Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Historical Omniscience

Write 700 words about an event set well in the past, twenty or one hundred years ago. Write from above, as if by means of researched opinion (but doing little actual research). Write about several historical characters or an interesting event, imagining any POV. All fiction is historical fiction in the sense that we write about what we knew prior to beginning our stories and novels.
(from prompt #9 in The 3 AM Epiphany)
Read my response:

Travelers had a certain tenacity to them, and yet a certain glamour as well. Their mere presence implied value, not of delicate bone China, but the intrinsic kind, like a solid leather trunk. Travel for leisure, so recently a concept, still required some strength and durability in its participants. And money, of course, but more than that, at least for women. Arriving by train, women dressed more practically than in their daily life. A little girl passing by a train station hardly ever took a second glance at these unfettered women, except for those few girls who had great stores of curiosity, those who noticed exceptions rather than rules. Hats covered heads, rather than decorated them, and gloves protected from the unknown, rather than keeping palms in a state of unknown.

For Martha, traveling was a way of life, and clothes had always been a practical matter. When she was younger she sought out books instead of fashion clippings, and explored with her brothers instead of knitting with her mother. The tenacity of a traveler was innate in Martha, but the glamour was acquired, slowly, as a result of her grit and her journeys more than any learned appreciation for personal style. Even when Martha went to Europe—which, except for during the War, was still regarded more as a shopping port than a haven for the artistic and literary expats, numerous though they were—she was unaffected by the markets. She rarely thought of material items, and in her presence, it was hard for others to think about anything other than her words, which were of far away places on the earthly plane and of the nearness of the spiritual world.

By the time Martha met with the Queen of Romania, she held all the dignity of royalty, without the aid of embellishments or stylish accessories. Martha, while not the sort to command attention, held it. Those who encountered Martha en route to a teaching location, be it Australia or Austria, South Africa or South America, nearly always walked away with similar expression: that of rapt attention and a glowing, almost ludicrous smile.

Meanwhile, Queen Marie had never not known glamour, and grew up as celebrated as a jewel. When she met Martha Root, Marie had already survived a scandalous youth and had come into her own as the face of Romania, the Soldier Queen, and she held control as easily as a crown rests on a head. The difficulty for Marie, striking as she was, wasn’t in getting attention, but in having her attention kept. The Queen had less of the wanderlust that pushed Martha further and further from known comforts, and Martha traveled with, and out of, love for her cause. Instead the Queen was restless internally. By volunteering as a nurse for the Red Cross and orchestrating an intelligent and effective defense against the invading Russians, Marie had employed physical and political efforts to lessen the carnage of the War, but for all that she did, as much as she would end up being celebrated, the destruction that had occurred worldwide left Marie, privately, with a broken view, and she felt deeply the moribund spirit that lingered long after the dead were buried. Like many, Marie yearned for something to revive her soul, and this is where Martha found her.

The two women, one the child of an American dairy farmer and the other with a lineage memorized by British schoolchildren, met in the Queen’s palace after brief correspondence. Martha had begun sending books and earnestly written letters to various ruling figures, eventually even the Emperor of Japan and the Shah of Persia. Marie responded emotionally immediately, and then she responded literally. The Queen felt a connection to Martha. Marie was just under fifty and Martha was just over, and both felt the weight of their years without letting it slow them down; though they died within a year of each other, over ten years later, both continued to travel and teach and lead with ever increasing fervor. Martha helped Marie to embrace a spirituality that the Queen had long suspected within herself but hadn’t known how to grasp. And Marie, as the first monarch to share the faith Martha taught, increased Martha’s sphere of influence and helped to publicize a burgeoning religion.

The fashion of the time, for Martha and for the Queen, left a great deal to the imagination; necklines were high and hemlines were low. Martha, when she traveled, met women whose breasts were on full display and women whose faces and bodies were veiled. As a little girl this had been of no interest to her, and as an adult women, it was indicative of nothing. Women’s clothing revealed where they came from but had nothing to do with where they were going or what was contained underneath. Martha knew this as a child, when she looked out her world for what wasn’t there instead of what was, and as she traveled this was her lesson for anyone who saw her, trunk in one hand and China in the other.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds very authentic! Could tell you were a good BS'er in college :)


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