In 1855, Lucy Ann Lobdell cut her hair, donned her brother’s clothing, and ran away from her home in southern New York to live the rest of her life as a man. Her travels took her down the Erie Canal to Pennsylvania, to the western frontier in Minnesota, and back east again, where she found love with a fellow runaway named Marie. During her lifetime, Lucy, who went by Joseph, professed a desire to write a memoir of her life; now, more than 150 years later, William Klaber has taken on the task she wasn’t able to complete. The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell is the fictionalized memoir of her life, which paints an empathetic, richly imagined portrait of an extraordinary woman.
I really loved this book, and here are five reasons why:
1. I loved that this novel takes the known facts of a woman’s life and fills in the gaps to create a fully-realized person. The tale of a woman living her life as a man in the 19th century is a fascinating concept in itself, but knowing that Lucy was a real person adds a real gravitas to her story. I couldn’t put this book down, but the Afterword just about broke my heart.
2. There’s a beautiful love story. I’m not usually one for romance, but watching Lucy fall in love, first with a dance student named Lydia, and then with Marie at the almshouse where she and Lucy washed up years later, was really lovely and tender.
3. The story follows Lucy across the country. Klaber takes the reader down the Erie Canal (complete with bawdy canal songs) and to pre-statehood Minnesota, where she spends a winter guarding a property and then stakes her own claim. It is fascinating to see America at this point in its history, when pioneers were filled with the hope of future riches and fear of their Indian neighbors.
4. The novel offers a fascinating perspective on sexuality at a time when there was no language to describe women who dressed as men and loved other women. We see Lucy struggle with a sexuality that is deemed unnatural and fight to defend herself against those who see her attire as maliciously deceptive. It’s impossible not to ache for her.
5. Rebellious women! If you’ve hung around here for a while, you know ladies breaking the rules is kind of my jam. Lucy isn’t the only woman in this novel who defies the standards set for her, and it is so refreshing to see women rebelling against the social attitudes of the time.
The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell is a fantastic, vivid portrait of a woman who chose to embrace her true self, regardless of the hardships it brought upon her, rather than suffocate under the restrictions placed on women in the 1800s. She has become one of my favorite characters in literature (and history!), and I won’t be forgetting about her any time soon.
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