[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
I finished reading The Unredeemed Captive today, after much sustained effort. Author John Demos notes that he has preserved the spelling in the primary sources as far as possible, but I can't help wishing he (or his editor) had either converted the thorns to 'th' or had found some way of printing them that made them look less like y's. The constant struggle to render 'ye' and 'yt' as 'the' and 'that' (not to mention the few occasions when 'ye' actually was meant to be rendered as 'ye') made this book far harder to read than it should have been. It's tiresome anyway to find yourself concentrating on how something is written, rather than on what has been written.

It is ironic however that after I wrote my mild complaint that not enough background and context had been supplied, the very next chapter went into substantial detail about the Sault Indian community. Interesting stuff. Less interesting is the constant struggle between two branches of Christianity: the Puritans and the Catholics. Oh ye fir trees, what a fuss over minor distinctions of doctrine. The Puritans don't want Eunice Williams staying among the heathens and/or the Catholics and Eunice herself is scared to live among the 'heretics' (Puritans) again because it might put her soul, and the souls of her children, in danger. Clearly this is all very important to them, but it's wearying to the outsider. And stupid. Incredibly stupid.

Also, the incredible persistence of the family in believing that Eunice is a captive, when it's clear that she's staying in the Canadian community of her own free will, is downright annoying. They keep begging their God to 'let' her return and ignoring the obvious: she doesn't want to return. They're always hoping she'll visit them but it never seems to occur to them to visit her. Maybe there were practical obstacles to this, but, if so, Demos doesn't mention them. No, they want her to visit because they see that as a route to 'restoring' her to her family. Except that, to her, the Iroquois among whom she's lived since the age of six are her family. Demos goes into some intriguing details about why it might be more appealing to the young Puritan women--who form the majority of former captives who remain voluntarily--to live in the heathen rather than the Christian fashion.

At its heart, however, this book has a void. We learn much about Eunice's father, who left letters and sermons, and her brother Stephen, who left letters and a journal, but hardly ever from Eunice herself. One letter of hers--written on her behalf by someone else--survives. How much of its contents are her own words is impossible to fathom. The narrative is therefore like the moon in the old riddle that goes around and around the house without ever touching the house. It would have been more honest to have framed this as the story of the Williams men than as Eunice's own story. She's not here. She's off bringing in the corn.
[identity profile] littlerdog.livejournal.com
The book du jour is The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America by John Demos. It was found on the shelves at the back of the local bookshop, grabbed by the scruff and hauled off to the cash desk. Most ruthlessly.

I'm on page 111.

"The priest tries to dissuade them but cannot. They know their minds, and will have what they want. They have reached this point from radically different directions and refuse now to turn back."

The book is based on the experiences of the Williams family, who were attacked in their New England home of Deerfield in 1704. Some were murdered there, Mrs Williams on the march to Canada as a captive of French-Canadian Iroquois, and the survivors split up among various 'masters' once their destination was reached. The focus of the narrative is supposedly on Eunice Williams, whose captors refused to release, exchange or ransom her, but her voice does not appear much on the pages. Instead, we hear from her father and brothers, and from various people engaged in attempts to negotiate her return to New England.

When I was much younger, I had a romantic interest in Native Americans, possibly the result of watching too many Westerns. I read some books by Dee Brown and while I didn't go the 'noble savage' route, I did feel sympathy with peoples who had lost everything and been almost obliterated. This interest lapsed for many years and was only revived when I read the fascinating 1491: The Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann. I've also read Ancient Mariner by Ken McGoogan, which inspired me to think that on the whole I'd have been better off reading Hearne's original ms instead. Not that I have. Yet.

By far the most aggravating aspect of Demos's book is the endless religion. It's a necessary part of understanding events, especially as Mr Williams is a Puritan minister, and his children were in the hands of 'popery', ie Catholics, but oh it's tedious and dispiriting. At one point it seems likely that Williams believes his family's travails were the result of sin in the Deerfield community. He can't blame God so he has to blame people--not the people who murdered his wife, but his own parishioners. Such I suppose are the convolutions of a mind that has to reconcile belief in a God of infinite love with the ugly reality of life.

So far, however, it's a mostly interesting and engaging read. Some more context and background would however be useful to someone who lacks a firm grounding in American history.

I shall read on.

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