If Emilie had climbed the Park Street Church tower in 1872 and looked west, past the Boston Common, she would have seen a view like this one. In the near ground is the Public Garden. On the left is the Arlington Street Church, the Church of the Covenant towers behind on Newbury Street, and Commonwealth Avenue is clearly identified by its park-like median.
What captured my attention in this photograph, though, was the actual, not-filled-in-yet Back Bay behind them. Look at all of that water! There is no place to put Copley Square or the Boston Public Library–they’d sink.
When the Back Bay photo was taken, Emilie was six, and her family lived to the left of the scene shown above, on West Springfield Street. How odd it must have seemed to her, at first, when the land was filled in, and up-scale neighborhoods sprang up in the Back Bay. Of course, her family moved right in, to a home on Gloucester Street in 1885 and to a brand-new apartment hotel in 1891.
It’s such a balance. The modern excites, and the nostalgic delights.
Emilie’s first book, For the Comfort of the Family (1914), features utensils you might find in your grandmother’s basement, like this bread mixer and a device for toasting cheese sandwiches. Because she wrote her novels in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, they, too, are filled with now-nostalgic elements, like curtains on a roadster, the courtesies of afternoon tea, reciting poems by heart, and donning a hat to go out on the street.
On the other hand, her novels have modern qualities that, even today, are aspirational. The women are self-confident and independent–not only in character but also financially– and they set healthy boundaries in their relationships.
She was passionately grateful to him for his help but he must be made to understand that her gratitude did not carry with it a right-of-way across her independence. Here Comes the Sun!
The elderly in her stories are vibrant and full of life, love interests are equal partners, and there is no question that homemaking, love making, and community activism can coexist.
I wonder if it’s not easier to be modern when one’s backdrop is as historic as Boston. Something within us seeks a balance, and when the norm is convention, modern notions are fresh air. Emilie’s characters toe the line in social situations but feel no compunction about facing down bandits in a barroom or donning a bathrobe to spend the night in a stranger’s cabin with someone they’ve met only moments before.
“Life is bigger than conventions, Goldilocks.” Here Comes the Sun!
That balance is part of what keeps me reading Emilie Loring novels. On my kitchen table is an old-fashioned pastry stand that holds my grandmother’s china plates, and on my kitchen counter is a NutriBullet. Sometimes, I walk on a motorized treadmill, streaming videos on Netflix, and sometimes, I curl up with an honest-to-goodness, real-paper book.
When it’s an Emilie Loring novel, I get both nostalgia and modernity. She meant them to be contemporary; it’s just that time has passed.
“We’ve just got to know how many inches below our knees to wear our frocks and whether the languorous lady is in, or the sporty female.” Lighted Windows
I discovered a blog yesterday, “Apron History,” that triggered happy memories of dear, remembered things. Among nostalgic posts about vintage aprons, a charming bungalow, sewing, gardens, and crafts was a post about Emilie Loring novels.
“From the very first sentence her heroines are on the go. Known for her strong female characters and story lines with a touch of mystery, the heroines always have a problem to solve and a difficulty to overcome. (All with gay courage, of course!)” “Apron History” blog
You can read the rest of the post here.
Nostalgic on the shelf, exciting to read. That may be a way to describe Emilie Loring’s stories to someone who hasn’t read them. Part tradition, part surprise, there’s no telling what might happen next.
“If a demure little Quaker had suddenly gone tap-dancer, I couldn’t be more surprised.” Fair Tomorrow
Next up on our reading list: High of Heart