Sunday, February 1, 2009

Dipping My Toe Into the Blogosphere

I spend a good deal of my time these days in the early 19th century (at the moment I'm immersed in the spring of 1804), so it feels a little weird to be dipping my toe into the very 21st century arena of the blogosphere. Let's just say it's a bit of a stretch.

But I've been posting what I've called a "blog" on my website for the last year or so, and I've found that I've enjoyed it. And others have told me they've enjoyed reading it. But a while ago my son (who blogs as "Vicente," and whose very interesting and eclectic blog you can read here) informed me that what I've got there isn't really a blog: people can't leave comments, I haven't been including links to other websites and blogs, etc., etc.. So, partly to prove to my kids that I really do live in the 21st century (something they seem to doubt from time to time), I've decided to start a real blog. (Hey, Vicente, did you notice that link I just inserted?)

As I've been doing on my old blog (or rather, "blog"), I plan to write about things that relate to my novel, A More Obedient Wife, such as:

  • parallels or contrasts between life in the 1790s and today,

  • how the Supreme Court has changed in the last 200 years, and

  • how women's lives have changed.

I'm sure I'll also be blogging about things that relate to the novel I'm currently working on as well, which is set a few years later (hence my immersion at the moment in the spring of 1804). And I'll probably also write about more general topics, such as the challenges and rewards of using the lives of real, and relatively obscure, historical figures as fodder for fiction.

I'm hoping to post a couple of times a month, and I'm very much hoping to hear from readers--that's one of the main reasons I'm switching to this format. As for the "blog" posts on my website, they're all still available there, at least at the moment: just click here. You'll also find a lot more information there about myself and my book, A More Obedient Wife.

As I do so often, I wonder what the characters in my novels--almost all of them based on real people who left behind letters recording their thoughts and feelings--would have made of all this. They lived in an era when communication was painfully slow, when it might take three weeks to get a letter from Boston to, say, Charleston, S.C., and two months to get a letter from Europe to the United States. Letters often never made it to their destination at all, for one reason or another, so if you were writing anything important you sent several copies of it. Newspapers were dense and, at least to the modern eye, difficult to read--the first couple of pages were basically a bunch of classified ads--and full of dubious information and rumor.

Aside from that last point (which some might say also characterizes the internet), things have changed beyond recognition. We've come to expect instantaneous communication; if my internet access goes down, or my cell phone goes missing, I start to panic.

But in at least one sense, it occurs to me that this blog is a return to the past. One of the two women I'm now writing about started a magazine in Baltimore in 1807, when she was 27 years old. She was certainly one of the first female magazine editors in the United States, if not the first, and she faced some obstacles that women writers no longer have to worry about: when she threw in the towel after a year, she blamed the demise of the magazine largely on people who didn't believe a woman was capable of being at the helm of such a publication.

But she also heard back from her readers--big-time. Some of them sent her articles, which she published. But many of them sent her comments, which, for the most part, she also published and responded to, to such an extent that at times the magazine feels like a spirited conversation. That element has been missing from publications until recently. Sure, newspapers and magazines publish letters to the editor, but usually they choose to print only a small fraction of the mail they receive. But now, thanks to 21st-century technology, that spirited conversation has become possible again. And now that I've dipped my toe in the blogosphere, I'm getting eager to jump in.


  1. ...every confidence that you will find the water just fine.


  3. I'm impressed that your toe-dipping is turning into a full-blown swim. The link insert is awesome! I look forward to reading more. Thanks!

  4. The woman from Baltimore was Eliza Anderson, later Eliza Godefroy, and the magazine was "The Observer." There's more information about here at Scroll down to "Beatrice Ironside's Budget."

  5. Fascinating stuff, Natalie. On election day I found myself in the Old Town Alexandria Public Library with time on my hands to read before doing some poll watching. I was intrigued to find that the first official copies of the Declaration of Independence were printed by MARY KATHARINE GODDARD of Baltimore. She was a professional printer and publisher. Do you know more about her?

  6. Yes, I have heard of Goddard -- according to a 1934 article in the Maryland Historical Magazine ("Maximilan and Eliza Godefroy," by Carolina V. Davison), she was the second known female editor in Maryland, editing the "Maryland Journal and Baltimore Advertiser" from 1775-1784. Before her, there was Anne Catharine Green of Annapolis, who took over the "Maryland Gazette" for eight years after her husband died in 1767. I guess the distinction in my mind was newspaper editing vs. magazine editing, but in fact there wasn't as much difference between the two genres then as there is now -- the idea of the "objective" newspaper hadn't really taken hold yet. In any event, ALL of these women certainly deserve to be remembered!

  7. It occurs to me that my mother, Rae Miller Heneson, was blogging before her time. Nearly all the letters she wrote to the Baltimore Sun (the old one, when it was a real newspaper) got published, and she sometimes got responses from other readers.

    Thanks for launching this blog-in-full. I look forward to reading more.