I should probably share that I am not the one who created the literary tool of ‘Gentle Reader’ – the evolution of this device shows my reading history as well as my own preferences in first person narrative fiction.
I can remember the actual day that I found the book, Trojan Gold by Elizabeth Peters, in a bookstore, in LondonOntario, back in 1984. I can remember being drawn to the gold iridescent cover and, reading the back, the female protagonist. My reading taste was maturing from high school, chaste, love stories about ‘the ugly duckling’ and searching for ‘me’ in the books I would read. Trojan Gold was good but, only upon discovering Peter’s Amelia Peabody series did I fall in love. A large part of the books charms were the strong, spunky (like Laura Ingalls Wilder) and intelligent woman. My father had turned me on to Helen MacInnis but her female characters seemed two dimensional and only supporting characters in the books. But Amelia was me – intelligent, not conventional, tall (I hit 5’8″ at the age of 12), and strong minded. And Peters wrote her books as if recalling the past and writing in a voice with the advantage of knowledge gained after the events.
Well, I became hooked. After I devoured all of Ms Peter’s books I continued to search for novels that shared that first person voice.
I love to go to garage sales. The reason? I love finding old books – and I mean books from the 1900’s onward!! Their cloth covers and yellowed pages – the idea that another reader, or readers, had held the book and opened it to discover the world hidden inside. A romantic thought, I know. At a garage sale, in Burlington Ontario with my sister, I found a little book with a pretty cover – Elizabeth and Her German Garden – a first edition which, turns out, was published in around 1896. To this day, I have never seen the same edition on any of the antiquarian book websites. This book is my own treasure that I hold very dear. That was in 1989 or 90 and it still took me more than 10 years (2001) before I actually read the book. (I believe that books, just as people, come into your life and will be read when you need them.) It was mind blowing. Elizabeth von Arnim, the author, used the same Gentle Reader device!! But, more importantly, she wrote as if addressing the reader long after the events she was describing. I hunted down her books like a true bibliophile. I am still missing a title – The Jasmine Farm – that I may have a lead on!! This was a very unusual woman – she referred to her children by the month they were born in – so there was April, May and June. Those weren’t their names merely the device she used to protect and separate the novels from the lives of her children. She also referred to her husband as the Man of Wrath. Wow, little did I know how much wisdom she would share in reminiscing about their life and marriage! (My own marriage and referring to my husband in a ‘nick name’ is a story for another day.)
Another passion I have is for Egyptology – not to say that I love Cleopatra and believe I was her in a past life! – but my Grandmother first shared Egypt to me in 1972 after her own travels to Egypt and Israel. The passion grew. I have read fascinating books – The Search for Omm Sety about a woman who, through Past Life Recall hypnosis, remembered a life as a temple servant. She even recalled a fountain pool with mosaic tiles that, upon locating and excavating the site, archaeologists found the ruins of that very fountain pool. Even the colours of the tiles that she had described. Also, to be honest, she recalled a normal life not that of being a ‘Queen’ or ‘King’ or someone famous which always seems contrived and unreliable. My own thoughts about Past Lives and Reincarnation are something else that I will share down the road.
So Egypt is a love of mine and I am always finding TV documentaries, books, novels, and (with the internet) there are no limits to the blogs and articles that I find and devour by archaeologists and Egyptologists. For reference, Elizabeth Peters is the nom de plume of Barbara Mertz who stills writes, teaches, lectures as an Egyptologist |(find out more about her and her books at http://www.mpmbooks.com/ ) But I continue to look for role models, old books, stores/facts about Egypt. Then I stumbled upon Amelia Edwards (1831-1892) who was an English novelist, journalist, traveller and Egyptologist. (I am taking a guess here but I wonder if Elizabeth Peters might have been tipping her hat to Amelia Edwards in her character Amelia Peabody?) who, after discovering Egypt and her passion for archaeology, published her book in 1876 under the title of A Thousand Miles up the Nile – not to toot her horn so much she also enhanced the book with her own hand-drawn illustrations, the travelogue became an immediate bestseller. (Ooo going back to Project Gutenberg to confirm the title of her book, I just found another of Amelia Edwards works, In the Days of My Youth just added to the catalogue – I am promptly adding the ebook to my Kobo – this is a ‘hot off the press’ find!!) Finding the, long out of print, book at Project Gutenberg I discovered she too writes to her Gentle Reader. For me, it feels as though all these writers are reaching out to me from the past and through their books…for I am that Gentle Reader. My journals, dating back to my childhood (I even have my Grade 6 diary, and no I won’t be sharing that) have always been addressed to my own Gentle Reader.
So you are going to be my Gentle Reader – the name implies a plea for you to be kind – I write this primarily for myself but hope that someone, anyone, reading this will be inspired, enjoy a smile, find a new book or author, and have a moment’s connection with another woman also navigating this world.