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Original Essays | September 15, 2014

Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel

There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »
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    Juliet's Nurse

    Lois Leveen 9781476757445


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In the Hope of Rising Again


In the Hope of Rising Again Cover



Author Q & A

What was the inspiration behind In the Hope of Rising Again?

My novel is loosely based on the life of my great-grandmother, Regina Rapier Marston. I?ve always believed that she had all the makings of a tragic heroine. Born in Mobile, Alabama in 1881, her life was fraught with financial ruin and the untimely deaths of both her husband and several of her children. But as my grandmother, a great supporter of my writing, would say: ?If you?re going to write about the South, for heaven?s sake, don?t make it dismal like some do. There is so much more to the South than that.? So while drawing from my great-grandmother?s life history, I also tried to honor my grandmother?s request.

Regina certainly is the perfect tragic heroine. After surviving the Depression, an unstable marriage and the deaths of both her husband, Charles Morrow, and their eldest child, she quietly triumphs by making peace with her past. How do you, as the author, make this peace believable to the reader?

For every tragedy that befalls Regina, there is a moment of sweetness, hope and joy. A book can get weighed down by death and destruction, just as a life can, and although disaster is often more fun to write, humor is one of the writer?s most indispensable tools. It is no accident that much of Regina?s hard luck is the result of the incompetence of men; the antics of her four loony brothers, for example, serve as a much needed antidote to the pervasive tragedies that later befall her. Beyond that though, the ability to make peace with life is a quality I have come to admire in women, young and old. Regina finds this place of peace and she is generous enough to share it.

So how do the men in Regina?s life factor into this ?place of peace??

Her beloved father, through instilling religion in her, gives her the means to find peace, but he dies early on. One by one her husband and brothers fail her. In an age where she was trained to look to men to take care of her, Regina is left with absolutely nothing. She has no choice but to come up with a plan for survival, or die in squalor. So she begins the process of becoming self-reliant. It isn?t until later on in her life that she learns to rely on other women.

Thus the boarding-house?

Exactly. The boarding-house is a self-sufficient community of women?and a perfect example of Regina?s new resourcefulness. The house, the traditional female milieu, ultimately becomes an incubator for a new paradigm for women.

Drawing on that, if you were to have the opportunity to speak with your great grandmother, how do you think your respective ideas on women?s empowerment may align or diverge?

My great grandmother was, by all accounts, an incredibly enlightened woman: she was a suffragette and the first woman in Mobile to drive a car. I think she would be pleased at the many options women have today?whereas women of my generation assume they are going to work and have fulfilling careers even if married with children, she never even conceived of working outside the house; once she told my mother that the ideal woman has a child every eighteen months. However, she had a very high standard of personal behavior and dress, so I think she?d be appalled by the casual things that the women of my generation wear. She also believed in an incredible separation between public and private. People talk so much these days; instead of talking, she prayed.

Let?s talk about that. The single greatest influence on Regina?s life was her father, Civil War hero Colonel Riant, who instilled in her a deep, abiding reverence for the Catholic Church. How would you say she reconciles such things as the patriarchal structure of the Church with her own sense of self?

It would never occur to someone like Regina to question the patriarchy of the Church. Instead, she develops an approach to praying that is unique to the female experience: worshipping Mary as a vehicle to Jesus and identifying with the Rosary as more than the Mass. It suits her nature to have faith, to believe in God and pray, as it is her sole backbone in many a devastating times.

It must have been a challenge to navigate between historical fact and historical fiction to accomplish a novel so rich in both. While drawing from your great grandmother?s experiences, how did you achieve such a balance?

I had the Civil War letters of my great-great-grandfather, the character of Colonel Riant, and the books of Mobile historians Caldwell Delaney and Jay Higgenbotham. I also used the Mobile Register, a St. Vincent?s Manual from 1858 and the Mobile Museum, as well as more general history books such as The Mind of the South and New Men, New Cities, New South. Still, I had enormous anxiety in trying to be ?true? to the life of a woman who by all accounts was highly respected, deeply religious, and incredibly charming. But finally I had to surrender to fiction while plotting the storyline?advancing Regina?s age by about 15 years, inventing Regina?s courtship with Ahlong as well as her husband?s lumber business?to be honest, I don?t know how much is fact or fiction, true or false, anymore. That line became totally blurred for me while writing this book. Some people bemoan the ?rewriting? of history, but it seems to me we have no history if we cannot transmit it through story. Fiction is recourse to a history we can never know.

You were born and raised in Norfolk, Virginia and currently reside in New Orleans. Your debut novel, a vivid portrayal of the South at the turn of the century, will undoubtedly establish you as a ?Southern? writer. Do you think of yourself in this way?

Though I grew up in Norfolk and visited Mobile throughout my entire childhood?we would stay in Termite Hall over the holidays?I?ve lived elsewhere: Providence, RI, New York City, Barcelona. In the end I found myself returning to the south to write. I love the South as a setting?the humor, the sometimes infuriating contradictions, the heat, laziness, relics and mint juleps of it. Certainly I?m thrilled to be living and writing among the Southern writers I admire: Barry Hannah, William Faulkner, Flannery O?Conner, John Biguenet, Tennessee Williams, and Augusta Evans Wilson to name a few.

What are you working on next?

I?m developing a private detective in New Orleans, a woman, who gets involved investigating for the lawyer of a young conductor who is arrested, thrown in jail, and later falsely accused of molesting his five-year old violin student. It?s led me down the path of the witch-hunt of child abusers, the very real abuses of the Catholic clergy, and the distorted way in which children get messages from society about sex. Hopefully the private detective will end up in a showdown in Cuba but I really can?t say how it will turn out.

Product Details

Penguin Press HC, The
New York
Scully, Helen
Historical - General
Southern states
Historical fiction
Domestic fiction
General Fiction
Edition Description:
Publication Date:
July 2004
Grade Level:
9.36 x 6.4 x 1.06 in 1.2 lb

Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

In the Hope of Rising Again
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 320 pages Penguin Books - English 9781594200250 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "From the post-Civil War era to the Great Depression, this gently ambitious debut follows a prominent Alabama family through victory and loss, fortune and privation, birth and death. At the novel's heart is Regina Riant, the beloved daughter of larger-than-life Colonel Riant. As owner of the Mobile Chronicle, he teaches her magnanimity: 'Having everything is...a great responsibility. We have to show God how grateful we are by sharing what we have, otherwise God or the robbers will take it away.' Regina's four buffoonish brothers, however, see their inheritance less as an honor than as a right, and squander it on half-baked schemes. Charles Morrow, Regina's husband, is equally unfocused and lacking confidence, causing her great frustration: 'Sleeping was heaven: being awake with him at times annoyed her.' Even as her strong Catholic faith sometimes wavers, the one constant in Regina's life is her mostly colorblind relationship with maid Camilla. Scully's light touch, even when tackling the heaviest subjects, paints a sweeping yet subtle saga; her message of resilience is inspiring while eschewing melodrama. 'Everything and everyone would fall in the end, and only in such leveling could one discover everything latent: courage, intelligence, heart — the formula for prevailing.' This is an impressive historical novel by an author to watch. Agent, Jim Rutman. 7-city author tour. (July 27)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "In the Hope of Rising Again is surprising and captivating, even if its final message is simply: 'As long as time moves forward, things are bound to change.'"
"Review" by , "Improbable plot makes for a disappointing debut....Little connects, and the pretentious prose is as enervating as the climate."
"Review" by , "Imaginative and enchanting, incisive and engaging, Scully's debut novel is reminiscent of works by the giants of Southern fiction."
"Review" by , "Helen Scully's debut novel is a treasure. She profoundly understands the delicately strange workings of family and she articulates that understanding in lovely, pitch-perfect prose. This is a new voice among us that needs to be widely heard."
"Synopsis" by , Filled with reflections on death, love, atonement, friendship, and race, Scully's elegant first novel is history told through one family's fate: the story of the South as it rises slowly from the ruins of the Civil War and stutters into the 20th century.
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