Be glad in the Lord and rejoice! Psalm 32:11

Monday, October 31, 2011

Book Review - Shame The Devil by Debra Brenegan

I studied journalism in college, but I never had heard of Fanny Fern, the first woman to have a regular newspaper column, but after reading Debra Brenegan's fabulous novel, "Shame The Devil," which tells the story of this lively lady, I find I have a lot to thank her for!

Fanny Fern, the pen name for Sarah Payson Willis, began her writing career as a matter of survival for herself and her daughters. Her articles soon proved to be popular and she eventually became one of the most anticipated columnists and authors in the publishing business in the late 1800s.

Debra Brenegan's fictionalized story of Fanny/Sarah gives readers a close-up introduction to the fascinating lady in a fast-paced and creatively told fashion that lends voice to Fanny herself, as well as those closest to her - her daughters, and her family and friends. Brenegan also well describes the atomospheric setting of Boston and New York in the era before the Civil War, a time when women were not encouraged to have a say in much of anything.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in strong female characters or historical fiction.

Here's a little more about the book:

Based on the remarkable and true story of the nineteenth-century novelist, journalist, and feminist Fanny Fern.
"There may be married people who do not read the morning paper. Smith and I know them not ? It is not too much to say the newspapers are one of our strongest points of sympathy; that it is our meat and drink to praise and abuse them together; that we often in our imagination edit a model newspaper, which shall have for its motto, 'Speak the truth, and shame the devil.'" — Fanny Fern

Fanny Fern

"Shame the Devil" tells the remarkable and true story of Fanny Fern (the pen name of Sara Payson Willis), one of the most successful, influential, and popular writers of the nineteenth century. A novelist, journalist, and feminist, Fern (1811-1872) outsold Harriet Beecher Stowe, won the respect of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and served as literary mentor to Walt Whitman. Scrabbling in the depths of poverty before her meteoric rise to fame and fortune, she was widowed, escaped an abusive second marriage, penned one of the country's first prenuptial agreements, married a man eleven years her junior, and served as a nineteenth-century Oprah to her hundreds of thousands of fans. Her weekly editorials in the pages of the New York Ledger over a period of about twenty years chronicled the myriad controversies of her era and demonstrated her firm belief in the motto, "Speak the truth, and shame the devil."

Through the story of Fern and her contemporaries, including Walt Whitman, Catharine Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Jacobs, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Shame the Devil" brings the intellectual and social ferment of mid-nineteenth-century America to life.

About The Author:

Debra Brenegan grew up in the Milwaukee area and graduated with a B.A. in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She worked as a journalist and taught at Milwaukee Area Technical College before beginning her graduate work. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. in English/Creative Writing from The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she also taught. She teaches English and Women’s Studies at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. For her fiction, she has received a Ragdale residency and was a recent finalist for the John Gardner Memorial Fiction Prize, The Cincinnati Review’s Schiff Prose Prize, and the Crab Creek Review Fiction Prize. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Calyx, Tampa Review, Natural Bridge, The Laurel Review, RE:AL, The Southern Women’s Review, The Cimarron Review, Milwaukee Magazine, Phoebe, and other publications.

 Debra Brenegan’s novel, Shame the Devil, is a historical account of nineteenth-century American writer Fanny Fern (SUNY Press, Excelsior Editions). She is currently working on another novel, set in Missouri, and on a short story collection. During the school year, Debra lives in a 130-year-old house in Fulton with her husband, Steve, and their elderly cat. They spend summers and school breaks in their native Milwaukee. When not teaching, writing, spending time with family or driving back and forth to Wisconsin, Debra enjoys cooking, gardening, reading and traveling.

You can visit her website at www.debrabrenegan.com or visit her at Twitter at www.twitter.com/dbrenegan or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/#%21/debra.brenegan; https://www.facebook.com/#!/shame.the.devil.book.

I received a review copy of this book from the author. I was not compensated for my opinion.


Beth Hoffman said...

This book sounds wonderful. Thanks, Sharon ... I'll add it to my list!

Mystica said...

This sounds a good one.