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Charity and Sylvia

Narrated by: Kristin Kalbli
Length: 10 hrs and 55 mins
4 out of 5 stars (129 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Conventional wisdom holds that same-sex marriage is a purely modern innovation, a concept born of an overtly modern lifestyle that was unheard of in 19th-century America. But as Rachel Hope Cleves demonstrates in this eye-opening book, same-sex marriage is hardly new. Born in 1777, Charity Bryant was raised in Massachusetts. A brilliant and strong-willed woman with a clear attraction for her own sex, Charity found herself banished from her family home at age 20. She spent the next decade of her life traveling throughout Massachusetts, working as a teacher, making intimate female friends, and becoming the subject of gossip wherever she lived.

At age 29, still defiantly single, Charity visited friends in Weybridge, Vermont. There she met a pious and studious young woman named Sylvia Drake. The two soon became so inseparable that Charity decided to rent rooms in Weybridge. In 1809, they moved into their own home together, and over the years, came to be recognized, essentially, as a married couple. Revered by their community, Charity and Sylvia operated a tailor shop employing many local women, served as guiding lights within their church, and participated in raising their many nieces and nephews. Charity and Sylvia is the intimate history of their extraordinary 40-four year union. Drawing on an array of original documents including diaries, letters, and poetry, Cleves traces their lives in sharp detail. Providing an illuminating glimpse into a relationship that turns conventional notions of same-sex marriage on their head, and reveals early America to be a place both more diverse and more accommodating than modern society might imagine, Charity and Sylvia is a significant contribution to our limited knowledge of LGBT history in early America.

©2014 Oxford University Press (P)2014 Audible Inc.

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Fascinating story!

Readers who enjoy Early American History will appreciate this story of Charity and Sylvia. These two women chose to live a life that might seem quite radical for their time, and yet were respectable members of their small community. Working hard to maintain an independent life, they built a business and home together that welcomed their many nieces, nephews, friends, and relatives to dine and fellowship with them. Rachel Hope Cleves sheds light on this touching story that challenges some strongly-held notions of early 19th century America regarding marriage, and the acceptance of same sex relationships between women in a rural New England town.

44 of 51 people found this review helpful

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An Important Part of History

Books about the history of love between women are very important to me. This one did not disappoint! I did not know about this couple prior to reading this book and I appreciate the in depth details.

38 of 47 people found this review helpful

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Too much redundancy.

I lost interest at about 70% through. There was too much repetition. Because the nature of the subject was forbidden love, the historical record is incomplete. Many letters were burned. What remains is heavily coded. There is interesting information about same sex partnerships in the late 1700s and early 1800s, but we cannot get into the heads of Sylvia and Charity. We can only speculate.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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good history book - only the facts

Great subject - but no life. I don't know if the reader was bad - or if she was hampered by such a dry history. If what you're looking for is just facts - this book's for you...

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Intimate picture of female lives in the North East

This is a book which I think is best in audio format. It is well read. I learned a great deal about two women, and the times in which they lived. It is a real eye-opener for both history and the lives of women in general in that time.

19 of 25 people found this review helpful

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Nice to see the women represented!

If only there were stories like this when I was coming of age, but I am thankful this story was written. It's a critically important story that needed to be told.

9 of 12 people found this review helpful

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Cleves digs deep and turns up treasure

If you liked Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's "A Midwife's Tale" you'll appreciate this demonstration of the historian's art as well. The author has reconstructed the lives of two New England women who were a devoted couple for over 40 years in the early 19th century. Charity and Sylvia somehow managed to navigate the shoal waters of disapproval that threatened women of their time who lived outside of social conventions. They were valued members of their families and community, and even their congregationalist church. The choices they made (and the choices made by those around them) that made them respected (even revered), rather than ostracized are fascinating, and Rachel Hope Cleves brings a tremendous amount of detail to the story.

This is a well-written deep dive into not-so-ordinary people's lives.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Amazing and important!

Important, informative and a must-read! Lesbian and women's studies. Great research and writing. Great presentation.

9 of 13 people found this review helpful

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Story line is like a book report

Very disappointed. The subject matter and characters could have made an excellent book. Sorry I spent the money on this book.

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Could have been half the length

This was an interesting story, but the author circled back to the same details so many times, and spent so much time defending the assumption that Charity and Sylvia were sexually intimate, that it became truly laborious to finish the book.