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Fanny and Joshua: The Enigmatic Lives of Frances Caroline Adams and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain by Diane Monroe Smith

For someone who doesn't read non fiction, I've been reading an awful lot of it lately.  For whatever reason, it seems non fiction has been capturing and holding my attention better than fiction has been.  I can't remember if I read this before or after The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (to be reviewed in an upcoming post), but it's getting its post first.

Fanny and Joshua: The Enigmatic Lives of Frances Caroline Adams and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is a very long title.  An aside: as a longtime 'name nerd,' I have to say that I love the name Frances Caroline.

Joshua Chamberlain was a seminary graduate and professor who felt called to serve his country during her hour(s) of greatest need: the American Civil War.  His military service was distinguished.  Some say that he single-handedly changed the tide of the war at the Battle of Gettysburg where he led his Maine regiment in a brave and dangerous charge against a Confederate regiment as it threatened to overrun the position of his own soldiers.

However, this book doesn't focus on Chamberlain's storied military career or his service in the Civil War (by the end of which he had reached the rank of a brevetted general).  Instead the focus is more personal and intimate: it's the story of the marriage and love between Chamberlain and his wife, Fanny.  It begins by detailing Chamberlain's and Fanny's early biographies and moves on to recounting their fraught courtship and lengthy engagement and later the challenges they faced in their marriage during his military service and afterwards in the wake of a debilitating war injury that plagued him the rest of his life.

Relying heavily on letters (one of the downfalls of the book for me; the excerpts in some cases were very long and eventually I resorted to skimming them rather than reading them in their entirety), the book relates a fascinating tale as it tries to illuminate both a marriage and a woman that the author says were commonly misinterpreted by other scholars.  In some instances there were gaps in the story that made it difficult to follow certain developments in the life of the marriage and the couple's immediate and extended families.

This book is available to borrow from the library.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie


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