Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Author Guest Post: Taylor M. Polites

The Rebel Wife
By: Taylor M. Polites
Pub. Date: February 7, 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Set in Reconstruction Alabama, Augusta “Gus” Branson's is a young widow whose quest for freedom turns into a race for her life when her husband Eli dies of a swift and horrifying fever and a large package of money – her only inheritance and means of survival – goes missing. Gus begins to wake to the realities that surround her: the social stigma her marriage has stained her with, what her husband did to earn his fortune, the shifting and very dangerous political and social landscape that is being destroyed by violence between the Klan and the Freeman's Bureau, and the deadly fever that is spreading like wildfire. Nothing is as she believed, everyone she trusts is hiding something from her. 

Today I have author Taylor M. Polites discussing the strengths and fears of the female heroines that has helped shape his main character, Augusta in his novel, The Rebel Wife.

In my novel The Rebel Wife, Augusta Branson narrates the story and changes in its telling.  She is a strong woman at her core, but has to wake up and look around her to really activate that strength.  That female strength has always been something that drew me to fiction from the first time I read Gone With the Wind when I was in seventh grade.  That Scarlett really turned my head!  And the books I remember the best, that I enjoyed the most, had equally strong-minded and willful women in them.  Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, Lily Bart in The House of Mirth, Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina.  Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair and even her friend, the very good Amelia Sedley.  Lizzie Eustace in Trollope’s The Eustace Diamonds and Isabel Archer in Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady.  I could go on and on (but I bet you guessed that already).  Tragic or triumphant, these women captivated me.

But there were Southern women, too, most of them real, who were equally important in helping me find the character of Augusta.  First and foremost, the incomparable Mary Chesnut, revealed through C. Vann Woodward’s painstaking and detailed reconstruction of her diaries.  She was smart and ambitious, but frustrated by the constraints of the masculine world she inhabited.  She made confessions of her disgust with slavery (although that never made her a civil rights activist) and told anecdotes that revealed much about how she dealt with a woman’s sense of servitude.  In particular, there was a story that affected me much and that I used in The Rebel Wife.  One night, Judge Wigfall was visiting the Chesnuts in wartime Richmond.  The judge stayed very late and Mary’s husband, James, pulled her aside, scolding her severely for keeping him talking—about politics, no less!  Mary said she could only laugh to the point of tears.  It was impossible for her to argue with him, yet as hostess, her obligation was to entertain—and doubtless she enjoyed sparring with Wigfall.  She was caught either way and compelled to submit to her husband with no words, only her laughter and tears to protest her situation.

Moments like that reveal both the strength and frustration of women at that time—and these were women of privilege.  Kate Fearn, daughter of a wealthy Huntsville, Alabama family and married into another prominent family, wrote tender, honest and passionate letters to her husband, Matt Steele.  They, too, reveal much about women’s lives in the nineteenth century, their strength and challenges.  When Kate’s sister-in-law, Sallie Winter, miscarries in 1854, Kate and her mother-in-law stay up with her all night as Sallie’s pains increase.  Finally, the doctor is sent for, who gives her “laudanum injections” and “morphine internally” and finally “concluded to bring the thing on as speedily as possible.”  After the ordeal, Kate wrote that Sallie said “that she would not care if she could not see Mr. Winter again for six months, and that she does think men are so selfish to bring such pain on their wives, for a little pleasure to themselves.  She much dreads the idea of getting so again, when he returns.”  Complications from pregnancy and childbirth killed many women.  Kate’s letters are filled not only with discussions of pregnancy, but the health of everyone.  People were haunted by all kinds of predatory illnesses.  The presence or absence of illness and its type was constantly discussed in detail.

These strengths and fears are at the core of the female heroine, real and imagined, and are a major part of my heroine, Augusta.

Thank you so much Taylor for stopping by my blog today! The Rebel Wife sounds amazing and I can not wait to get started on it!

Taylor M. Polites is a novelist living in Providence, Rhode Island with his small Chihuahua, Clovis. Polites’ first novel, The Rebel Wife, is due out in February 2012 from Simon & Schuster. He graduated in June 2010 with his MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. He has lived in Provincetown, Massachusetts, New York City, St. Louis and the Deep South. He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a BA in History and French and spent a year studying in Caen, France. He has covered arts and news for a variety of local newspapers and magazines, including the Cape Codder, InNewsWeekly, Bird’s Eye View (the in-flight magazine of CapeAir), artscope Magazine and Provincetown Arts Magazine.

Buy The Rebel Wife: AmazonBarnes & Noble and Powells


  1. Thank you so much for hosting me today! Looking forward to hearing what you think of The Rebel Wife!!

  2. I think as we go about our day with our many conveniences, we forget how hard life was 150 years ago. Great post!

  3. Thanks a million, Kristina, for hosting Taylor today. I love how Augusta was based on real life Southern women as well as fictional favorites like Scarlett O'Hara. The amount of research that Taylor did before writing this book is very impressive.


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