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Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America (Anglais) Relié – 3 juillet 2014


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Revue de presse

Rachel Hope Cleves draws on family papers, diaries, memoirs and poems to reconstruct their lives much more fully than ever before, and to weave them into the larger history of the early American frontier. It is a triumph of painstaking research, and a moving love story. (The Guardian)

Historian Cleves meticulously reconstructs the lives of two women who lived together for decades in a small Vermont town in a relationship described by people who knew them as a marriage. Ironically, in an era when women had few legal rights, Charity and Sylvia enjoyed more independence being bonded to each other than they would have if each had been married to a man. (Jim Higgins, Books of the year 2014, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America. I thought it might be dull and overly scholarly, but this interesting and well-researched biography brings to life Charity Bryant, a strong-willed and independent teacher whose intimate friendships with women often attracted gossip, and Sylvia Drake, a quiet intellectual who was several years younger. (Stephanie Perry, Books of the year 2014, Readers Lane)

I loved Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America by Rachel Hope Cleves, not just for the story of two lives ahead of their time, but for the way Cleves sets the stage for the tale. We get a good sense of what life was like in the late 1700s and early 1800s, not just for lesbians but for every person brave enough to try to settle a new country, and that's every bit as interesting as the story of two women who did something that early Americans didn't think was even possible. (Terri Schlichenmeyer, Books of the year 2014, Washington Blade)

In 2014, 18 new states began performing same-sex marriages, while Massachusetts marked the 10-year anniversary of its own law. Charity and Sylvia's story struck a chord by attesting that similar partnerships existed in New England as long as two centuries ago, just without a license. (Amanda Katz, Books of the year 2014, Boston Globe)

Présentation de l'éditeur

Charity and Sylvia is the intimate history of two ordinary women who lived in an extraordinary same-sex marriage during the early nineteenth century. Based on diaries, letters, and poetry, among other original documents, the research traces the women's lives in sharp detail. Charity Bryant was born in 1777 to a consumptive mother who died a month later. Raised in Massachusetts, Charity developed into a brilliant and strong-willed woman with a passion for her own sex. After being banished from her family home by her father at age twenty, she traveled throughout Massachusetts, working as a teacher, making intimate female friends, and becoming the subject of gossip wherever she lived. At age twenty-nine, still defiantly single, Charity visited friends in Weybridge, Vermont. There she met Sylvia Drake, a pious and studious young woman whose family had moved to the frontier village after losing their Massachusetts farm during the Revolution. The two soon became so inseparable that Charity decided to rent rooms in Weybridge. Sylvia came to join her on July 3, 1807, commencing a forty-four year union that lasted until Charity's death. Over the years, the women came to be recognized as a married couple, or something like it. Charity took the role of husband, and Sylvia of wife, within the marriage. Revered by their community, Charity and Sylvia operated a tailor shop employing many local women, served as guiding lights within their church, and participated in raising more than one hundred nieces and nephews. Most extraordinary, all the while the sexual potential of their union remained an open secret, cloaked in silence to preserve their reputations. The story of Charity and Sylvia overturns today's conventional wisdom that same-sex marriage is a modern innovation, and reveals that early America was both more diverse and more accommodating than modern society imagines.


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Amazon.com: 16 commentaires
13 internautes sur 13 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Excellent study of same-sex couples in post-revolutionary New England. 28 mai 2014
Par David N. Parker - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Format Kindle
Excellent study of same-sex couples in post-revolutionary New England.
One of my early thoughts is how often research on one subject or time period leads to valuable historical information about the same period. I had never considered the definition of male friendship described for Charity’s brother, or the apparent frequency of suicides during the depression era following the revolutionary war; neither of these seems to have been a part of my collegiate history studies. Neither were same-sex marriages in early America.
Ms. Cleve’s carefully researched, documented, and annotated story of Charity and Sylvia recognizes that same-sex relationships were considered most sinful, but also shows those relationships were not unique to a select few.
By selecting a couple well-known to their community and descendants, Ms. Cleves leads us not only through their lives, but also draws us inexorably into the lives of many early New England settlers in the severe depression that followed the revolutionary war. Her resources include detailed documentation in their own hands as well as records of the time from the contemporaries now held in the local historical collection. Both sons and daughters translated the rebellion against the English King with challenges against the constraints of their restrictive culture. Increasingly, young men broke their apprenticeships to run their own lives. Young women rejected enslavement to husbands and a lifetime of hard work and breeding, pursuing employment as teachers, seamstresses, and similar occupations. It is no wonder that both young men and young women sought out unconventional personal relationships as well.
These daughters of the founding fathers of Weybridge, VT engaged in an intimate, coupled relationship for 44 years as pillars of their community and their Congregational church. Living intimately together, sharing a bed and maintaining a household was generally accepted as a sexual relationship with heterosexual couples (married on not). It was reasonable to anticipate that Charity and Sylvia had a physical, sexual relationship as well. Their church and community considered them married and their church encouraged their counseling of young parishioners about both religion and relationships.
Ms. Cleves makes no claim and finds no proof that Charity and Sylvia had sex with each other; her research and analysis simply make it impossible to think otherwise.
A college professor made history interesting and sometimes exciting for me by emphasizing people, both ordinary and extraordinary, and making them come alive for me. In Charity and Sylvia, Ms. Cleves does the same for this extraordinary couple.
10 internautes sur 10 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Wonderful Story, Wonderfully Told 16 mai 2014
Par Randall Hayward - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Relating history is so often dry and boring, as if seasoned with the dust of the libraries and archives in which it is held. Not so with Charity & Sylvia. Rachel Hope Cleves brings these strong women to life and includes the reader in their circle of confidence.

Historical accuracy is spot-on (or as near as it can be), which is hard enough to achieve with more recognizable figures. That Cleves has achieved it with two ordinary women, and at that, two women who lived what we imagine to have been a taboo life together, is a credit to her research abilities and her tenacity. But an accurate story can still be dry and boring, and the author avoided that pitfall beautifully. The reader can feel the life and vitality emanating from Charity & Sylvia, which makes their story all the more real, and relevant to today’s society: Love is timeless, and love is not gender dependent, is a message that comes through the years loud and clear.

I am happy that I was able to contribute in my small way to the telling of this story, and intensely proud that the blood of Sylvia Drake’s family flows through my veins. This book is a ‘must-read’ for anyone with a social conscience and anyone who needs to develop one.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Richly detailed, captivating biography of two women's 44 year marriage in the 1800s 13 juillet 2014
Par Mark M - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
Full disclosure: I had the pleasure of interviewing the author for a podcast. I found both Rachel Hope Cleves and her book to be exceptionally articulate, intelligent and engaging. It's not often I read a biography and find myself turning the pages as if it were a suspense novel. The attention to historical and personal detail in the lives and times of Charity and Sylvia is very impressive. (I did not know what an 'acrostic' was until I read this book!). It takes us into their time in a very visual, sensual way, and it's fascinating. The friendship romances women had with each other, the importance of poetry and subtlety in their lives, and the roles they were expected to play, which both Charity and Sylvia founds ways to break out of. It's also an insightful examination of what exactly constitutes 'the closet,' and how it often involves the unspoken approval and awareness of the communities people live it (which I think is still the case, especially in some communities where everyone knows someone is gay but doesn't 'know' it in the form of public acknowledgement). Anyway, this is a fabulous book about two women who determined to live lives on their own terms, and to live them together. Oh, and I love all the names people had back then, which came as another of the book's many surprises: Silence, Charity, Idea. I'd love to meet someone named Silence today. Very highly recommended.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Beautifully written & wonderfully researched 19 septembre 2014
Par Ilana Stanger-Ross - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
This is a beautiful & moving portrait of two women, an intimate and remarkable story of love and marriage. At the same time, it brings to life 18th century New England - a time when America was new, when families were still counting their dead from the Revolutionary War and when 'moving West' in search of new frontiers included Vermont. In clear & lovely language, Cleves tells the story of Charity & Sylvia and of early America. This is the rare academic book that is both meticulously researched & compellingly written. I could not put it down.
1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Fascinating book 28 décembre 2014
Par Nancy - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
In this very readable and engrossing book, Rachel Hope Cleves uses a wide variety of evidence to help us understand how Charity and Sylvia, a presumably lesbian couple in early 19th century Vermont, may have experienced their lives. I found particularly interesting her analysis of the order in which Charity and Sylvia added rooms to their house as they had the money to expand, and how the increase in privacy and eventually the greater capacity for entertaining made possible by those additional rooms changed their relationships with their families and the people they knew in town. Cleves uses genealogy not merely for the obligatory introduction on her subjects' ancestry but as a way of showing how deeply interconnected New England families were and how names were passed down as a legacy of friendship and respect. She looks at land documents and discusses what is implied when a woman instead of a man held title to the land, and at how poems and hymns could become a symbolic language in a culture where these texts were common currency. As a church organist I understand the latter very well and have no quibble with the premise though I’d like to see the evidence for “Blest Be the Tie that Binds” as a wedding hymn. In this day and age, it is more likely to show up at funerals. Cleves discusses clothing as well, especially the relationship between tailoring and plain sewing in the hierarchy of trades. I wonder if any hints in the letters might suggest masculine forms in Charity’s clothing – the wearing of spencers, “habits,” or habit-shirts, or later, pelisses or redingotes, for example. These were all widely worn by women and would not have caused comment yet might have helped express Charity’s masculine persona. This book is highly recommended for anyone interested in women's history, in early 19th century New England, and in how an intelligent and imaginative use of many kinds of evidence can provide new ways into history.
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