Book Beginnings Friday: Know Nothing by Mary Lee Settle

Uncle Telemachus told about water and women, how they sank a man, weak soft, tears and water, rot and win. He said so. He said, “Ifn the river don’t git ye, a woman will…”

Alright, alright. That’s three lines. But those last two were just too good to pass up.

That’s the first three lines from Mary Lee Settle’s Know Nothing, which I am re-reading after several years. It’s even better this time around, I do believe.

Here’s the synopsis, courtesy of Google Books:

Set in the decades preceding the Civil War, this third volume of The Beulah Quintet – Mary Lee Settle’s unforgettable generational saga about the roots of American culture, class, and identity and the meaning of freedom – tells the tragic tale of Peregrine Catlett and his second son, Johnny. The year 1837 brings a host of perils to the verdant Virginia valley where Peregrine, a third-generation American, is the owner of Beulah. Amid financial panic, debate over the abolition of slavery, and mounting tension between North and South, Peregrine considers freeing his slaves but believes that, with his children scattered, his only hope of retaining his livelihood rests on the use of slave labor. Tied to the land by a special bond, Johnny returns to his father’s farm but stays only until the outbreak of hostilities. As a Confederate soldier, Johnny is aware of the tragedy to come. But family ties outweigh convictions, and he ends up fighting in the war with disastrous results.

A little about the Beulah Quintet — it is a series of five novels that includes (in order) Prisons, O Beulah Land, Know Nothing, The Scapegoat and The Killing Ground. Saga is a better term for the Beulah books, which follow a sprawling West Virginia family from the English Civil Wars, through the American Revolution and the Civil War up to the miners’ strikes in 20th Century West Virginia coalfields.

Know Nothing is gorgeous, literary historical fiction, with an emphasis on literary; while her reputation has diminished in the past few years, Settle is recognized as one of the best American writers of the mid-century period.

Each book of the Beulah Quintet stands alone, by the way, so there’s no need to worry about jumping in in the middle of something if you’re interested in Know Nothing.

Know Nothing

Mary Lee Settle

Univ of South Carolina Press, 1960

So – what are you reading?

And thanks to the Rose City Reader for coming up with this great Friday idea!


4 Responses to “Book Beginnings Friday: Know Nothing by Mary Lee Settle”

  1. Another new book. Thanks for sharing. Here is my post:
    Book Beginnings

  2. Just the uncle’s name alone has a captivating, “other wordly” ring! Instantly i thought of Greek legend and the Telemachus who was son of Odysseus, the wanderer! Interesting beginning!

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