Part of Elswyth Thane’s Williamsburg series, 1943 – 1952, American Historical
Reissue information: Buccaneer Books, $31.95, ISBN 1568492294
The Book that Inspired Me to be a Writer
You don’t so much read The Williamsburg Series aka “The Women of Williamsburg” as become a member of the family – the extended Day-Sprague-Campion family. The books follow family members through almost every significant event between the Revolutionary War and World War II. They are a kinder, gentler, and infinitely more romantic series of books that preceded the wildly popular John Jakes’s Kent Family Chronicles by about thirty years.
My sophomore English teacher recommended Elswyth Thane’s books to me. One day after having read my stories for most of a semester, she took me aside and said, “Dear, I think this is an author you would really enjoy.” I took her suggestion and chose as my first Thane the book Yankee Stranger because I had just seen Gone With the Wind and was positively obsessed with the Civil War. . . .
On the eve of the Civil War, Eden Day encounters Cabot Murray on Duke of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg. As they shelter together from a passing thunderstorm, they fall in love. The obstacles to their future are instantly obvious. Hers is one of the first families of Virginia, and he is a Yankee newspaperman. Their country is about to split apart, and they will be on opposite sides. Yet at the insistence of Tibby Day, the matriarch of the Day family who gets wind of the encounter, Cabot Murray is invited to Tibby’s birthday party.
Cabot is charmed and deeply touched as he meets the rest of this loving extended family, so different from his own. Tibby and Eden are both drawn to the raw loneliness in him, well-disguised by charm and fine manners. Tibby resolves that Eden will have Cabot if she wants him. Before he leaves to cover the story of the coming war for his father’s newspaper, Cabot declares his love, and Eden agrees to wait for him.
After that, Cabot is irrevocably tied to the fates of the Days and the Spragues of Williamsburg. From the firing on Fort Sumter to the surrender at Appomatox, we follow Eden, Cabot, and members of the family through both the bitter-sweet moments and the horrors of war. At the core of the book is the deeply engaging story of a Southern belle and a Northern journalist, but Thane has intertwined their lives with a forbidden love between cousins, the enduring bonds between husband and wife, and a wondrous sense of history.
All the books in the series are like this, centered on one main couple, but with wonderful, romantic side stories. Because Thane (who was the wife of oceanographic explorer Dr. William Beebe) wrote most of the books in the forties, there is unquestionable passion, but no sex. The books also have been out of print for quite some time, but I see that they are being reissued by Buccaneer books. (A name that leads me to believe the series has gone out of copyright.) This is a list of The Williamsburg Series in order:
- Dawn’s Early Light
- Yankee Stranger
- Ever After
- The Light Heart
- Kissing Cousin
- This was Tomorrow
I was afraid that in going back to reread this book after so many years, it would not hold up, that as a writer I would see the holes in it. But the magic was still there – maybe even stronger than ever – because now I understand the nuances of love in ways I did not understand when I was fifteen. I would recommend this book, this series, to anyone of any age.
Re-reading Yankee Stranger was for me like seeing an old boyfriend after many years, and realizing I would always be a little bit in love with him.
These books and Thane’s others inspired me to write because they convinced me that the stories I wanted to tell – stories of love and family and women’s adventures – the kind of stories I am writing now – were legitimate, valid. They showed me that the dreams I was harboring were possible. It was many years before I sold a manuscript, but it was Elswyth Thane and The Williamsburg Series that convinced me to try and helped me to persevere. As a writer it is my hope that somehow, I am doing for other girls what Thane did for me, inspiring them to write the stories in their hearts.
Oh, and about that teacher. . .
Years later, I dedicated my first book to her: “To Clara V. Hill, who knew there was more to teaching literature than Silas Marner.”
— Elizabeth Grayson aka Elizabeth Kary
LLB: This book was indeed reissued; we’ve added reissue information to the top of the page and a link to Amazon at the bottom.
Louise Bergin (email@example.com):
I so enjoyed reading your review about Elswyth Thane’s books. I read them at the end of 1970’s when I finished college. They are wonderful. I spent some of my first paychecks buying copies of her books from used book stores. I also loved the stories of Frances Parkinson Keyes. I, too, would like to write books like this. Do you think the fact that the Thane books are being reissued is a good sign for the romance industry?
Wow! I thought that my sister and I were the only two who had read and loved the Williamsburg series. I too started with Yankee Stranger, because of my then interest in the Civil War. Soon, I gobbled up all of the series.
Marvelous, with a hint of passion. (In Kissing Cousin, Camilla ends up living in France with someone, without being married. Very risque in the 40’s/50’s.
Because I grew to love these books and know their “genealogy” as well as mine (genealogy being one of my passions too!), I got my older sister hooked on them.
In 1979, when I got married, my honeymoon was taken in (you guessed it!) Williamsburg (oh yeah, then a little side trip to Virginia Beach) I walked the streets of the story, and tried to guess which houses had been the models for the Day/Sprague houses. I took loads of pictures. And – I found a Scribner’s bookstore, which sold the whole set of the books in attractive, matched hardbound. In a short time period, I obtained the set (money being tight then), and eventually as Christmas/ Birthday gifts, got my sister the whole set.
The characterizations were superb! What great books. They didn’t need to describe graphic sex to tell the story. Heck, I have an imagination!
Last year, I went to Europe for the first time, and you can bet while I was in the various countries, at times I though of the books and their English/French/German locales.
Run right out and get them. Don’t be put off by lack of sex scenes. These are keeper, keeper, keepers. If I could only take 10 books to a Desert Isle with me, next to the Bible, these 7 would go. (And hoo boy, would I have trouble deciding on the last two!!!!)
I’ve read two of her other books, Tryst, and one on Queen Elizabeth I. Both were excellent. Still, this series was the best!!!
Mary Mason (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I was also introduced to the Williamsburg novels by an English teacher, when I was in 9th grade. I loved them, and read and re-read them endlessly. Then, they seemed to disappear! When my husband and I went to Williamsburg this year for our 25th anniversary, we found the entire set available at the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center gift shop. My husband had bought my a very, very nice diamond solitaire for my anniversary present – and I love it, and him! But then, he turned around and then spent almost as much to buy me the complete set! I love the ring, but the books -now, they’re something special!
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