“Loud Voices”

Lucretia Jones could not have had an easy time raising her daughter Edith. She was a woman of average intelligence and superficial interests suddenly confronted by a child whose brilliance was apparent from the get-go. She probably tried valiantly to maintain her maternal authority and, if her daughter’s claim that pleasing her mother and pleasing God were at the top of her priority list is accurate, Lucretia Jones succeeded. Almost.

The historical process in which some voices speak loudly because their words are preserved and some voices disappear because so little of what they said and thought survives turned the tables. In that historical conversation, Lucretia’s view of her relationship with Edith has been silenced and we are left with Edith’s remembered version. In her 2007 biography, Hermione Lee calls the picture Edith Wharton painted of her mother “one of the most lethal acts of revenge ever taken by a writing daughter.”

When I first began writing non fiction I thought it would be a simple thing to research my way to the real truth, to what actually happened. I was fully prepared to invest the time necessary to get things right. As the historian Gordon S. Wood points out, there will always be a tension between what happened and how it’s remembered. It’s how various non fiction writers interpret the events and the memories and the silences that keep the historical narrative alive and vibrant.