Carlisle, Elizabeth Pendergast
CARLISLE, Elizabeth Pendergast
ADDRESSES: Agent—Victoria Sanders and Associates, LLC, 241 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 11-H, New York, NY 10014.
Earthbound and Heavenbent: The Life of ElizabethPorter Phelps and Life at Forty Acres, (1747-1817), Scribner (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: In the tradition of Joy and Richard Buell's The Way of Duty, about Mary Fish, and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's A Midwife's Tale, about Martha Ballard, Elizabeth Pendergast Carlisle has reconstructed the life of a pioneer woman in Earthbound and Heavenbent: The Life of Elizabeth Porter Phelps and Life at Forty Acres (1747-1817). According to Martha Saxton, who discussed the title in the Women's Review of Books, "It requires a resourceful researcher like Elizabeth Carlisle to reclaim a coherent life story from the ravages of traditional female modesty and sexist evaluations of historical evidence." Fortunately for readers, Carlisle had both Phelps's modest daily diary, which may have been written as a historical record for the community, and a selection of letters to a trusted correspondent to fill in some of the emotion lacking in the diary. In an era before industrialization overtook cottage industry, Phelps wrote about home production of such products as soap, candles, bedding, clothing, and foodstuffs. She also wrote about the death of her father in the French and Indian War and her mother's subsequent addiction to opium. Throughout her life Phelps reflected on her religious beliefs and their impact on her personal well being and her overall activities at Forty Acres, which she managed with her husband, Charles.
Earthbound and Heavenbent elicited varied responses from critics. While a Kirkus Reviews contributor thought it might "inspire forty winks" because it "never ignites or surprises," Saxton wrote that the book "supplies a valuable and complex female perspective on the Revolutionary and Early National era, on women's contribution to the growing prosperity of the elite, and on the special utility for women of both Puritanism and literacy." Booklist reviewer Margaret Flanagan also found Earthbound and Heavenbent a captivating read, calling it a "riveting chronicle." "Carlisle has produced a well-drawn account of Elizabeth Phelps's life, rewarding to specialists and nonspecialists alike," concluded Saxton.
Carlisle told CA: "One might ask what inspired me to write a book at this late age—writing has always been important to me. I grew up in a family of voracious readers, unpublished writers, and an older sister who did publish. I read and commented on her manuscripts beginning at an early age. I never found writing to be an unwanted labor, but teaching absorbed my attention and left little time for an ambitious writing project until I retired. Until then, letters, diaries, an occasional poem, and a few journal articles provided me with an outlet for creative urges. And now I find writing to be a vital occupation in its demand for attention, concentration, and focus. It is also a joy."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 1, 2004, Margaret Flanagan, review of Earthbound and Heavenbent: The Life of Elizabeth Porter Phelps and Life at Forty Acres, (1747-1817), p. 943.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2003, review of Earthbound and Heavenbent, pp. 1432-1433.
Publishers Weekly, January 12, 2004, review of Earthbound and Heavenbent, p. 45.
Women's Review of Books, June, 2004, Martha Saxton, review of Earthbound and Heavenbent, p. 10.