The second part of Books Unbound’s summer series on Elizabeth Stoddard (1823–1902) features “Lucy Tavish’s Journey “ (1867), a romantic tale read by Renee Reed that throws a few satiric elbows. Young Lucy Tavish sets out in new clothes bought by hay and cheese to have her first independent adventure, exposing herself to an unpredictable, sordid world. But before she even gets off the train, she’s found a safe destination. Like most of Stoddard’s stories, “Lucy Tavish’s Journey” centers on male-female relationships, but her ostensibly happy endings are often perplexing. A self-declared “difficult” woman, Stoddard herself had a lasting marriage but was blamed for estranging her husband from his friends.
The Stoddards lost two of their three sons, one as an infant and the other at age six. Elizabeth published several poems of mourning for her sons, including “Unreturning” (1868), read by Antonia Matthew. “Unreturning” is accompanied at the end of the episode with the poem “Testament” by Carolyn M. Rodgers, which is dedicated to the congregation of Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina, in memory of their loved ones killed in the June 17 shooting at the church. Rodgers is a poet from the South Side of Chicago who was an early member of the Black Arts Movement. Her poem is read by Renee Reed.
Sarah Torbeck reads two of Stoddard’s letters from 1865 that mention Lincoln’s assassination, and the couple’s friendship with the actor Edwin Booth, the pro-Lincoln brother of John Wilkes Booth. Stoddard abruptly juxtaposes this event with personal, even narcissistic concerns, and with adoration for her surviving son—suggesting unresolved themes of family, blood, race and politics in the Civil War era that underlie her superficially conventional fiction.
Special music comes from the Piano Quintet in F Minor of Johannes Brahms, published in 1865. The quintet was performed by Jorja Fleezanis, Wu Han, Ian Swensen, Ralph Kirshbaum, and Cynthia Phelps, and was recorded live at the Music@Menlo chamber music festival in 2005. Music for the poetry segment comes from Brahms, the Adagio movement of his Piano Trio in B Major, performed by the Beaux Arts Trio.
“Elizabeth Stoddard and the 1860s, Part One: Mrs. Stoddard” was produced, written and edited by Cynthia Wolfe, with production assistance from Heather Perry, Sarah Torbeck, and Jack Hanek. The series will continue after a break for a special episode on July 4.
Executive producer: Joe Crawford
Books Unbound theme music: The Impossible Shapes