letters from December of 1862. The reference to New Years being past and the fact that it was written from Camp Warren are the basis for my assumption.]
It is with great pleasure that I now seat myself for the purpose of writing to you and informing you of my excellent health and spirits, and also of the receipts of your kind letter, for which accept my thanks.
It was with was with wonder and gratitude that I received your letter so soon after writing to you. I was greatly amused to read the account in your letter of the reports which had reached you of a party of our men, of which Studer was one, being attacked at a bridge which they went to guard. Nothing of the kind has happened. None of us have had a chance to try our spunk with the rebels yet, but our Colonel has promised us that we shall have a chance before long to try our mettle.
We have had the promise of some reconnaissance duty. If we do, we shall probably have a sight of the enemy, which we have not had as yet. We are just as much out of the danger of the enemy here as at Elmira, but we shall have a chance before long.
You seem to have formed a wrong idea of our manner of living. We don't have beds; we sleep on the ground on straw. We each have two blankets and most of us have quilts from home. First, on the straw we place our India rubber blankets, then on this we put our quilts. Our blankets we spread over us.
Since I wrote my last letter, we have been moved into large round tents, eighteen feet in diameter. In this there are fifteen men. We sleep in a half circle around the tent, our feet to the center. We have a stove in our tent and everything handy. All the boys from our place [Note: presumably "our place" being his home town] with the exception of Ira Crandall live in here.
We have potatoes part of the time. We expect our pay to the fifteenth of this month, but cannot tell as yet. I do not know the fare from Andover [to] here, but I believe it about ten dollars, but I don't know. Tell Willie to enquire at the depot. Lieutenant Green is some sick at present, not bad, however all the rest of our boys are well. Lester Eaton is over the river at present, visiting the second Wisconsin and some other Regiments over the Potomac.
But would you not be pleased to see fifteen men In a tent only eighteen feet in diameter? I tell you, we soon learn to accommodate ourselves to all most anything now. I suppose you think we cannot live with any comfort, but we do live with comfort too. The money you sent me I bought an India rubber blanket. I have not bought a pistol yet.
I bought wages with the rest when pay day comes I have my my pay when pay day comes. [Note: I've set off this line due to the difficulty of interpreting it. I'm guessing there may be a transcription issue for the duplication in the second half of the line, but I don't know what it would mean to say "I bought wages with the rest [of my money?]" I guessing this should be emended something like: "I bought wages(?) with the rest. When pay day comes I'll have my pay."]
I hope It will not be much longer before we shall make an advance on the Potomac. With as large an army as we have at present, we might make an advance on. [Note: possibly he intended to repeat "on the Potomac" then realized he was repeating the phrase?] I hope It will not be so much longer so.
We have had considerable cold weather since New Year. It has snowed about an inch, but It has been warm enough in our tents for anybody.
Last week I was corporal of the pickets of this regiment. We had a piece of woods to guard, which was on a hill commanding a fine view of the city of Washington. At night I had just taken on the men--ten in number--of which I had command, and I had just given them their places to guard, when I saw a strong light toward the city. I at once got in a place where I could see the fire, for such it was. Oh how bright! It was the government stables on fire. There were some fifteen hundred horses in them, of which one hundred fifty were burned to death. It was dreadful. All of the horses were turned out that they could. It was bad enough, I tell you. I suppose you read of it in the papers.
We got that butter, and a more thankful set of fellows than we were you seldom see. It is enough to make a fellow homesick. Some of the boys here are wishing themselves home with their mothers, but I have not seen the time yet when I wished myself out of this. I came here with the expectation of of much worse fare than we had here, and so I was pleasantly disappointed. Our bread is baked for us, and many other things which I did not expect.
Father, I shall be glad to go up West with you when I get through with this war, but it will be a good while first, and I hope by that time I shall get to be a man and able to do some work. But I am afraid that I shall be very lazy at first.
Last night, we agreed to have readings in the Bible and prayer every night. Last night we did so, and I don't think we shall drop it. We have the praise of being the most quiet and orderly tent in the company. Still, we have plenty of fun, but have it in a quiet way.
We have had news today from the colonel that we shall go down the Potomac to Mathias Point where the rebels are blockading the Potomac. They are collecting in great numbers. It will take a large force of ours to dislodge them, so it wont be long before we have a chance to to try our mettle. I have no doubt you think because we sleep on the ground we sleep uncomfortable, but I tell you I never slept better in my life, or with less dreams.
But my dear friends, I can write no more at present. Give my love to all,
A T La Forge
Pleas excuse my many mistakes. You know that we don't have a table to write on.
I am happy to say that I received your kind letter of January 18, which I should have answered before, but I expected another letter from you. I sent one when I sent the money. I understand the money arrived at Andover safe, whether the letter did or not.
Your letter found me well, but deep in the mud, however the going is better now. Night before last, I was on guard and it snowed nearly all night. The snow fell to the depth of several inches (about three). Still, there is no sleighing. Three inches of snow is not apt to make sleighing where the mud is a foot deep. You would probably never have heard from me again if we had not moved our camp. The mud was getting so deep there that we must have inevitably stuck fast before long. We have moved about one hundred rods. We are camped on a side hill, where it is sandy, dry, and nice, in full view of the city of Washington. I like our present camp ground first rate.
I was very sorry to hear that mother was hurt. I hope she is well by this time. How I should like to see her! I can imagine how she sits by the stove, enjoying her pipe. I can imagine what you are all at, but none of you can guess anything about what I am at, because you never saw anything of the kind.
You must never think we are suffering with cold because we never do. Our tents are full as warm as board shanties, then it is never very cold here. The coldest is only 20° below zero, and that only once [in a] while. Some times it seems almost like summer does there. And another thing which adds to our comfort is there is but thirteen of us in a tent now. And when we moved, we managed to cabbage enough fence boards to make a floor to our tent. Then again, we sold our little stoves and bought a larger one with an oven. The advantage can readily be seen by any woman. [Note: I'm wondering if "cabbage" is some sort of rhyming slang for "scavenge". Or perhaps Abiel was unfamiliar with the word and misheard it? The sense is clear from context.]
The water is mostly bad. I know of but one good spring anywhere about. George Green has been sick and in the hospital for some time, but is well and out around at present. One of the hospitals on this hill is the large Columbian College. Another is the residence of old Commodore C. Porter, of whom we read in the war of 1812-14. The commodore's son is now an officer in the rebel army. The house was once a beautiful residence and is splendidly situated just back of our camp. The house is badly used and is going to decay as fast as the material of which it is built (brick) will allow it to.
Now here is something which will be interesting for father. The grave of old Lorenzo Dow is within a half mile of here. The tombstone is common brown stone. It is raised on pillars above the grave two feet, and with this inscription on it:
Who was born in Coventry Conn.
Oct. 18th 17.77
Died Feb 2nd 18.34 aged .56. Years.
And also a couple of his quotation, of which I am sorry I failed to copy.
[Note: I've left the memorial inscription as is.]
I had to leave my unfinished letter yesterday, on account of an order which I received to go out target shooting. Our company made first rate shots. The target was about forty-five rods off. We have changed our guns since I wrote last. We now have the Austrian rifle. The gun is not as handsome as the Enfield, which we had before, but it is more serviceable. I think we made a good trade.
Last week I went down to the city and visited the patent office. It is a large marble building filled with all the machinery in the United States, and there also is the coat, pants, sword, money safe, and some of the tea set of General George Washington, and many other relics of great value to the people of the nation.
My love to all, Father, Mother, Brothers, and Sisters from your loving friend.
A T La Forge
To Mr Joseph Potter
Direct to Company C, 85th Regiment New York State Volunteers, Camp Warren, D.C.
[Note: There are a number of later references to going to see the Patent Office while on leave in Washington, but I think this suggests the clearest picture that it served as something of museum, as well as a government office.]
It is with pleasure that I seat myself in great haste to write you a few lines to inform you of the reception of your kind letter, for which receive my thanks. You will doubtless see the haste in which I write by the writing. Tonight our company fell in as usual for dress parade, when the Captain came down and told us that our company need not go on dress parade, for the reason that companies A, B, C, and H were to be sent across the Potomac tonight, about 12 miles from here. They are expecting to have a battle over there very soon, and by our earnest solicitation we were permitted to go over. [Note: I think it's important to read Abiel's letters always alert for his very dry sense of humor.]
We are not going to stay over there. We take four days' rations, and probably shall not have to stop over there longer than four days. Whether we shall have a fight or not, we cannot tell. [inserted] We do not take our tents with us. [end of insertion] After I wrote that, the order not to take our tent was countermanded and we took them. We shall not have any to sleep in. We shall have to bunk down on the ground while we are gone. [Note: Disentangling the contraditions, I suspect that Abiel first wrote that they wouldn't be taking their tents and would have to sleep on the ground, but that this order was then countermanded. It would make more sense, though if the sentence beginning "After I wrote that..." was the one that had been inserted.]
But I must bid you good bye for the present my love to father and all the f [torn corner] Your brother, A T LaForge
[letter continued on]
It is with mortification that I finish this letter. We have not realized the fond anticipations which we had on starting the night of February 27. We were then in fond hope that we should be in an engagement before we got back again, when we started at last with this expectation.
We did not get started until after dark that night. We were accompanied by the band for a short distance. They finally turned, and we cheered them and kept on our journey. We had not gone more than 1/4 of a mile before we had to halt and send back for a couple of lanterns. The roads are so muddy. We marched through Georgetown and about 2-1/2 miles beyond when we halted, and the Major who commanded went to the headquarters of the Brigade with which we were to go for orders.
He was gone about an hour, and we built fires by the road and made ourselves as comfortable as possible. When he returned, he said that we were to return to our old camp. That the order for an advance had been countermanded. That he had telegraphed back to headquarters for instructions, and he should have to go back to Camp Warren.
He then gave the order of "about face" and "forward march", and back we marched through the mud to our old camp, where we arrived about two o'clock AM. A tired set of men! We had only marched about ten miles, but owing to the state of the roads it was worse than a twenty miles' march. As soon as the wagons came, we picked our tents--not being over particular--bunked down, and was soon fast asleep.
We did not get up until the sun was an hour high. Just as Orvill Barney and me (who slept together) got up, Leander Liveson, Lester Eaton, and Albert Heseltine came in. They had slept in a covered baggage wagon about a mile back all night. We had a good laugh [about] our adventure and then went to work and pitched our tents in proper shape, laid our floor again, and got things arranged as we had them before.
And we were inspected for pay today, but the prospect is that we shall not get our pay until the first of April. If we do not get it until then, I shall be out of money and therefore I wish you would send me one dollar. [Note: A number of these early letters show fascinating evidence of the micro-finance life of Abiel's community. Here he borrows--or perhaps "withdraws" from money previously sent home--in the next line he lends. It feels like money rarely sat still.]
Joseph, I wish you would use that money that I sent you. Or if you do not want to use it yourself, put it out until the first of Sept 1862, so that it may be increasing slowly.
You were right in supposing that I was wishing that the war was over and I was home. That is perfectly natural. But I never have wished that I was home unless this war was over.
You wrote Jane [Mary Jane Potter, Susan's sister-in-law] was sick with the sore throat. I am glad she does not have the treatment which we do in such a case: we have our throat burned out with an acid. You were safe in guessing that I do not gain in flesh as fast as I did at Elmira. If I had gained all the time as fast as I did when I first went there, I should now be the heaviest man in the army. The other day, there was such a heavy wind that a steeple 200 ft high was blown down. Heavy metallic roofs were blown off, chimneys were blown off, and lots of damage done in the city. This is a specimen of our North West wind.
I believe I have nothing more to write at present, only my love to father and all the rest of my friends.
Yours Truly A. T. La Forge
[letter on same paper]
Dear Sister & Friends,
It is with pleasure that I once more seat myself for the purpose of again improving this opportunity of writing to you. I received your kind letter of February 22, for which receive my thanks. Your letter found me well, and glad to hear from you.
The weather has been quite pleasant here for some time. An old contraband told me that this kind of weather will last until the last of March. It will rain every two or three days, and then clear up with a cold North West wind, which will last about a day. Then it will be pleasant a day or two, then rain again, and so on. However the mud is drying up and a change is much better than to have it rain all the time. Today we have had the heaviest fall of snow that we have had here this winter. For a short time the snow fell--about two inches deep in two hours. Still it is very warm, just snow enough to make good snowballing, and i tell you the boys have improved the opportunity They snowballed one other until they got tired of that, and then they picked on the commissioned officers whenever one made his appearance. The Colonel and nearly all the Captains and Lieutenants had their share. [Note: Evidently snowball weather suspended normal military order! I'm trying to imagine enlisted men throwing snowballs at officers with impunity.]
The day before yesterday I received a letter telling me that Sam Van Gordon and two of his brothers were in the 56th Regiment New York State Volunteers. Now I must tell you they were old acquaintances of mine, therefore you must know that the reception of this news gave me a considerable pleasure, for the 56th is encamped not more than an hundred rods from our camp. As it was Sunday today, and I had plenty of extra time, I accordingly went over to the 56th, found my old friends, and in course of conversation asked if any of the New Burgh boys was in the Regiment. They told me yes. I asked them if they knew of a fellow by the name of Richard Swort. [Richard Swart was his stepbrother, the son of his father's second wife] They told me yes, he was in the company. I soon found him out, and I tell you we had a good time talking over old times. He hardly knew me. He is to return the visit this week sometime. The Colonel of that Regiment is Van Wyk, congressman from New York. He resigned his position in congress to take command [of] the Regiment. [unsigned -- perhaps a page is missing]
No more Mother of Souls teasers! So while I'm plugging away at Floodtide I'll have to come up with some new writing-related things to talk about.
I received a lovely bit of fan e-mail from a reader last week, and she had some questions that she has graciously allowed me to use as a jumping off point for a blog. The first question was whether I put my Alpennian research and development notes somewhere (presumably, somewhere that an interested reader could look at them!) and the second was whether I had a map of Alpennia.
To tackle the first: hoo boy do I have research notes! Do I have them in a form that would make sense to a casual reader? Not so much. I think I've previously mentioned that I have a database for characters, locations, and key vocabulary. The character records include a reference image (if I have one) and any key bits of description that I need to keep consistent. It might include notes on where the person lives, what their background is, relevant events in their history, and other characters they have important relationships to. Here's an example of my quick-reference page for Maistir Chatovil, the tutor to Aukustin Atilliet.
But that's more for keeping track of story elements, rather than background research. For the latter, I keep things in three types of places. One is a folder of webarchive files, downloads, and images that I've collected either for immediate use or future reference. Some topics are organized in folders (alchemy, clothing, European flooding, food and dining, gemstones, universities), others are individual items that I haven't classified (pdf of "A handbook for travellers in Switzerland", notes on early 19th century Heidelberg, list of Jewish salonnieres in Berlin in the 19th century, article "revolutions and nostalgia", article: The first Muslims in England").
I also have a massive list of web bookmarks (though I'm more likely to save off pages if it's something I really think I'll use). Along with the more usual topics, I have bookmark folders named things like "historic calendars", "music and opera", and "money wages and finance".
Once I started using Scrivener for writing, I've also made use of its scrapbooking function. So I have pages of links, clips of images, extracts of texts, and so forth. I tend to use that method for details that are relevant only to a specific story because I have a different Scrivener file for each book. (One reason I don't use the Scrivener character sheets is because I don't want to deal with copying over continuing characters for each new file. Also, I need the flexibility of a database format.) An example of how I use those pages is a detailed timeline of European political events in the 1820s and 1830s, with notes about what's going on in the novels and how the two interact. Another example is a page of notes on the structure and genres of early 19th century opera, and then an outline of the two versions of Tanfrit with notes about the named songs that get mentioned in the story.
All this, of course, is in addition to the actual physical books I use for research. I love an excuse to buy history books! But the diffuse nature of my research notes means that there isn't a good way to let readers "look over my shoulder".
Now... maps. Maps are a harder question. Alpennia is like one of those hypothetical geometric shapes that can't be represented in three dimensions. From the outside, I can point to a real-world map and say, "Here's the area where the borders of Alpennia touch the real world." And from the inside, I can say, "Here's what Alpennia looks like when you're traveling in it." But it's impossible to do both at once. I can't show a map of Europe that shows Alpennia as an actual country occupying space within it. So let's split it up into the two separate questions. Here is a political map (courtesy of wikimedia) of Europe after the Congress of Vienna in 1815 (which is going to be approximately correct for the start of the novels) with a red circle identifying the approximate place that Alpennia intersects it.
So what about an internal map of Alpennia? I confess that I've sketched up initial stabs at it several times, but have never sat down and worked out exactly what the distances are. And I'm definitely at a point where I need to do that. I have a fairly solid notion of the layout of the city of Rotenek. And I know the general compass direction and general spatial relationships of key locations. For example, here's my database entry for the town of Iser:
"Town on the Rotein, about 4 hours by coach from Rotenek, but more by river as it's around a long bend. It's a key staging place for river commerce as some barges unload there and cut across land; also the stretch above it is tricky and extra hands are needed to navigate it. It's on the road back from Fallorek and is where Chustin falls ill in Mystic Marriage."
Or similarly, I know that Margerit's home town of Chalanz is at a distance to the east of Rotenek that could be traveled in a single day in high summer by a hard rider who could afford to change horses regularly, but ordinarily is more like three day's travel by coach. The enormously varied travel times based on method and resources can cover up a lot of plotting needs! Need more travel time? Make the road bad.
One reason I'm hesitant about creating a public map of Alpennia is that one never knows when one need to put a town or river somwhere. Right now, significant parts of the territory are hidden by mist. In Daughter of Mystery I knew that Jeanne's family came originally from the region of Helviz, but it wasn't until Mother of Souls that I placed it in the northeastern part of the country, just on the border and crossed by the road Jeanne and Antuniet are traveling as they return from their summer trip to Prague. There are a lot of other places that haven't been pinned down sufficiently that I'd want to write their names on a map yet. Sometimes it's good to have the details shrouded in mist. But perhaps sometime in the near future I'll draw up some vague, sketchy, incomplete representations that I can share.
Didn't make it to the reading and discussion yesterday? You're in luck because a recording of it is up on YouTube. I haven't had a chance to review it yet, so please be gentle if I ended up sounding ridiculous.
The current installment of working through the People/Publication/Event tags is a somewhat uncomfortable topic. One of the ways in which lesbian desire has been dismissed in literature (and then used to "prove" that lesbian behavior is sick or evil) is to take the trope of an asymmetric desiring/desired pairing and frame it as inherently non-consensual and abusive. The reasoning goes something like this. Lesbian desire always exists between an "abnormal" desiring woman and a "normal" desired woman. A "normal" woman will not be open to the erotic advances of another woman, therefore any such advances are by definition unwanted, and the "normal" partner in such a relationship must be coerced in some fashion, either physically, by power differentials, or by psychological manipulation. This framing presumes that the desiring partner is inherently disordered. Her disorder may result in genuine, sincere desire, but she will be unable to find a partner who willingly answers that desire, therefore she will be tempted into using coercion or force to satisfy it.
As can be seen from the dates below, this trope existed in parallel with the heyday of romantic/passionate friendship. What distinguished the two? The existence or implication of erotic rather than platonic love is one feature. Some of the works in this category make that plain: a passionate friendship turns destructive when it goes beyond the allowed limits--when one party becomes too exclusively possessive, tries to interfere with the other's heterosexual relationships, or initiates a more physical relationship. But to some extent, the two modes seem to have existed as part of a continuum. The specter of being deemed "predatory" may have been used to limit the aspirations of romantic friends, while the conventions of romantic friendship provided a setting which some people--in the way of all human relationships--turned to their own purposes.
Of course, we must keep in mind that these are literary examples and created to serve an author's purpose, not the characters' purposes. The full tag essay for Literary Relationships is linked here.
Literary Predatory Erotics
I've taken this label from Denise Walen's discussions. It includes non-consensual relationships, cases where a woman initiates erotic contact (or pretends to) in order to further the interests of a male character, and cases where the lesbian character is portrayed as literally monstrous.
There have been several times in conversations on facebook groups where people threw out the question "what do you look for in a LesFic book?" My answer has often been "beautiful writing," but it can be hard to explain what I mean by that. So now I have something I can point to and say, "That's what I mean by beautiful writing in LesFic."
Minotaur by J. A. Rock isn't a book that would ordinarily have caught my attention. In fact, I bought it entirely because it appeared on the Book Clips series at The Lesbian Talk Show podcast(*). (I confess it's the first time I've bought a book based on being included in the series.) I was so impressed by what I heard that I think I pulled out my iPhone and called up the iBooks store while still sitting in my car at the end of the commute when I listened to it.
Minotaur is a fantasy. Or maybe it's a YA-ish story of adolescent rebellion in a home for wayward girls. Maybe the titular minotaur actually did terrify the town in a previous generation. Or maybe it's an urban legend, whispered among the girls at the Rock Point Girls' Home as a terrifying entertainment. Maybe Thera has a vivid imagination, or maybe the tangled imagery in the opening monolog is remnants of her being hopped up on stolen drugs. Maybe she's an unreliable narrator...or maybe she really will become a hero that slays a monster.
I read this story not knowing whether the promise of fantasy was genuine or a misdirection, and I won't spoil that aspect for other readers. At its heart, this is the story of an unwanted, neglected girl who turns herself hard to survive, then learns how to open herself again for love--both the love of friends and romantic love. The setting is a dreary, narrow-minded small town, still stuck in an era when the sympathetic counselor at the Girls' Home who shows too much affection for the girls is whispered visciously to be a "BD," which it took me a while to decode as "bull-dyke." So when roommates Thera and Alle begin exploring their tentative desire for each other, there are layers of confusion, ignorance, and despair to work through. They promise to stay together when they age out of the home, not truly believing such a thing is possible and each doubting that she is worthy of that sort of love.
As I said above, on the surface, it isn't the sort of story that usually attracts me. But the language--oh my, the language. J. A. Rock has an extraordinary command of voice, of description, of easing you into an alien world (in this case, the world of Rock Point) and making you care about the inhabitants, even when they're people you wouldn't much like in real life.
The only place where the book faltered for me was in an extended descriptive passage after the book changes gears when Thera leaves the Home. (I'm being a little cagey here to avoid spoilers.) There was a section that went on aimlessly and--dare I say--self-indulgently just a bit too long. The plot picked up again just about when I was at the edge of my patience, but I certainly wasn't sorry I kept going.
This is not a light and fluffy book. There are dark bits and violent bits and a few squicky bits. But it's solid and compelling and ultimately triumphant. (I'd consider that last a spoiler, except that too many readers of queer stories need to know they aren't going to get punched in the face by Queer Tragedy.)
(*) Full disclosure: my own podcast series "The Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast" also runs on The Lesbian Talk Show.