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Please welcome Taylor M. Polites, author of The Rebel Wife, which was just released on Tuesday!
One piece of Huntsville, Alabama that I have always carried with me is the beautiful, antebellum Twickenham historic district, a neighborhood of broad streets lined with impressive brick homes in the Federal and Greek Revival styles that served as the model for the fictional town of Albion in The Rebel Wife. When I was fifteen, I volunteered at the Weeden House Museum in the heart of the district. I pulled weeds and did other work in the garden and got to spend time in and around the beautiful and severe 1819 Federal style house. High ceilings, a beautiful leaded-glass fanlight, reeded woodwork and wide pine floors make the house a very special place and worth a tour if you are in the area.
The main focus of the house is to tell the story of Maria Howard Weeden. She was born in the house in 1846 and lived there until her death in 1905, never marrying. She developed great skill as a largely self-taught artist and achieved some renown for her sensitive portraits of the newly freed African-Americans who worked in the houses around her. She was known to hide behind hedges, spying on “Aunt Frances” next door to capture her most natural likeness. Another model, the shoeshine boy from the town square a few blocks away, went on to form his own theater troupe, the guide will tell you. The house has a large number of these beautiful watercolor portraits, reflecting a respect and sincerity not often seen in white artists’ depictions of black Americans in the latter half of the nineteenth century. In addition, there are oil paintings and the invitations, name cards and other work Weeden used to support herself and her sister after the war. (Much more work is collected in the fascinating Burritt on the Mountain museum nearby.).
Being inside a physical space has a certain transcendence to it and the Weeden House is one the best. The last time I was there I got to hear the ghost stories, which give another layer of palpable history to a space. I have always loved house-museums. Any place I travel to, the first thing I want to visit is a house-museum. They give you a real sense of place and people. The South, happily, is full of amazing house-museums. It is one of my favorite ways to time travel!
Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share on your blog!
Brimming with atmosphere and edgy suspense, The Rebel Wife presents a young widow trying to survive in the violent world of Reconstruction Alabama, where the old gentility masks a continuing war fueled by hatred, treachery, and still-powerful secrets.
Augusta Branson was born into antebellum Southern nobility during a time of wealth and prosperity, but now all that is gone, and she is left standing in the ashes of a broken civilization. When her scalawag husband dies suddenly of a mysterious blood plague, she must fend for herself and her young son. Slowly she begins to wake to the realities that surround her: her social standing is stained by her marriage; she is alone and unprotected in a community that is being destroyed by racial prejudice and violence; the fortune she thought she would inherit does not exist; and the deadly blood fever is spreading fast. Nothing is as she believed, everyone she knows is hiding something, and Augusta needs someone to trust. Somehow she must find the truth amid her own illusions about the past and the courage to cross the boundaries of hate, so strong, dangerous, and very close to home.
Using the Southern Gothic tradition to explode literary archetypes like the chivalrous Southern gentleman, the good mammy, and the defenseless Southern belle, The Rebel Wife shatters the myths that still cling to the antebellum South and creates an unforgettable heroine for our time.
Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your memories with us! I have never thought of visiting house-museums as time-travelling, but I completely agree! Thank you for including the images! I do like the quiet dignity of the portraits.
Readers, do you have a favorite house-museum to recommend? I’ve enjoyed the Nathaniel Russell House in Charleston. What do you think of Miss Weeden’s artwork?
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