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Monday, May 14, 2007

This is a quietly charming book featuring Eliza Birdwell, a modest wife, mother, and Quaker preacher, and her husband Jess, who owns a tree nursery. This collection of stories gives glimpses of unique moments in their life together, first as a young but established family and later as they reach their 80s. The stories are not continuous but they do manage to cohere naturally and effectively. Eliza and Jess’s relationship, though occasionally jarred by conflict, is marked by compassion and good humor. Their accommodation of the other’s inclinations and preferences is touching. Plus, several of the stories are downright funny.

The two chapters devoted to Lady, Jess’s horse, are particularly funny. Serious-minded Eliza has a prejudice against Jess’s “fast-looking” horse even though he’s shown himself a failure in racing: Jess is trying to live down being passed by the Methodist preacher the previous Sunday. So, in a lucky encounter, Jess mischievously trades him away to obtain Lady, an ugly, awkward looking horse who has plenty of pluck and doesn’t let any other animal pass her on the road. Jess’s triumph the next Sunday over the Methodist preacher pleases him but mortifies Eliza with the impropriety of a race on a First Day. And she the Quaker preacher!

But the joyous thing about Eliza is that she isn’t prudish and self-righteous. Throughout the book, she shows herself to be down-to-earth, gracious, and also subject to unneighborly reflections at times. Her stout faith in God allows her to love others freely and to be her own unique self. Though she is profoundly disturbed when her oldest son declares his intention of joining a militia during the Civil War, she quietly cares for his needs without censuring him. Similarly, Eliza has a practical and contented approach to her daily work, and it is clear that her Christian faith and Quaker sensibilities inform her ministrations to both her family and congregation. A delightful book.

Title:The Friendly Persuasion
Author:Jessamyn West
Date published:1945
Genre:Historical fiction
Number of pages:228


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