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Lunch Book Club

Date: September 27, 2021
Time: 12:00 pm


Aunt Jane of Kentucky by Eliza Calvert Hall

“A character who became a Kentucky icon in the early twentieth century, along with Mrs. Wiggs and the Little Colonel, was Aunt Jane, the garrulous old woman who tells stories of olden times in the Pennyrile area of western Kentucky. Writing under her maiden name, Eliza Calvert Hall (she married a Mr. Obenchain) lived all her life in the country she wrote about.” [Wade Hall, The Kentucky Anthology: Two Hundred Years of Writing in the Bluegrass State, Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2005, 184.] The author grew up in Bowling Green, Kentucky and was educated at a prestigious school in Ohio. Her father, Thomas Calvert, was a prosperous businessman whose success permitted him to build a mansion on Vinegar Hill in Bowling Green. When Eliza (called Lida) was still a teenager, he was suspected of embezzling money from the Bank of Kentucky where he held a high position; subsequently, he disappeared for thirteen years. Newly impoverished, the family experienced social embarrassment, with their home property on Vinegar Hill being liquidated. Lida began writing short stories to help support her family. “Aunt Jane”, an elderly widow, relates the experiences of the people in a rural community named Goshen, to a younger woman visitor who conveyed them to the reader. This rhetorical device called a “double narrative,” was a common form of storytelling in the late nineteenth century. [Niedermeier, Lynn E., Eliza Calvert Hall: Kentucky Author and Suffragist. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2007, 120–130.] By way of Aunt Jane and the other characters in her stories, the author voices the difficulties encountered by women of her time with metaphors and symbolism derived from the homey arts of sewing, cooking, and gardening. [Piecing and Reconciling: Eliza Calvert Hall's Aunt Jane of Kentucky. Edited by Melody Graulich. Albany, NY: New College and University Press, 1992.] Aunt Jane of Kentucky is an assemblage of stories about pastoral life permeated with the essence and humor of its aging raconteur, Aunt Jane. While struggling to juggle her writing with the responsibilities of a wife and mother, Mrs. Obenchain joined Laura Clay’s campaign for women’s right to vote. Her imaginative writing celebrated the strength, humor, love, and art of the commonplace woman. President Theodore Roosevelt recommended the book to the American people during a speech, saying, “I cordially recommend the first chapter of Aunt Jane of Kentucky as a tract in all families where the menfolk tend to selfish or thoughtless or overbearing disregard to the rights of their womenfolk.”