DIVA JULIA: The Public Romance and Private Agony of Julia Ward Howe

Valarie H. Ziegler, Author . Continuum/Trinity Press Int'l $24 (228p) ISBN 978-1-56338-418-9

Among the many wise decisions Ziegler (The Advocates of Peace in Antebellum America) makes in her revealing treatment of Julia Ward Howe's life, the most compelling is her consistent effort to let Howe speak for herself. And why not? Poet, playwright, political activist and philosopher Howe (1819–1910) was brilliantly articulate: "the soul whose desires are not fixed upon the unattainable is dead even while it liveth." If desiring the easily attainable is, indeed, death, then Howe was ecstatically alive. Ziegler's fluid narrative depicts her as the first "superwoman," juggling a tumultuous marriage to social activist Samuel Gridley Howe, the domestic strains of five children and always a desire to write and participate in the intellectual world. Her first success was a controversial book of poetry, Passion Flowers, which Ziegler meticulously analyzes. Refreshingly, Ziegler handles close readings skillfully but is simultaneously able to meaningfully discuss the larger implications of Howe's message during difficult times, especially for women. Howe was instrumental in the abolitionist and suffragist movements, as well as in the nascent global peace movement, so it isn't surprising that much has been written on her. Howe's own children wrote extensively on her remarkable life of ideas and action, but no one has been so thorough or bold as Ziegler. She moves past the apparent implications within Howe's work and avoids painting a cheery picture where there is none. Instead, she presents an honest look at Howe's personal struggles to do great public works, and her biography is the better for it. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 09/01/2003
Release date: 10/01/2003
Paperback - 228 pages - 978-0-8264-1856-2
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