A Time to Mourn: 19th Century by Janet Stafford

Today at Layered Pages I am featuring Saint Maggie by Janet Stafford.

Saint Maggie is currently $1.99 for the Kindle ebook, free on Kindle Unlimited and $11.90 in paperback at Amazon

A while back, Janet and I were talking about death in the 19th Century and how important it was to people how one died and how they were mourned during the Victorian era. The Victorians took death serious and rightfully so. Our conversation was so fascinating I wanted to learn more about this subject. I am pleased that Janet has provided passages from her story, “Saint Maggie”, that depicts a little of what we discussed. Below you will read about Janet’s book, entries from the story and view images of the cover, house that reminds Janet of Maggie’s Boarding House, the Locktown Stone Church” in Locktown, NJ (Delaware Township). But it once was known as “The Old School Baptist Church.”, the Delaware River by Lumberton, PA and a woman that reminds Janet of her character Maggie. -Stephanie M. Hopkins 

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About Saint Maggie:

Maggie Blaine, a widow with two teenage daughters, runs a rooming house smack dab on the town square. In 1860 this makes her a social outcast. Boarding houses are only semi-respectable and hers has a collection of eclectic boarders – a failed aging writer, an undertaker’s apprentice, a struggling young lawyer, and an old Irishman. In addition, she has a friendship with Emily and Nate, an African-American couple with whom she shares her home and chores. It is a good thing the town doesn’t know that Maggie, along with Nate, Emily, and Eli Smith (the free-thinking editor of the weekly newspaper) are involved in the Underground Railroad. When she is asked to house handsome, gifted Jeremiah Madison, the new Methodist minister, Maggie hopes that he will both revive the little church she attends and provide her boarding house with a bit of badly-needed respectability. But Jeremiah comes with some dark secrets that challenge Maggie’s resolve to love and respect all people. As the town’s people reel from a series of shocking events, the compassionate, faithful Maggie searches for truth and struggles to forgive and love. (Based on a historical event.)

 Entries from SAINT MAGGIE:

Maggie’s Journal, 7 December 1860

 Patrick McCoy and the undertaker have laid Leah out in the front parlor. She lies, wearing her best silk dress of rose as if she were asleep. But she is not lying in bed. She is lying on a cooling board with ice below.

According to custom, our family has gathered to sit and mourn. Samuel, Abigail, and their two sons have been weeping sedately and properly before the coffin, but I know that beneath the propriety their hearts have been torn to shreds. Jeremiah Madison, too, prays and weeps softly. But beneath his veneer, I know that he also is housing an utterly broken heart. He does love Leah. It is obvious to my eyes now. How could I have doubted his devotion to her? There is nothing left inside him. That is so clear. I find myself struggling with memories of how it had been when John and Gideon died – the empty shock, the complete loss of mooring for my soul. And now I have a dead, empty hole within me from my miscarriage. Why does death leave such hollowness, such nothingness, such aloneness? No words, no actions, nothing can touch the aching solitude.

There is little I can do for my brother and his family and for Mr. Madison but to sit, watch, and pray. I feel weary and battered in spirit.

I have found some comfort, though. The Bible says that the Holy Ghost will intercede when we cannot find words, and, oh, how I cling to that promise and rest in the hope that the Spirit is at work when I am unable to do a blessed thing!

Maggie’s Journal, 9 December 1860

 Leah Beatty Madison was buried in the cemetery behind the Methodist Church this shivery, cloudy day. We sent invitations – funerals are private affairs for mourners only and not for curiosity-seekers – and family and close friends came to hear the Presbyterian minister’s prayers and sermon. Everyone was in black, as is proper. As for me, I will wear black for the next three months. Leah was my niece, and I must go into mourning for her.

The procession was slow and solemn, as the four black-plumed horses drew the hearse toward the cemetery. We all followed quietly on foot. Our eyes were downcast and tear-filled. Eli, Nate, Edgar, Robert Beatty and Joshua Beatty served as pallbearers. The rest of us stood, braced against a cold, sharp wind, as they shifted the coffin from the hearse and carried it to the grave. The bleakness of the weather matched the bleakness of our spirits: a fitting setting for the loss of a life so young and another life unborn.

When the family tossed clods of dirt on the coffin, the finality of the act echoed through us all. I know that in the future we will be comforted by the knowledge that Leah is with her Savior in heaven and that we shall all see her again someday. But now, at this moment, there is only death and cold and damp.

About the Author:

Janet R Stafford

Janet Stafford is a Jersey girl, book lover and lifelong scribbler. She readily confesses to being overly-educated, having received a B.A. in Asian Studies from Seton Hall University, as well as a Master of Divinity degree and a Ph.D. in North American Religion and Culture from Drew University. Having answered a call to vocational, but non-ordained ministry, Janet has served six United Methodist Churches, working in spiritual formation, communications, and ministries with children, youth, and families. She also was an adjunct professor for six years, teaching college classes in interdisciplinary studies and world history.

Writing, history, and religion came together for Janet when she authored Saint Maggie, an historical novel set in 1860-61 and based on a research paper written during her Ph.D. studies. She thought the book would be a single novel, but kept hearing readers ask, “What happens next?” In response, Janet created a series that follows the unconventional family from the first book through three other novels and three short stories, all set in the traumatic years of the American Civil War. Janet also ventured into the contemporary romance genre, going closer to home (the church) for her source material. Heart Soul & Rock ’n’ Roll tells the story of 40-year-old Lindsay Mitchell, who led a rock band in college but for the past fifteen years has worked as an assistant minister. Besieged by mid-life crisis, Lins wonders if perhaps she isn’t called to something new. But could that “something new” be a relationship with Neil, a man with a messy life and a bar band called the Grim Reapers?

Author Website

Layered Pages Interview with Janet

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