It was early 1980 and I was the president of our church's Woman's Missionary Union. The year's project was updating the church library. We had, as she called herself, a trained librarian-with a diploma to prove it. She set the parameters for the non-fiction books and soon we had full sets of the best Bible commentaries, different versions of the Bible, biographies and autobiographies of people of faith, everything a well-stocked church library should have.
Then came the day I dreaded. The random comments became a recommendation—let's put fiction for women in the library. Children's wholesome, as well as faith-based, fiction was already common in church libraries. This recommendation was revolutionary for our conservative little church. While I've been a reader since words made sense on the page, I concentrated on my preferred genres—mystery/suspense and historical.
The crates of books next to me gave me pause, but the more ladies who came in, the more boxes came with them.
My only request was every fiction book have a bookplate in the front identifying the reader recommending it for the shelves. Leading by example, I plucked a novel from the pile nearest me. The Obsession of Victoria Gracen was surely a title that would be undesirable for our members. The cover didn't suggest otherwise.
Patting myself on the back that I could read the first fifteen pages and be done with it before supper, I watched the boxes and crates empty. No one mentioned my lack of stacks going home with me.
The opening paragraph was pleasant: "The carriage turned the corner at a cheerful trot, and drew up before the door of a smart brick house in a row of new houses on a little new street. The occupants, one by one alighted on the sidewalk with an air of relief and of duty well done."
I was already feeling smug so I identified with the "occupants." Then the author Grace Livingston Hill begins describing her characters—Mrs. Miller "sharp-faced aspiring wife in borrowed mourning,-because, of course, one wouldn't want to wear mourning after the funeral for a mere sister-in-law who left nothing behind but a mortgage and a good-for-nothing son." Don't need the color of her eyes and hair or height to visualize that woman.
Mr. Miller—"tall and heavy, with a thick, red neck and a coarse, red face" was easy to visualize, too. The three little Millers were joyful children. How did that happen? Richard, the son of the dead woman, who had married above her station, stepped awkwardly, looked gloomily around him.
When Mrs. Hill used the phrase "the sudden death of one who had been near without being particularly dear" I was off my high horse and caring about poor Richard, the misunderstood juvenile delinquent, always in trouble despite his best efforts. His plight worsens and by Chapter II when his aunt, Miss Victoria Gracen is introduced I can't let Richard go this journey alone.
|"Miss Bypath stood her ground in snow nearly a foot deep." Painting by Edwin F. Bayha
Miss Victoria Gracen in her soft lavender challis frock and "her abundant white hair seemed like a violet on a mossy bank, a lovely, lovable human violet." Can't you just picture her sitting in front a cozy fireplace or serving tea.
|"You've taken an awful contract on your hands, Victoria;
and you'll be sorry, or I'll miss my guess." Painting by Edwin F. Bayha
|"You can sit in the alcove in the hall, sir, and never be seen. "Painting by Edwin F. Bayha
By the requisite 15 pages, I was teary-eyed and sniffling. Jerry reminded me that I didn't have to read the whole thing, just enough to render an opinion. I handed him the book and pointed to the passage that touched my heart.
That book snatcher took my book and flipped to the first page, sat down, and began reading. Sure, he can read a 300 page book in two days, but this wasn't science fiction or western, and he didn't read romances. How dare he!
The Obsession of Victoria Gracen was written in 1915 and considered a contemporary novel, yet her topic was still very relevant in 1980. I had to read more of her books. A trip to every second-hand book store and thrift shop I could find in and around Austin Texas became routine stops. A call to the library put five books on hold. I drove and Jerry read.
I discovered that each of her books included the message of God's salvation through Jesus Christ. Before "Christian Fiction" was introduced later that year, I knew that faith elements would now always be part of my own "wholesome" writing.
|Grace Livingston Hill
She was well-known for her contributions to The Christian Endeavor Magazine sponsored by the The Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor. She described Endeaver meetings in two of her books Cloudy Jewel and The Girl from Montana.
In the Marcia Schyler Trilogy—Marcia Schyler, Phoebe Deane, and Miranda, she adapted some of her own family history and did a great deal of time period research and wove tidbits of 1830’s current events into her story. Her cousin-in-law, Edward Lamson Henry, a well-know painter, loaned several of his works to illustrate the first book, including “The First Railway Train on the Mohawk and Hudson.” Visit http://www.elhenry.info/marciaschuyler.htm to see the other painting in the Trilogy.
|The First Railway Train on the Mohawk and Hudson by E.L. Henry
For a photo gallery featuring Grace and her family, visit:
Also enjoy a well developed, very enlightening, and accurate information site about Grace by Daena M. Creel at http://www.gracelivingstonhill.com/
Several books have been written about Grace and her life. Included are:
• Grace Livingston Hill: Her Story and Her Writings (1948) by Jean Karr
• Grace Livingston Hill: The life story of one of America's best-loved writers, as told by her grandson Robert Munce (1986)
• Grace Livingston Hill: A Checklist (1981) by Joanna Paulsen
By the way, Jerry has read every Grace I have - which is a copy of everything she's published. His favorites are Christmas Bride, Enchanted Barn, and By Way of the Silverthorns. Who says men can't enjoy a great romance.
Grace came from a family of artists and writers. Both parents, Rev. Charles Livingston and Marcia Macdonald Livingston (under the name Mrs. C.M. Livingston) were writers. Better known by her pen name Pansy, Isabella Macdonald Alden was Grace's aunt. Grace's daughters Margaret and Ruth, her grandson Robert were a few of the well-known writers of their day.
|Family Members of Grace Livingston Hill
You may want to join me as I follow Daena Creel's 2015 GLH Reading List.
January: The Substitute Guest
March: Matched Pearls
April: April Gold
May: Rainbow Cottage
June: In Tune with Wedding Bells
July: Crimson Roses
August: Blue Ruin
September: The Enchanted Barn
October: Crimson Mountain
December: Christmas Bride
When I read Anne Greene's HH&H post on February 14th about the WACs in World War II - http://www.hhhistory.com/2015/02/wacs-serve-in-world-war-ii.html - it reminded me of the book Grace co-wrote about the events in World War I through the eyes of the women with the Salvation Army.
Commissioned by and co-authored with Evangeline Booth, daughter of the founder, William Bramwell Booth, of the Salvation Army, Grace wrote The War Romance of the Salvation Army in 1919.
Reading the forewards by Miss Booth and Mrs. Hill is worth the read, and is very inspiring before you even begin the book. After mainly associating red kettles and brown donuts with the Salvation Army, I have a new appreciation for the women who serve as volunteers and officers. The WRSA contains accounts of hard work and perseverance in the face of great physical and mental hardship. True Heroines! You can read a free copy at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/7811/7811-h/7811-h.htm.
Have you read any of Grace's 100+ book? What's your favorite? Why?
Leave a comment to be entered into the drawing for a $20 gift certificate to buy a Grace or two or three you haven't read yet.