May 5, 2010
Portrait of a Quaker Marriage

The Friendly Persuasion, a popular book group choice and a former One Book One City selection in Indianapolis, has deep Hoosier roots. The main characters, Jess and Eliza  Birdwell, live in Vernon, Indiana, she a Quaker minister, he a nurseryman. Their nineteenth-century community enjoys a peaceful life on the banks of the Muscatatuck, punctuated by eagerly anticipated festivities and unavoidable tragedies, which the Birdwells face together.

While they address each other as “thee,” only Eliza sticks to the straight and narrow path. Jess tends to follow his own flights of fancy, leading to episodes that had me laughing out loud.

For instance, the Birdwells are one of the first households to install an indoor bathtub and the newfangled gas lights. Eliza says: “Thee’s rigged up a gas plant in the cellar–we light the jets tonight and ask in the neighbors. That’s the Illumination. Does thee feel marble cake, coconut drops, floating island, and French custard ice cream will be a sufficiency as dessert, Jess?”

“Scanty pickings,” he said, “Scanty pickings. No pie.” (But he’s teasing.)

I have to admit my favorite episode in the book, which is really a collection of short stories formed into a novel spanning the couple’s lives, was “The Battle of Finney’s Ford.” It revolves around perhaps the most irresistible event in Hoosier history: Morgan’s Raid. Despite his pacifist Quaker beliefs, the Birdwells’ son Josh makes up his mind to join the Home Guard, along with a friend, and defend the town of Vernon.

“They rode into Vernon together; a roan, and a claybank, two rawboned farm boys: Ben Whitey, a born fighter, and Josh, who was trying to do his duty….To come here with loaded guns had been an act of faith and now their faith was justified. Morgan was true; he existed; he was killing and looting; he would be here at any hour.”

The Friendly Persuasion was the third in my self-selected series of Books I Should Have Read Before Now, and, like the others, this book made me glad I finally got around to it. The Indiana Humanities Council has 32 copies of this title available for loan to book clubs through its Novel Conversations program.


Book cover courtesy:Houghton Mifflin Trade and Reference Division – Distinguished book publishing since 1832. Thank you for visiting!

Posted In: Miscellaneous

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *