The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe

Elaine Showalter. Simon & Schuster, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4516-4590-3
In this flowing narrative, Showalter (A Jury of Her Peers), emeritus professor of English at Princeton University, examines the life of Julia Ward (1819–1910) and her marriage to Samuel Gridley Howe (1801–1876) in the context of 19th-century America. Julia Ward Howe is often portrayed as the matronly lyricist of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” but her early reputation as a beautiful young talent earned her the nickname of Diva. Howe’s need for attention and difficult personality resulted in a tumultuous relationship with her equally needy and impressive husband, a hero of the Greek Revolution who later founded the Perkins School for the Blind. Showalter argues that the Howes’ marriage superficially mirrors the American Civil War, with Howe fighting for her right to write poetry and study philosophy, and losing battles over where she lived and how many children she bore. Nearing 50 and unsuccessful with her speaking engagements, Howe joined the suffrage movement, earning Showalter’s designation as a major American heroine. Showalter skillfully reveals the depths of Howe’s pain and talent, though she gives only cursory historical context for the abolitionist’s racist comments. Nevertheless, Howe’s resilience and success in light of her family’s efforts to thwart her ambition make her worthy of Showalter’s admiring biography. Agent: Elaine Markson, Elaine Markson Literary Agency. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/04/2016
Release date: 03/08/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
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