What better way to celebrate The Festival of Lights than with “Celestial Persuasion”? Fans of Jane Austen will delight in this “Persuasion” prequel and I know that it will check all the boxes for even the most fastidious Jewish Janeite!
Celestial Persuasion is a wonderful tribute to Jane Austen and will transport you to a time long gone. While I usually prefer other genres, I was instantly captivated by Mirta’s compelling storyline and can not compliment her writing style enough. If you enjoy historical Jewish fiction, this book is perfect for you.”
Marie Anders, Goodreads
If I could give this book all the stars in the Milky Way I would. I have craved GOOD Jewish representation in a book like this and the fact that it centers around my favorite Jane Austen book persuasion only makes it better. The attention to detail is beautiful. I can’t song this book’s praises enough!”
Crystals Roberts, Goodreads
This book is beautiful! The writing, the history, the languages, the diversity in the characters. It is Regency Era fiction with more depth… I learned so much about Jewish history and astronomy and about immigration to Argentina at the time. I felt like I was in South America star gazing with Abigail!”
Take a peek at my latest short video and then make your way to Amazon~ where your next adventure awaits!
Nun —Gimel—Hey— Shin! Watch the dreidel spin, spin spin! I am certain many of you are familiar with those catchy lyrics and have sung along as you’ve tossed your Chanukah gelt into the pot. Some call the dreidel game child’s play, while others deem it a teachable moment. The letters printed on the four sides of the dreidel represent the phrase: Nes Gadol Haya Sham or A Great Miracle Happened There. In Israel, the phrase would be: Nes Gadol Haya Po or A Great Miracle Happened Here.
There are several theories on the origins of the game. Some say that the game was used to trick the Greeks who had outlawed the study of Torah. If a troop of soldiers came upon a groups of students, the Jews would simply say that they had gathered to play a game.
Another theory points out that the numerical value of each letter on the dreidel equals 358; which according the Gemara, is the equivalent to the word Mashiach (Messiah). Yet another tradition says that the letters on the side of the dreidel represent the four kingdoms that tried to destroy us:
*N = Nebuchadnezzar/Babylon
*G= Gog or Greece
*S = Seir/ Rome.
There are also theories regarding the Chanukah gelt, the coins used to play the game. After the Maccabean revolt, the Hasmonean dynasty claimed their independence. A true sign of an independent nation is the ability to mint their own coins. In my view, the menorah and the coins are as meaningful and symbolic as the Liberty Bell and the Betsy Ross flag. However, some naysayers dismiss the holiday tradition of playing dreidel as gambling. Their commentaries go hand in hand with anti-Semitic remarks about Jews and money.
We’ve seen the headlines in recent days. These old and ignorant accusations continue to persist and are dangerous. We must address slander against our community. We do not need to apologize for success, but it is incumbent upon us to share our unvarnished stories and explain where we came from, what befell us. What limitations were put on our community and how did we rise up?
Marcus Loew, of MGM fame, was born into a poor, immigrant family who had fled the ghettos and persecution of Austria and Germany. He began working at an early age and had little to no education. From the money he saved at his menial jobs, Loew was able to buy a penny arcade business. Louis B. Mayer (Lazar Meir) was born in Imperial Russia. He too was from a poor family. Mayer quit school at the age of twelve to help support his family. With struggle and sacrifice, he was able to purchase a small vaudeville theater that catered to other poor immigrants. Szmuel Gelbfisz, otherwise known as Samuel Goldwyn, was born in Warsaw. He left Poland penniless after his father’s death. In Germany, he trained to be a glove maker as career choices and educational opportunities were limited for Jews. Goldwyn later managed to immigrate to England and later to the United States. He became a successful salesman in New York City. The three men who created Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios came from impoverished and persecuted communities. They overcame injustices and prejudice, but they refused to see themselves as victims. Our history must be discussed and not just tossed away as old news that doesn’t pertain to our modern society.
I know this sounds like a stretch, but I hold firm in my belief that playing dreidel is the perfect opportunity to retell the story of the Maccabees. They refused to surrender. They had a vision for their community and fought to reach their goals. There are important lessons to reap from that tale, but none more so than having bitachon—trust. The battle-worn warriors had managed to conquer the invading armies of Antiochus, but not before the enemy defiled the sanctuary. As the Maccabees rededicated their holy space and lit the seven-branch menorah, they knew they only had enough oil to last one night. But they didn’t simply take a gamble and throw reason to the wind. They placed their trust in God. And as we all know, they were rewarded for their faith. That vial of oil did not last for just one night. It lasted for eight. I don’t want to make light of these events (no pun intended), but I am able to weave the importance of this theme of trust into my work.
My characters shall have, after a little trouble, all that they desire.”
The Meyersons of Meryton delves a bit into the Chanukah story—I’ll share a snippet with you shortly—but the concept of trust and faith is also interwoven in Becoming Malka, Destiny by Design~ Leah’s Journey and most recently in Celestial Persuasion. As in any book, there needs to be an arc to the storyline. There needs to be growth. The heroine must face her fear and rise above the obstacles placed in her path. In keeping with Miss Austen’s playbook, my characters—Molly, Leah, Abigail and even Elizabeth Bennet—all do have a little trouble, but it is ultimately their trust and faith, that gets them to their HEA (Happily-Ever-After).
I realize that we’re still in the fall season here in the northern hemisphere, and there are other holidays to commemorate before we head into the darkest part of the year. However, in light of recent events (again—no pun intended) I felt that this post was well-timed. Chanukah is called the Festival of Lights for a reason. The candles of the chanukkiah are meant to rekindle our memories of what our ancestors accomplished and how they stood up against their aggressors. They are also meant to spark our bitachon and emunah.
Next month, we will begin preparing our latkes and sufgenyiot for our holiday meals. The dreidels and coins will decorate our tables too. Why not take a moment to contemplate their significance; after all, A Great Miracle Happened There and they will continue to happen if we keep the faith!
An Excerpt from The Meyersons of Meryton…
When the happy couples at length were seen off and the last of the party had departed Longbourn, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were found in the dining room quite alone, sharing the last bit of port between them.
“What shall we do now, Mrs. Bennet, with three daughters married?”
Surprised at being asked her opinion, Mrs. Bennet gave the question some thought before replying. “I suppose we have earned a respite, husband. Let us see what Life has in store for us.”
“No rest for the weary, my dear, for soon Mary will leave us and then Kitty. We shall have to make arrangements for the inevitable. Perhaps you shall live with one of the girls when I am gone and Mr. Collins inherits the place.”
“Mr. Bennet,” she giggled, “you should have more bitachon.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Perhaps it was the port, or perhaps it was pure exhaustion, but Mrs. Bennet found she had no scruple in sharing the entire tale of Chanukah with her most astonished husband. “Pray Mr. Bennet,” she finally concluded, “what was the true miracle of this holiday?”
“The logical answer,” he replied dryly, “would point to the miracle of such a small group of men overcoming a fierce and mighty army.”
“No, that is not it.” She giggled, as a hiccup escaped her lips.
“Well then,” he sighed, “the esoteric answer would point to the miracle of the oil lasting eight nights.”
“No, Mr. Bennet. Again, you are incorrect.”
“Pray tell me, wife, what then was the miracle, for I can see that you may burst with anticipation for the sharing of it!”
“The miracle, sir, was that they had bitachon. I do hope I am pronouncing correctly. At any rate, it means trust. They knew they only had one vial of sacred oil and had no means to create more. They lit the candle and left the rest up to the Almighty. And that is exactly what we should do in our current circumstance.”
“My dear, it is a lovely tale and I am certain that it has inspired many generations before us and will inspire many generations after we are long gone, but it does not change the fact that Mr. Collins is to inherit Longbourn…”
“Longbourn is entailed to Mr. Collins if we do not produce a son.”
“Yes, and well you know that we have produced five daughters, although you are as handsome as any of them, Mrs. Bennet. A stranger might believe I am the father of six!” he said with sincere admiration.
“You flatter me, Mr. Bennet. I certainly have had my share of beauty, but I wish to say…”
“You were but a child when we wed,” he waved her silent, “not much more than Lydia’s age, if I recall. But, my dear, that is neither here or there, for in all this time a son has not been produced and there’s nary a thing to do for it!”
“Mr. Bennet, there is something I have been meaning to tell you. That is, if you could spare a moment of your time—or does your library call you away?”
His wife’s anxious smile made him feel quite the blackguard. Had he not made a promise in Brighton? Did he not vow he would change his ways? Mr. Bennet decided it was high time he put the good rabbi’s advice into practice. Bowing low, he replied, “Madam, I am your humble servant.”
Happier words had never been spoken.
If you’re looking for a great gift idea for your Jewish Janeite, please consider my latest novel, Celestial Persuasion —or any other of my Jewish historical fiction novels. Chag Sameach! Happy Holiday!
Jane Austen’s work encompasses a worldwide audience. Her writing has touched us, inspired us and has undoubtedly changed us. A simple search on social media will illustrate the scope and magnitude of her reach. Can you imagine taking tea with Jane? Who wouldn’t want to spend an hour with this remarkable—influential—woman, chatting about anything and everything? Alas, I don’t possess a magic wand to whisk us back in time. Instead, this is what I propose…
The tea things are set out. Tea for two, to be exact. I’m the hostess, so I’ll pour. I hope I’m equal to the task.
I may not be able to invite Miss Austen, but I do have the pleasure of welcoming the president of Jane Austen Argentina, Miss Yerimen Iglesias. And since this is my dream world, I’m going to pretend that we’re enjoying afternoon tea in the famous confiteriaLas Violetas in Buenos Aires.
If you’d like to read Yerimen’s original text in Spanish, please scroll down the page.
Yerimen, I am delighted that you could meet with us today. I’m sure we all want to know more about Jane Austen Argentina! Tell us a little about your group. How was it formed? Do you all reside in Buenos Aires?
Thank you for inviting me, Mirta! The group was originally formed in 2013 on Facebook; and soon after, we created a webpage. Later, several social networks were added so that we could connect with our many followers. That same year—thanks to the Austenitas group from Spain— I was able to meet other young women who also read Jane Austen.
By the end of 2013, we had our first in -person meeting. But we are not only from Buenos Aires. There are participants from other provinces. For example, in Tucumán, there is a member of JA Argentina who is starting a group that will hold events in the Argentine Northwest.
I am very impressed! And not a little jealous! The enthusiasm and devotion is quite evident. Just recently, your group held a ball—The Netherfield Ball, to be exact. By all accounts, it was a great achievement! Congratulations to all the ladies and gentlemen who organized and participated in the event. It must have been quite an undertaking. How did the idea of holding such a grand event come about?
We have always been fascinated by the great balls and historical re-enactments of the Regency era that are usually performed in Europe or in the United States. As we were not able to travel, we decided to organize our own dance in our city, La Plata. We had previously held another dance in 2015, but with fewer attendees.
Yerimen, I have seen countless pictures of your many and varied events about town. Book club meetings, dance tutorials, picnics, strolls throughout the park…How do people react when they see you out in public? I imagine the group draws a lot of attention.
Yes! People are struck by it. There are even people who can’t understand why we gather in historical clothing to honor a writer who passed away so long ago. The important thing is to do what we like, and in case of receiving unpleasant comments, we always ignore it. These comments lose importance compared to the happiness that our activities bring us.
Brava! I applaud that manner of thinking—that desire to fulfill your dreams. No doubt, Jane Austen would have approved. As an author myself, I was fascinated to learn about Mariquita Sánchez de Thompson, another lady with these same qualities. Her story, and that of José de San Martin’s friendship with James Duff, the Earl of Fife, inspired me to write a novel that couples the viceroyalty era with Persuasion.
My own family’s history of immigration, along with my love for Jane Austen, explains why I wroteCelestial Persuasion; but tell us, how did you come to be interested in the regency era of England and the novels of our beloved Jane?
I have always been interested in stories from 19th century England, but in the case of Jane Austen, I am also moved by the simple fact of reading how the characters live on a daily basis, and also connecting with the characters who, despite living in a totally different era, I can feel some identification.
On the other hand, historical fashion is one of the reasons why our literary group is so influenced by historical re-enactment. I love researching the online archives of museums around the world that show us much more than what we see in the costumes of movies set in the Regency era and the rest of the 19th century. Learning about everyday life and costumes helps to understand many details that appear in Jane Austen’s novels.
The colonial era of Argentina—with the tertulias, gentlemen in uniform, and elegant ladies, dressed in the style of Empress Joséphine—was a period of romance and passion. But, it was also a period of great courage and rebellion. While England fought against Napoleon, the people of the viceroyalty fought for their independence. Oh! The stories Jane could have written about those times!
Imagine for a moment that you are having tea in Mariquita Sanchez de Thompson’s drawing room. Seated to your right is Miss Remedios de Escalada, the future First Lady. Here is my final question: What are the three of you talking about?
As you know, Mirta, the beginnings of Argentina’s independence was very hard. The young government did not have enough money to support the armies fighting the Spanish. In these tertulias, or gatherings, I imagine that we ladies are probably talking about the political situation in the country, the war, or the anguish we would feel if our fiancés and husbands do not return. But we also discuss how we could help the armies.
In 1812, fourteen Patrician ladies (Mariquita and Remedios were among them) decided to buy thirteen rifles which were donated to the armies of the young nation, together with two ounces of gold. The name of one of the ladies was engraved on each rifle along with the inscription, “I armed this brave man who assured his glory and our freedom.” In other cities of the viceroyalty, other groups of women also collaborated by sending money, provisions, or making flags and uniforms.
It never ceases to amaze me what a group of determined ladies can accomplish! Jane Austen was a woman of information and strong opinions. Today, I believe she would be known as an “influencer”—much as Mariquita Sanchez was in her time…and much like you! Jane would have been delighted to have taken tea with these ladies of the viceroyalty, as I have enjoyed this time with you.
Thank you, Yerimen, for shedding light on these interesting subjects. Let me, again, offer my congratulations on your Netherfield Ball. You and your friends look like you’ve come straight out of an Austen novel.
Please send my regards to the members of Jane Austen Argentina. One more thing before I take my leave: How do people get in touch with you for more information?
Thank you, Mirta. It was my pleasure to attend this lovely tea party! I will leave you with a few of our social media links:
Yerimen, encantada de recibirte esta tarde, junto con la audiencia de Austen Authors. ¡Queremos saber más sobre Jane Austen Argentina! Contanos un poco sobre tu grupo. ¿Cómo se formó? ¿Todos residen en Buenos Aires?
Gracias Mirta por tu invitacion. Se formó en el año 2013 como grupo en facebook y poco después hubo página, Luego se fueron agregando varias redes sociales para conectar mucho mas con nuestros seguidores. Gracias a Austenitas de España pude conocer ese mismo año a chicas que también leían a Jane por lo que a finales del 2013 tuvimos la primera reunión en persona. No somos únicamente de Buenos Aires, también hay de otras provincias, por ejemplo en Tucumán hay una integrante de JA Argentina que está iniciando un grupo para realizar también eventos en la zona del Noroeste Argentino.
¡Estoy maravillada! ¡Y un poquito celosa! El entusiasmo y la devoción es evidente. Recientemente, tu grupo promovio una danza de la epoca—para aclarar: The Netherfield Ball. Según todos los informes, ¡fue un gran logro! Felicitaciones a todas las damas y los caballeros que organizaron y participaron en el evento. Debe haber sido toda un projecto. ¿Cómo surgió la idea de celebrar un evento de esta magnitud?
Siempre nos fascinaron los grandes bailes y recreaciones históricas de la época de regencia que se suelen realizar en Europa o Estados Unidos. Pero no teníamos posibilidad de viajar, así que decidimos realizar nuestro propio baile, en nuestra ciudad, La Plata. Previamente habíamos realizado otro baile en 2015, pero con menos asistentes.
Yerimen, he visto innumerables fotos de los variados eventos por toda la ciudad. Reuniones de lectura, tutoriales de baile, picnics, paseos por el parque… ¿Cómo reacciona la gente cuando los ven en público? Me imagino que llaman mucho la atención.
Si! A la gente le llama la atención e incluso hay gente que no logra entender porqué nos reunimos con ropa histórica a homenajear a una escritora que falleció hace tanto tiempo. Lo importante es hacer lo que nos gusta y en caso de recibir comentarios desagradables siempre lo ignoramos ya que pierde importancia frente a la felicidad que nos da realizar nuestras actividades.
¡Brava! Aplaudo esa forma de pensar, ese deseo de cumplir tus sueños. Sin duda, Jane Austen lo hubiese aprobado. Como autora, me fascinó conocer a Mariquita Sánchez de Thompson, otra mujer con estas mismas cualidades. Su historia, y la de la amistad de José de San Martín con James Duff, el conde de Fife, me inspiró a escribir una novela que combina la época del virreinato con Persuasion. La historia de inmigración de mi propia familia, junto con mi amor por Jane Austen, explica por qué escribí Celestial Persuasion; pero contame, ¿cómo llegaste a interesarte por la época de la regencia de Inglaterra y las novelas de nuestra querida Jane?
Siempre me he sentido interesada por las historias de la época del siglo XIX en Inglaterra, pero en el caso de Jane Austen también me conmueve el simple hecho de leer cómo viven cotidianamente los personajes, y también conectar con los personajes que, a pesar de tantos años de diferencia y vivir en una era totalmente diferentes, podemos sentir algo de identificación.
Por otro lado, la moda histórica es una de las razones por la cual nuestro grupo literario tiene tanta influencia de la recreación histórica. Amo investigar en los archivos online de museos del mundo que nos muestran mucho más de lo que vemos en los vestuarios de las películas ambientadas en la época de regencia y en el resto del siglo XIX. Aprender sobre la cotidianeidad y el vestuario ayuda a entender muchísimos detalles que aparecen en las novelas de Jane Austen.
La época colonial de Argentina—con las tertulias, caballeros en uniforme, y damas elegantes, vestidas en el estilo de la emperatriz Joséphine—fue un periodo de romance y pasión. Pero, también fue un periodo de mucho valor y rebeldía. Mientras que Inglaterra batallo en contra de Napoleón, el pueblo del virreinato lucho por su independencia. ¡Que historias pudo haber escrito Jane del pueblo criollo! Imagínate, por un momento, que estás tomando el té en el salón de los Thompsons. Sentada a su derecha está la señorita Remedios de Escalada, la futura Primera Dama. Aquí está mi pregunta final: ¿De qué hablan?
Mirta, como sabes, los comienzos de la independencia argentina fueron muy duros. El joven gobierno no tenía suficiente dinero para mantener a los ejércitos que combatían contra los españoles. Me imagino, como en todas las tertulias, que probablemente estamos hablando de la situación política del país, de la guerra, o de la angustia que sentiríamos si nuestros prometidos y esposos no regresan. Pero también discutimos cómo podríamos ayudar a los ejércitos.
Por eso, en 1812, 14 Damas Patricias (incluyendo Mariquita y Remedios de Escalada) decidieron comprar 13 fusiles que donaron a los ejércitos de la joven nación, junto a dos onzas de oro. En cada fusil se grabó el nombre de una de las damas junto a la inscripción “yo armé el brazo de este valiente que aseguró su gloria y nuestra libertad”. En otras ciudades del virreinato, otros grupos de mujeres también colaboraron enviando dinero, provisiones o confeccionando banderas y uniformes.
¡Nunca deja de sorprenderme lo que un grupo de mujeres decididas puede lograr! Jane Austen era una mujer de información y opiniones fuertes. Hoy, creo que sería conocida como una “influencer” al igual que Mariquita Sánchez lo fue en su tiempo… y muy parecida a ti! Jane hubiese estado encantada de haber tomado el té con las damas del virreinato, al igual que yo disfrute esta oportunidad de conocerte. Gracias, Yerimen, por compartir estos detalles y informacion tan interesantes. Permítime, una vez más, felicitarlos por su Netherfield Ball. ¡Parecen haber salido directamente de una novela de Austen!
Por favor, envía mis saludos a los miembros de Jane Austen Argentina. Antes de despedirme, una pregunta mas: ¿Cómo podemos contactarnos con el grupo para obtener más información?
Gracias, Mirta ¡Fue un placer asistir a esta encantadora fiesta del té! Aqui les dejo algunos de nuestros enlaces a redes sociales…
As I said, I think Jane would be a social media influencer today. Mariquita Sanchez certainly was in Argentina. Can you name another lady (Jane’s contemporary, but from your country, culture, or heritage) that could be nominated for this title? Please do share your thoughts.
It’s been a while since I’ve added to the blog. I thought long and hard on what I could present to this group of well-informed and clever people. In keeping with my modus operandi, I knew that I needed to combine my cultural heritage with my love for all things Austen; and so, I looked to the calendar and found my mark.
It’s May, and here in the United States, we just celebrated Mother’s Day—but not so in other parts of the world. Let me persuade you to take a turn about the globe with me. It’s so refreshing!
Naturally, I will begin in England! Jane Austen would have been familiar with the festive occasion known as Mothering Sunday. Usually occurring during the season of Lent, it was a day for church, as well as acknowledging one’s matriarch. Even servants were given the day off, so that they could visit with their own mothers and perhaps share a token of their love. I did a little research on Jane Austen’s mother and found that Mrs. Austen was considered witty and quite talented herself with a quill and a bit of foolscap. It is generally acknowledged that the Rev. Austen supported his daughter’s love for reading and writing. However, it appears that Jane might have inherited her talents from her mother. I can easily imagine Mothering Sunday in the Austen household. After church, our dear girl would very likely read from her latest scribblings to honor her mother. Then perhaps, they would have tea with iced cakes or some such. They certainly didn’t head out for brunch or to the nearest salon for a mani-pedi!
In the United States of America, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday in May. It is considered a secular holiday; but when first established by Anna Jarvis on May 10, 1908, it was celebrated during church services—at St. Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia, to be exact. I read that Jarvis was critical of the commercialization that quickly took over the occasion and continued to encourage all to reflect upon and honor the important contributions of mothers.
In my native country of Argentina—where Catholicism is the State religion—Mother’s Day originally coincided with the Feast of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrated in October. The feast day was later moved to January, which coincided with summer picnics and family gatherings at the beach. Argentines, however, decided that Mother’s Day would continue to be celebrated on the third Sunday of October. Needless to say, there is a plethora of spring flowers, cards and gifts to help celebrate the occasion.
In Israel, the commemoration of Mother’s Day came along with its own brand of controversy. It all began when the newly founded country couldn’t decide on which day to celebrate the occasion! The Ezra Society, headed by Sarah Herzog, the mother of then-president Chaim Herzog, established the first Mother’s Day on April 6, 1947. However, the city of Haifa initiated its own version when the mayor proposed that the day be linked to the Maccabean matriarch, Hannah. The mayor’s wife was also named Hannah. Hmm? In any event, Haifa celebrated Mother’s Day for many years during the Hanukkah season. Towards the end of 1951, the newspaper Ha’aretz Shelanu declared its own Mother’s Day initiative—perhaps hoping to settle the issue definitively. The editors asked its young readers to suggest a date to honor all Israeli mothers.
Side Note: Sorry! My mind took an unexpected detour. I was suddenly reminded of two other times when young writers responded to newspaper editorials. In October 1860, eleven-year-old Grace Bedell of Westfield, New York, wrote to presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln. She urged Mr. Lincoln to grow a beard because “all the ladies like whiskers” and believed he would have a better chance at winning the election! In 1897, eight-year-old, Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to The Sun and asked whether Santa Claus was real. The newspaper’s response was published anonymously in September of that year. Due to its popularity, it was republished every year during the Christmas season until 1950, when the paper ceased publication. Now back to my story in Israel…
Eleven-year-old Nechama Frankel, responded to the newspaper query and suggested a date to honor the memory of Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah. Although childless, Szold had run an organization that rescued 30,000 Jewish children from Nazi Europe. The suggestion was easily accepted; but on a final note, Mother’s Day recently became known as Family Day. At 72 years of age, Nechama Frankel (now Biedermann) didn’t appreciate the change in the name and wrote her local newspaper—again! She asked that the “lost dignity of Mother’s Day be restored.” Sounds very much like her American counterpart, Anna Jarvis, don’t you think?
All these meanderings have brought me to this point: Words have the power to effect change, to stir passions, and to alter the paths of women and men who otherwise might not take action. The importance of a well-written missive is not lost on us Janeites, whether it comes from a loved one across the ocean or a gentleman across the room.
My own mother, of blessed memory, wrote more letters than I can recall. They crossed back and forth from Argentina to our home here in the United States. They were filled with every possible emotion, from the simplest piece of gossip to the greatest despair. But these letters kept us united with our family half way around the world and that was her life-long goal. I am grateful to my mother for the many lessons she taught me. I miss her, and think of her, every. single. day.
In my novel, Celestial Persuasion, Miss Abigail Isaacs also receives a life-altering communication. I hope you enjoy the following excerpt.
“Might you share the letter?” Mrs. Dashwood enquired. Long accustomed to having her young friend’s housekeeper-cum-companion present in times such as these, she handed Mrs. Frankel some tea and cake.
Abigail nodded slowly and proceeded to read her letter aloud. She had no wish to hide the contents of Captain Wentworth’s message; and in fact, she was curious to hear the ladies’ opinions. “And there you have it. Papa and Jonathan are gone from this world.”
“Whatever shall you do?” Mrs. Dashwood asked.
“I am a woman alone, with little means of support and head full of impractical aspirations. In truth, I have no idea at present.”
“You might do well to follow Jonathan’s example,” murmured Mrs. Frankel, setting down her plate of seed cake. “You might apply to the Royal Navy.”
“Never say so!” Mrs. Dashwood cried. “Has the Crown gone through all our fine men and boys, that we are now enlisting young ladies to battle the French?”
“No, no.” Abigail shook her head in gentle reproach. Mrs. Frankel ought to have known better than to mention such a radical scheme.
“For some time now, Miss Isaacs and I have been following the news of an extraordinary woman by the name of Mary Edwards,” Mrs. Frankel, now a little recovered, continued unabashed. “The London paper had a full story on her work as a computor for the British Nautical Almanac. She is one of a very few women paid by the Board of Longitude.”
“But what is her work?” insisted Mrs. Dashwood.
“It is rather intriguing,” supplied the housekeeper. “With her mathematical talent and computational skills, she is tasked to calculate the position of the sun, moon, and planets at various times of day. I have no doubt that our dear girl could do the same.”
“Whatever for? I am sure I have never heard of such a thing!”
However sensible Abigail was to her own sad mental state, it did not follow that the dear lady ought to be left to feel bewildered, so she provided further explanation.
“They use the information for nautical almanacs, Mrs. Dashwood. According to The Times, Mr. Edwards took on piecework to supplement the family’s income. After his death, it was revealed that Mrs. Edwards had done most of the calculations. It all came out into the open when she asked that they continue supplying her with work. She had to support herself and her daughters, you see, and they happily complied. This is what Mrs. Frankel was referring to when she suggested that I apply to the Royal Navy.” Abigail saw at once that her friend was aghast at the mere suggestion and waited patiently for her reply.
“I have always thought your education seemed rather …excessive,” offered Mrs. Dashwood. “As your poor mother was no longer with us and able to voice her concerns, I daresay your father was pleased to provide you any pleasure.”
Abigail smiled at the memory of her father’s affection and shrugged her acquiescence.
“You were the light of his life, and I told him so many a time. He was quite amused at my observations and went so far as to explain that your name, Avigail, means a father’s joy in the language of your ancestors. I must say, my dear, they chose your name wisely.”
“Avigail Yehudit—such noble names!” Mrs. Frankel exclaimed. “Such fine examples of female wisdom and valor.”
“Papa prevailed with his first choice,” said Abigail, “but Mama was appeased with the second. Judith was her favorite biblical heroine— or so I have been told. But it was all for naught, for Jonathan had wished for a brother and thought the names too feminine! I simply became Avi to him. But it is of no consequence. Whichever name I choose, be it the English version or that of my ancestors, Isaacs will remain the same.”
Mrs. Dashwood would not have any of it. “But my dear, you are young yet. Might you not consider marriage? Mr. Green has shown great interest in you…”
“Mr. Green, ma’am, is a widower with three children. His only interest in me is knowing that I would make a proper physician’s wife, and I have begun to believe that I am not meant for love. I am intelligent and have received an excellent education, thanks to my doting father and my…my brother’s enthusiasm.” Abigail paused and sipped her now-tepid tea while she attempted to compose herself.
“You might apply to Sarah Guppy and ask for her advice,” Mrs. Frankel insisted. “She too has worked for the Royal Navy. You have yourself informed me of her numerous creations and inventions. Of course, the patents were secured through her husband—”
“My dear…” Mrs. Dashwood set down her tea things with trembling hands.
“Pray forgive Mrs. Frankel. I believe she is merely attempting to call my attention to various alternatives, unconventional though they might be,” Abigail quickly added. “In truth, ma’am, the day’s events have taken their toll. I am pained knowing that Jonathan will not return to us. He was my beloved brother, but he was also my partner, my teacher and confidant. My friends, I am lost. I am drifting at sea without the North Star to guide me.”
“Might you not receive a pension for your poor brother’s service? What would your good mother have thought?”
I’ll sign off now with an amended version of my mother’s famous salutation: With Love, A Jewish Regency Author~
As some of you may know, I set out to write Celestial Persuasion when I came across this painting of Mariquita Sanchez de Thompson. This scene depicts the moment when the Argentine national anthem was sung for the very first time.
The image of ladies and gentlemen in Regency attire was far from what I had expected to find in colonial Argentina. To tell the truth, I would have expected full crinoline skirts and impressive peinetas, such as we find in the satirical work of Cesar Hipolito Bacle.
By delving into the aftermath of the May Revolution of 1810, I discovered that the aristocracy of Buenos Aires was more inclined to follow the fashion trends of Paris or even London. The influence coming from across the pond was not to be denied!
I began connecting the dots and weaved a tale that included English noblemen and naval officers, along with the liberator of Spanish America: Jose de San Martin. Establishing a friendship in between Jane Austen’s Captain Wentworth and my own fictional character, Jonathan Isaacs, was the next step in the process.
Next, I began looking to incorporate that bit of yiddishkeit that is so crucial to my work. For example, I wanted to ensure that the Jewish holidays mentioned throughout the novel occurred in accordance to the Hebrew calendar. In the prologue, Abigail Isaacs writes to her brother, describing their father’s passing—just prior to his favorite holiday: Pesach (Passover).
I must assume that you have not received my news from home, and knowing how you are impatient with all but the essentials, allow me to put it to you in words so familiar they could be your own: our dear papa died on March 26th on the eve of Rosh Chodesh—sadly a little more than a week before his favorite holiday. He had been looking forward to leading the Passover seder this year; but then again, he had been unwell for several months and refused to change his habits.
Rosh Chodesh is mentioned several times throughout the novel, as are other holidays, such as the High Holy Days and Chanukah. I suppose I could have picked any date when these events “usually” occur; but it was important to be accurate, particularly when it came to a certain battle that took place on February 3, 1813. Hopefully, the following snippet helps to explain…
“San Martín plans to engage with a Spanish royalist force in one month’s time,” he muttered beneath his breath. “When do you expect to travel to witness your monumental natural event?”
She grimaced at the small sound emitting from her lips. “I must be in residence at the beginning of the month, though I do not believe it is any of your concern.” Rethinking her statement, Abigail’s voice grew with enthusiasm. “Mr. Gabay!” she exclaimed, “has he chosen the exact date?”
“You cannot imagine that I would share that information, Miss Isaacs.”
Vehemently she shook her head. “I care not for your confidences, at least for the reasons you may suspect. I only ask that you heed me, sir. I must be in Rosario for Rosh Chodesh. There will be a new moon on the first of February. The night’s sky will be sufficiently darkened to allow for maximum visibility of galactic activity. Do you understand my meaning?”
The Battle of San Lorenzo was a turning point for the rebels fighting the Spanish crown. If I wanted to showcase the event in my story—and have it coincide with Rosh Chodesh—it had to be… kosher. I knew I had to get it right! First, I researched the status of the moon phase in February 1813. I found that information here and here. Then, I checked to see if the Gregorian calendar aligned with the Hebrew calendar. I found that here and here. It worked out!
Throughout the story, we follow Abigail as she celebrates Shabbat and Havdalah. Granted, her family is no longer as pious as when her mother lived. Nevertheless, when Abigail is called to London to meet Lord Fife, she ensures to take her ritual items. And when she and Mrs. Frankel find themselves aboard a frigate sailing across the Atlantic, I made sure to incorporate an every day nautical item into a pivotal scene.
Wrapping up warmly in her darkest cape, Abigail reached for the lantern perched above the dresser. It was the same lantern she and Mrs. Frankel had been instructed to use for the Sabbath, for it came equipped with a sliding shutter to darken the room without extinguishing the candle. Abigail smiled, recalling the cabin boy’s shock at their request to kindle the Shabbos candles whilst aboard the ship. He had gone on for nearly a quarter of an hour outlining the hazards and noting the fire stations that equipped every passageway in the event of a crisis...
Abigail had been correct in her estimation. The men were gallivanting en masse at the forecastle and she could remain in peace to the aft. She allowed herself to be guided by the lantern’s light but closed the shutter when she reached her chosen destination and waited for her eyes to grow accustomed to the darkness. In truth, it was a perfect night for stargazing as they had just entered into the new moon phase. Without the moonlight, the galaxy’s core was visible in all its splendor, and Abigail stood immobile in awe of the spectacle before her.
How many minutes had transpired, she could not say for certain. She felt tears trickle down her cheeks, but she could not be bothered to wipe them away. How she longed to share the moment with Jonathan! Not to scribble down the longitude and latitude of their location. Not to calculate or measure, but simply to stand and observe the immensity of it all and to understand her place in the universe. Her tears had dried where they had fallen, but with the wind picking up, she could once again feel bits of salt water on her cheeks as the waves began to swell. It was not until she heard the men shouting and witnessed the crew running hither and thither that Abigail was obliged to return to her room.
She retraced her footsteps to find the ladder once more. The descent, she hoped, would prove to be easier; but as she stepped down off the last rung, the wind and waves combined and exerted such a force on the ship that Abigail lost her balance. With flailing hands she attempted to seize hold of something that would steady her feet; but the action cost her dearly, for the lantern slipped from her grasp and the candle was extinguished. She crept along the passageway, holding on to the walls, helpless in the dark, until the ship pitched suddenly and she felt herself tumble forward.
As my outline began unfolding, I found that I quite liked the town of Exeter for the Isaacs family. The obvious problem was that I knew next to nothing about Devonshire as it related to Jews. Imagine my delight when I came across the wealth of information located here and here. Actually, there are pages and pages of data relating to the Jewish history in this particular county. I not only discovered the location of Exeter’s synagogue, but its officiant as well. Naturally, I had to showcase Abigail’s relationship with her rabbi and her place of worship.
In addition, this map created by Braun & Hogenberg in 1617 helped me visualize the Isaacs hometown.
Approaching the mile mark, she passed St. Thomas’s chapel and the many farms that dotted Byrd’s Lane. Abigail was flooded with bittersweet memories and recalled walking toward the synagogue, her small hand held by her mother, while Jonathan raced ahead and her father followed behind at a leisurely pace. They would meet friends along the way, and the adults would catch up on the weekly gossip before entering the house of worship. Ezekiel and Kitty Jacobs, her parents’ closest friends, had been amongst the founders of the synagogue, for they applied to St. Mary Arches Church to lease the ground for its erection. Whenever Jonathan would complain of the rabbi’s lengthy sermons, Mr. Jacobs would tell the story of the synagogue’s consecration.
Lastly, I wanted my story to lay the foundation for the establishment of the Jewish Colonization Association. Headed by financier and renown philanthropist, Baron Maurice von Hirsch and his wife, Baroness Clara, this organization was created decades after Argentina’s declared independence. However, had it not been for such forward thinking individuals such Wilhelm Loewenthal, a Romanian doctor conducting research in the area, Rabbi Zadoc Kahn, Chief Rabbi of Paris, or my fictional Lieutenant Gabay with his pipe dreams, who is to say if the seeds of change would have come to fruition.
The Battle of San Lorenzo took place in 1813 in the province of Santa Fe. A little over 70 years later, a group of Jews escaping pogroms and persecution in Imperial Russia settled in a town about three hours away from that battlefield. They named their new home Kiryat Moshe, or Town of Moses, to honor Maurice Hirsch. The land agent, who may or may not have been of French origin, registered the name to his own liking and the town became known as Moisés Ville. The inhabitants, these so-called Jewish gauchos, were the first to create a Jewish agricultural colony in Argentina. Of course, my characters had no notion of what was to come, but they had hope.
Captain Wentworth, my last piece of news may be the greatest surprise of all. Mr. Gabay and I shall not reside in Buenos Aires for long. When the fight for independence has been won, my Mr. Gabay—who never intended to make the military his career—will resign his commission. We shall repair to my father’s property in Rosario, where I will be at liberty to continue my research and Mr. Gabay will begin his work in helping the Jewish communities of the Russian Empire. Santa Fe is a wide and open land. Refugees of all faiths and backgrounds may surely make this place their new homeland and dwell in peace without persecution. Praise God, everything does indeed happen for a reason.
Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed the post!
The Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) has launched a new podcast entitled, “Nice Jewish Books.” A leading authority on Judaica librarianship, this AJL series focuses on adult Jewish fiction.
Host, Sheryl Stahl is the director of the Frances-Henry Library on the Jack H. Skirball campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She is an avid reader herself; and after serving the AJL in various capacities, she has now taken on the role of Podcaster. Stahl’s background comes into play as she interacts with authors and provides a platform to discuss their work. The premise for the show is to talk about Jewish literature, although her preference is not to include books based on war, political thrillers or Holocaust-related works. That, of course, was what drew my attention! Here— at long last— was a place to discuss my passion for Jewish historical fiction.
Do me a favor, won’t you?
Make yourself a nice cup of tea and tune in!
I am honored and delighted to announce that I was a guest author on the program. Please follow the link and listen in. Leave a comment on the website for Sheryl and the AJL community of readers and bibliophiles. I’d be so proud to know you stopped by. Happy reading (and listening)!
Throughout this series, I have been looking at Jewish themes that can be found in Jane Austen’s work. That’s not to say that the renown author intentionally incorporated Judaic messages in her writing; however, as I’ve pointed out in my previous posts, Austen was raised in an observant environment and would have been quite at home quoting from the Good Book or referencing various biblical storylines. I am enjoying finding the similarities. I hope you are too!
SELICHAH, MECHILAH, and KAPPARAH ~ The different forms of Forgiveness.
I previously touched upon the subject of repentance, but the matter requires further discussion. The theme of granting forgiveness can be found in nearly every book that Jane Austen penned. Just think for a moment. Elizabeth forgives Darcy, Elinor forgives Edward, Fanny forgives Edmund, and everyone is only too willing to forgive Emma!
In Persuasion, we are introduced to a couple long separated by distance and pride. Captain Frederick Wentworth has spent years holding a grudge, nursing his bruised ego and feeling the victim. For those who don’t know the story: Miss Anne Elliot had entered into an understanding with the gentleman, but —for better or for worse—was persuaded to end the budding relationship. Years pass before the two are brought back together again. Captain Wentworth tells his new friends that he finds Miss Anne, “altered beyond his knowledge.” Ruthless, heartless man! The gentleman is still licking his wounds…
He had not forgiven Anne Elliot. She had used him ill, deserted and disappointed him; and worse, she had shewn a feebleness of character in doing so, which his own decided, confident temper could not endure.”
It has been eight years and he still didn’t understand her! Had he used the time to reflect and to try to comprehend Anne’s actions, it would have been emotionally and mentally healthier for all concerned. Of course, that would have changed the arc of the story and no one understood that better than Austen.
In Northanger Abbey, we are introduced to a young lady just coming out into society. She has very little to say in her favor; and in fact, our heroine spends her days daydreaming and imagining herself the helpless victim of some gothic novel.
No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine.”
Catherine is invited to stay with family friends in Bath, and finds herself, quite suddenly, in over her head. With no real experience of socializing with others who have more—shall we say—life experiences, her naivete and imagination run wild. She wrongly suspects General Tilney (the father of the young man she comes to admire) of a crime he did not commit. In the end, she is somewhat exonerated, but the acknowledgment doesn’t come without some distress.
Your imagination may be overactive, but your instinct was true. Our mother did suffer grievously and at the hands of our father…No vampires, no blood. But worse crimes, crimes of the heart.”
Like any biblical story that focuses on Teshuva, Catherine experiences growth through pain. She recognizes her failings, repents, and determines to improve her behavior. The arc of her story is in keeping with Austen’s philosophy. The mean-spirted and conniving Thorpe siblings, however, do not see the error of their ways and they suffer for it. Austen uses their storyline to illustrate her point once again. Those who merit a HEA (happily ever after) will be rewarded in the end.
My characters shall have, after a little trouble, all that they desire.”
I can’t help but think of the period leading up to the holiest of days in the Jewish calendar: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. We begin by commemorating the holiday of Selichot and use the time before “the gates begin to close” to think of those we have wronged.
Asking for forgiveness, for selichah, is the first step we must take. This is where we realize our error, we apologize to the injured party, and we show remorse.
When our poor behavior has caused much pain, we speak of mechilah. We ask that our transgressions be wiped away. We want things to be as they were; or better yet, to go on stronger than before. This can prove to be difficult for the injured party; for though many of us can forgive, it is very difficult to completely forget.
If the wrongdoing is of biblical proportions, a person may feel they are not worthy of forgiveness. They believe that there can’t be a positive outcome, no matter the excuse, no matter how many promises are made. Most people are not capable of forgiving an act of this magnitude. In fact, the forgiveness we seek, the kapparah, is beyond human capacity. The atonement, in fact, comes from a higher source, such as on Yom Kippur. This is when G-d looks into your heart, sees your repentance and says, “Be comforted.”
In Persuasion, Jane Austen presents us with a scenario that is just as relevant today as it was three hundred years ago. Secure in his righteousness, Captain Wentworth needlessly wallows in Anne’s perceived betrayal. Obstinately holding on to his resentment only succeeds in polluting his view of the truth! Their meeting again gives them both a second chance to speak their heart. It’s a story full of angst and it is sometimes intolerable to witness their pain. When the captain overhears Anne speaking of love and loss to another gentleman, he finally comes clean. Captain Wentworth writes to Anne and bares his soul—as he should have done years ago.
You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.”
In the ensuing paragraphs, Austen satisfies our need for the couple’s reconciliation. Anne and Frederick speak honestly to one another, exposing their vulnerabilities and the various misunderstandings that led to such despair. They forgive one another (selichah), their love is stronger for it (mechilah); and because they merit a HEA, they are comforted (kapparah). Quintessential Austen. Brilliant. Just brilliant!
In my latest novel, Celestial Persuasion, it is clear that Miss Abigail Isaacs shares similar characteristics with her newfound friend, Captain Wentworth. Fear and resentment have colored her view, not only of her ever-changing circumstances, but of a certain gentleman. As Mr. Bennet— of Pride and Prejudice fame— urges: read on, friend, read on…
A soft scratch upon the door shook her out of her musings, miserable and disheartening as they were. Abigail bade the interloper to enter, as she wiped away her tears.
“I have brought you some broth, my dear,” said Mrs. Frankel. “I thought you might be hungry, as we had not had to opportunity to dine. Do you think you might take a little?”
“I am much too shaken to eat, though I thank you for your concern. Will you not have it in my stead?”
“I have had some sent to my room, Avileh. I will leave you to rest then—oh, but I nearly forgot!” Mrs. Frankel exclaimed. “I have a letter for you, my dear. It is from Mr. Gabay.”
“Mr. Gabay! Whatever could he want? He barely spoke two words together in my presence. I fear his affections have been won over by Miss Kendall, Frankie dearest. They must have quarreled, for he was scowling all evening. Did you not notice?”
“No, indeed. However did you come to such a conclusion? Truly, my dear, you can see clear into the heavens but you cannot see what stands right before you.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“Never you mind. Have a bit of your soup and read your letter,” she insisted, placing the envelope upon the bed. “Good-night, my dear.”
Abigail watched as Mrs. Frankel closed the door behind her. She eyed the broth with little interest and settled her gaze upon the letter instead. What could he have to say? Another jest? Another commentary on the state of the new union? Upon closer inspection, she noted that he had hastily folded the missive, it had not been sealed and it had not been addressed. Though she had had her fill of surprises to last a lifetime, her curiosity would not be neglected. She would read his letter and be done with it. For what could he possibly have to say that would lighten her heart?
What do you think? Will Mr. Gabay’s words cause more harm than good? Will Abigail be able to forgive past transgressions, even if that means forgiving herself? I invite you to read the story and come to your own conclusions. Until next time, thank you for stopping by!
The High Holidays are upon us. In a few days, we will gather to hear the shofar blow. We will contemplate the year we are leaving behind (Baruch Hashem!) and the year that is unfolding. May it be a sweet and healthy new year for all!
Today, I have been busy baking challah— punching out air bubbles from the soft dough, smoothing the edges, and rolling out long ropes that will form the traditional crown for Rosh Hashanah. Baking my own challah is a new talent I’ve incorporated into my repertoire (thank you @JamieGeller). I’m more known for my sweet brisket and potato knishes. I also am proud of my honey lekach and apple strudel. So many traditions! My parents were not “religious,” but they passed down enough yiddishkeyt to impress upon me the importance of staying connected to our roots.
My heritage—like so many of us—is a mishmash of cultures. My grandparents were children when they immigrated from Imperial Russia to Argentina. And like so many other rusos, their food, their music, and their prayers were influenced by the local community. But these Argentine Jews were resilient! Their impact on society can’t be denied. Their influence is still felt today.
So, what is yiddishkeyt? Look up the word on the Internet. The first definition is simply: “Jewishness.” To me, the word is about the phenomenon of taking something ordinary or commonplace and incorporating a bit Jewish quality or custom into the mix. OK, so now you ask: what does porteño mean? This refers to a person from the port city of Buenos Aires, but it also can be a local tradition or cultural way of doing things. I could also write about doing a gauchada or making something criollo, but that’s another post. The point is that immigrants from various nations brought their ingenuity to their new country. For example, Italian food has long dominated Argentine cuisine. Another Italian creation is fileteado, an art form that has become synonymous with Buenos Aires (see example below). Suffice it to say that Argentines crave their Argentinismos, just like Jews crave yiddishkeit. The rusos took their Ashkenazi faith, culture, literature, theater, and film, gave them a local flair, and yiddishkeyt porteño was born!
Immigrants fleeing pogroms and persecution arrived to their new country and were soon expected to assimilate to their adoptive land. They learned to drink mate and to sing the songs of the pampas.
They were taught Argentine history and the national anthem. And when they slowly began to acclimate, these Jewish gauchos built schools, hospitals and charitable organizations. They printed newspapers, wrote novels, and staged theatrical performances.
They learned to sow wheat and corn and sunflowers too —it reminded them of their homeland. And for their efforts, they reaped doctors, lawyers, teachers and philosophers. They watched their children grow strong amongst the fertile land and new-found freedom, and waved them off as they left the inner provinces for Buenos Aires.
As I separate a piece of challah and say the appropriate prayers, it fills me with a sense of connection and a sense of peace. I think of those that came before me and know that I stand on the shoulders of some remarkable people. My ancestors brought knishes and kugel and sweet wine to make kiddush on the pampas. They wished their neighbors a gut shabbos and buen provecho. I wish you the same as well. Until next time…
I believe I was in the third grade when I read Martha Washington’s biography. By then, I was an avid reader and historical was my favorite subject. I remember being fascinated by our nation’s First Lady’s history; although technically, this title was not coined until after her death. I learned of her first marriage and how she soon became a young widow with four children.
Now a woman with property and means of support, Martha Dandridge Custis didn’t need to marry for financial reasons; nevertheless, she did remarry. And even though I was only eight years old, the romantic in me was captivated by Martha’s “love match” with the up-and-coming, Colonel George Washington.
Although Martha was attractive and well-liked amongst society, her life was not exactly charmed. Two children, Daniel and Frances, were lost to her before they reached the age of five—most likely from malaria. It did not end there. Her daughter, affectionally called Patsy, suffered from debilitating seizures and died at the age of 17. Martha’s remaining son, John, died a few weeks before his twenty-seventh birthday from a “virulent illness.” But, as the story goes, Mrs. Washington continued on, serving her husband and her country through the Revolutionary War and beyond.
I’ve learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our disposition and not on our circumstances.”
As a young wife, Martha Dandridge Custis, moved amongst the upper echelons of Virginia’s society. She had been educated like most young ladies of her sphere, but when she became Mrs. Washington, Martha was in a position to do much good.
Determined and practical, she hosted weekly receptions where people of various backgrounds had the opportunity to exchange ideas and philosophies with the president. It was her intention that these so-called levees be dignified, yet informal so that the general society could take part in building the new nation.
All these memories flooded my mind while I was researching Mariquita Sanchez de Thompson and her famous tertulias or salons. Much like America’s First Lady, Mariquita defined and redefined the roles of what it meant to be a wife, mother, and patriot.
Mariquita was born into an elite family of the Viceroyalty with important ties linking back to Spain. She was of petite stature, but she held her own against her parents and the strict societal rules of the day. Strong-willed and independent by the age of fifteen, she defied her parents and refused to marry the man of their choosing.
It is precious to me to defend my rights.”
After experiencing what one could easily label a Shakespearean rebellion, Mariquita was able to marry as her heart dictated. She and her new husband became linked with public life and supported the cause for freedom. They hosted events to promote patriotism and to encourage free thinking.
The Thompsons had five children throughout their marriage. They moved in the highest circles and were beloved amongst their society. It was, therefore, a great tragedy when Martin Thompson died while returning from a diplomatic trip to the United States of America in 1817.
Similar to Martha, Mariquita was a woman of means and didn’t necessarily need a husband for financial support. Nevertheless, in 1820, she remarried. Isn’t it interesting to note that her second husband was a gentleman by the name of Washington. Washington de Mendeville, to be exact.
It appears the Mendeville marriage was not a great success; however, Mariquita did not let that deter her aspirations. She continued her political work and was known for her association with The Patrician Ladies (Damas Patricias).
She advocated for women’s rights. She established schools for women and girls and founded the Sociedad de Beneficencia, to aid the poor and needy. It appears that great minds do think alike— look back at Martha Washington’s quote that speaks to one’s disposition for happiness.
I don’t deny that I enjoy a traditional historical romance. But there has to be more than “boy meets girl.” Whether the storyline is set in a posh drawing room in England or the vast American frontier, I am attracted to the protagonist’s courage, as well as her growth. I cheer for her unwavering steadfastness shown in the face of turmoil and tragedy. Miss Abigail Isaacs in Celestial Persuasion has much in common with the women mentioned in this post. Although she is a fictional character, I hope readers will admire her strength, determination, and heart. I suppose that is the magic of novels. Through the written word, we can identify with impossible scenarios and a variety of character attributes. Their heart aches and struggles resonate with us. Their triumphs spur us on. We may even aspire to be such women~ Women of Valor.
Excerpt from Chapter Four:
The next morning, Abigail lingered in bed with a cup of hot chocolate, dutifully presented by a young maid. She had spent a sleepless night, staring into the black sky and seeking answers from above. She had prayed for guidance and for strength; but such was her grief, not even espying her favored constellation provided Abigail any comfort. Unaccustomed to vacillation, she was impatient with herself; and in truth, not a little overcome by her circumstances. She longed for days of yore when her little family celebrated the Sabbath as one. Though she was quite young, Abigail could yet recall the Friday evening meals, the rituals, and the blessings. Her father beaming with pride would preside over the table and praise his Eishet Chayil, with the ancient words of King Solomon: A Woman of Valor, who can find? Her worth is far beyond rubies. She and Jonathan would not be forgotten. They too would receive a parental blessing before partaking of the evening meal. Thus cossetted and cared for, their physical bodies were nurtured, as well as their spiritual selves. For as their mother would say, on the Sabbath, their souls were lifted and the uncertainties of life were set aside. Now wiping away her tears and throwing off the bed linens, Abigail arose to brave the day.
It was much later, whilst she and Mrs. Frankel were at luncheon, Pearson solemnly approached his lordship’s guests holding a silver salver, which he presented with utmost care. Abigail reached for the note and nodded her gratitude. Making quick work of the missive, she sighed heavily and informed her companion that his lordship would be delayed.
“It seems we are to have a quiet day, Frankie.”
“Perhaps all is how it ought to be, my dear. We will amuse ourselves, or not—we two are quite comfortable with one another—we are not compelled to do otherwise.”
They removed themselves into the drawing room, where a fire was set ablaze for their comfort. Mrs. Frankel kept her thoughts to herself and knitted away at heaven only knew what. Abigail did not question her companion’s efforts and turned to find her own escape in the pages of a book. When the sun finally began its descent, Abigail set down the novel and moved to the window to watch the changes in the sky. She did not hear the knock at the door, or Pearson’s somber salutation; therefore, when a man’s voice bade them a good afternoon, Abigail was quite startled.
“Are you so anxious for the Sabbath to end?”
Sufficiently recovered, Abigail was able to reply. “On the contrary, Mr. Gabay. One wishes to delay the inevitable. I have not yet seen three stars together.”
“We shall both have to remain alert then, and let Mrs. Frankel know when she may begin the prayers for Havdalah.”
“Excellent notion, young man,” Mrs. Frankel declared, and went off to find Mrs. Garrett to gather some spices, wine, and candlesticks for the evening ceremony.
“Forgive me, Miss Isaacs.” Remembering his manners, he performed a gallant bow. “I appear to have arrived early. Has his lordship not returned?”
“We had a missive from Lord Fife. He has been detained and we are awaiting his return just now. You are most welcome to join us, sir.”
“I find you a bit pale. I do hope you are in good health,” said the gentleman.
“Thank you, yes. We have not had an opportunity to be out of doors, and I fear that my mind has been much occupied.”
“I can well imagine.”
“I am not certain that you can, Mr. Gabay.” Abigail grimaced at her severe response but was helpless to muster great civility. “My grief has been sullied with uncertainty; my life has been uprooted and I find that I cannot mourn my brother when my heart is so burdened.”
The gentleman looked upon the young lady and astonished her with a grin. “I have often contemplated the ceremony of Havdalah, have you not?”
She was yet unaccustomed to the gentleman’s wit; and because of this, Abigail made every attempt to keep herself in check. Much as she wanted to condemn his ill-timed levity, her raised brow afforded him the impetus to continue with his discourse.
“The ritual—the symbolism—it challenges our senses,” said he, “as if to awaken us from a pleasant dream. Do you not find it so?”
“Indeed.” Begrudgingly, she accepted the sudden change of topic. “We are told to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. I would agree with your assessment, for we are in a dream world from sundown on Friday night until three stars appear the following evening. We are then awakened, as you say, with the ceremony of Havdalah—commanded to mark the separation from that holiness to the mundane.”
“My dear Miss Isaacs, mundane is not the word I would choose. Pray forgive my impertinence; but every week we are instructed to leave behind Perfection—or our concept of what that might be—in order to hurl ourselves, like a star shooting across the sky, into the chaos that is His creation. Into life.”
Raphael Gabay crossed the room and peered through the glass pane at the evening’s sky. Not finding what was required, he continued with his thought. “I ought not risk being thrown out by Pearson—perhaps I should behave in a more gentlemanlike manner—but your countenance assures me that you are, indeed, troubled. And it pains me to see you so.”
Abigail looked at him through her lashes and pondered his sincerity. “Your concern speaks well for your manners, sir, but I doubt very much our short acquaintance allows for such a declaration.”
“On the contrary. I believe my discernment is beyond reproach. Your idyllic life in Devonshire, surrounded by those you loved and the things you know, was your Perfection. But your brother is asking you, seemingly from beyond the celestial veil, to leave that place—not compromise or settle, but to see what else awaits you in the new world.”
“And what of your plans, sir? Does your soldier’s philosophy provide you sufficient cause to quit your home and family?”
“Ah—that was well done, Miss Isaacs. Implementing a defensive tactic in order to fell an opponent is a sound strategy on the battlefield. However, I am only too happy to respond to your enquiry which, of course, lessens the strength of your attack.” Mr. Gabay smiled and made himself comfortable on the divan before continuing. “I am a second son, madam, and have been given a certain freedom to live my life with some abandon. No doubt, I have caused my father some distress having no set course for the future; but try as I might, Miss Isaacs, I have never found my true calling. Therefore, the matter is very simple in my case. I am for Buenos Aires because I believe in this cause and respect the men at the lead. For now, that is enough for me. But I put it to you, Miss Isaacs: what is your destiny?”
Having heard his soliloquy, Abigail could no longer hold on to her vexation. She experienced an epiphany recalling her words to Mrs. Frankel the night in the inn. What was her destiny? If the ancient dictates of Gersonides, Ibn Ezra, and Zacuto were to be believed, it was apparent. Her celestial traits must not go unheeded.
I hope you enjoyed today’s post. There are so many Women of Valor in history. Can you name one or two you admire? Drop me a line and let me know!
It was May 30, 1812, when fourteen women of Buenos Aires’ elite society gathered for a fund raising event. A collection was taken in support of the ragtag criollo army fighting against the Spanish crown. Each women —listed below—financed one pistol each. Obviously, it was not nearly enough to battle the Spaniards; but they inspired other women to do their part by crafting uniforms and eventually, as the story goes, stitching together the first Argentine flag.
My new novel, Celestial Persuasion, unfolds in the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata at the cusp of Argentina’s independence. After a series of astonishing events, the protagonist, Abigail Isaacs, finds herself in Buenos Aires. Here she writes to Captain Wentworth…
I received a missive this morning, presented by a liveried servant. It was an invitation from a Mr. and Mrs. Martin Thompson for Tuesday next. You can well imagine my astonishment, Captain Wentworth, as we are so newly arrived that I have not yet regained the use of my land legs. I have not a clue who these good people might be, or how they came to know of my arrival in the city. It was Mrs. Tavares who supplied the necessary information and assured me that I might respond to the invitation without compunction. It was all due to Lord Fife and his connections with society. I imagined the Thompsons were fellow compatriots, perhaps an elderly couple from Sussex or Bath. Imagine my astonishment when Mrs. Tavares explained the truth of the matter. Mrs. Thompson, in fact, is María Josepha Petrona de Todos los Santos Sánchez de Velasco y Trillo. The articulation of the lady’s name alone was quite an undertaking! It practically encompassed my daily Spanish lesson in its entirety. Mrs. Tavares was only too happy to impart her knowledge. To begin with, much to my relief, the lady is simply known as Mariquita Sanchez de Thompson. She is the daughter of a distinguished family of Río de la Plata, with an impressive lineage tracing back to Spain and Portugal. She married Martin Jacobo Thompson and the pair have become the toast of the town.
Mrs. Tavares’s countenance upon seeing the invitation was quite telling. I have never witnessed such excitement. It would seem that an invitation to Mrs. Thompson’s salon is paramount to taking tea with one of the patronesses of Almacks! One must understand, these social gatherings include some of the most renowned citizens of the Viceroyalty. I am to expect an introduction to compatriots and locals, aristocrats and artisans. If I am to trust in my housekeeper’s accounting, Mrs. Thompson is an extraordinary example of female ingenuity. She is known as a great advocate for the new republic. Mrs. Tavares assures me that a more fervent patriot cannot be found among those who support the cause. Not only did the lady donate three ounces of gold to the coffers, she lends her domestic skills for the sewing of uniforms.
In short, Captain Wentworth, I am undone at the thought of attending Mrs. Thompson’s salon. I fear I lack the talent of conversing easily with strangers; although you may believe that an odd statement after I have, after all, rambled on for two pages complete. Your close ties with Jonathan, and your own insistence, have made you less a stranger and more a relative.
I hope you enjoyed the excerpt! You can find Celestial Persuasion on Amazon in both digital and paperback formats. Happy reading!