Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Reading with Grace Hogg

It should come as no surprise that Grace Hogg (abt. 1777-1853), wife of Thomas Sutherland, was a keen reader, given the earlier described habits of the colony. According to a story passed down in the family, Grace was staying with her daughter (Thomas-Ann) and had assumed responsibility for the grandchildren for the day:

“She gave them their breakfast and sent them off to school. Then she sat down on a hassock beside the hearth to brush back the ashes. Beside her was a book she had been reading, she picked it up for just a minute. When the children came running in she chided them for not going to school. They had quite a time convincing her that it was noon, they were home for lunch. She had read through the morning and there were the breakfast dishes still on the table. The ability or fault to lose ones self in a book has come down through the generations.”

As someone equally capable of becoming absorbed in a book, I appreciate the precedent. What intrigues me, however, is that the behavior exhibited by Grace—the wife of a church founder—is exactly that the American Tract Society cautioned women against; namely, throughout the nineteenth century women were warned against novel reading by the pulpit and religious press, as it would prevent them from focusing their energies on the maintenance of their families and households (for examples, see especially Tracts 493, “Beware of Bad Books” and 515, “Novel-Reading”). That the family placed so much importance on books, especially novels, actually tells us a great deal about the kind of Christians they were in their historical moment: respectably devout, but not evangelical.

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