No Same, No Fear
Forged in the Fire
Ann Turnbull’s trilogy, featuring Susanna and William, begins in Shropshire, England in 1662; takes us through the plague and the Great Fire of London in the second book; and ends with Friends beginning new lives Pennsylvania, in 1684. These stories trace the lives of two Quakers, teenagers at the beginning of the first book, No Shame, No Fear. William is not a Friend in the beginning; but becomes convinced early on. It is his attraction to Susanna that spurs his interest. He begins to attend Meeting for Worship and to learn Friends’ way of living and gradually comes to the decision to commit himself to a Quaker life. The first book is the story of his convincement, so strong that he defies his father, thus losing a considerable inheritance; and of the growing love between him and Susanna.
In the second book, Forged in the Fire, William has gone to London to work and save money so that he can marry Susanna. The life of Friends in London is richly detailed, including imprisonment under stark, gruelling conditions. Much of the story is told in their letters to each other. But eventually Susanna cannot stand being away from William, and she sets off on her own to find him– an extraordinary act for a young woman in 1664. She arrives in London shortly before the fire, and the account of their escape from the fire forms a fascinating and frightening section of the narrative.
Seeking Eden, Susanna and William leave England with their family, their son, Josiah, now an adult and ready to begin life in business and their daughter not much younger. Pennsylvania, founded by Friend William Penn, holds delicious promise of a life led by Friends’ principles, with opportunity for work and comfortable life, surrounded by and living with a community of Quakers. And the promise seems to be delivered from the moment of their ship’s arrival. But a serpent is waiting, and Josiah is shaken to the very foundation of his beliefs when he realizes that Quakers participate in the slave trade.-
Turnbull does not prettify the lives of Friends in the 17th century. She paints a vivid picture of the persecution, incarceration, beatings, unrestrained public bullying and intensity of the drive to destroy the Religious Society of Friends. The detail about early Friends’ convictions, customs and perseverance is humbling; their suffering is heart-rending, and their courage in the face of, literally, the entire force of the monarchy is inspiring. The books are marketed as “young adult” reading; but they are beautifully written and carefully plotted. I enjoyed them immensely. These books are an enjoyable way to learn a little bit about the early history of the Religious Society of Friends.
Irene Allen writes detective novels in the great tradition of Miss Marple, Miss Silver, Kate Fansler and other great amateur “lady detectives.” The twist is that Ms. Allen’s detective, Elizabeth Elliot, is also the Clerk of a Friends Meeting in Cambridge, Massachusettes. Intricately and beautifully plotted, with enough red herrings to satisfy even the most experienced mystery reader, these novels are a good read for the detecting alone.
But the twist adds a wry and honest peek into the workings of a Quaker meeting; not shying away from the personality conflicts, vast differences of belief and principles within a meeting; and the Clerk’s delicate work in the subtle process that leads to a Sense of the Meeting. All of this is woven into the plot seamlessly, with obvious first-hand knowledge of how meetings work and a good sense of humour about Quaker quirks. These books are fun to read if you’re already a Quaker: I found myself nodding and even laughing as our “types” showed up at Meeting for Business. And if you’re not already a Quaker, these books are a delightful way to get some insight into meeting processes.
My favourite quote from Elizabeth Elliot, clerk of the meeting: Orderly discussion of a problem is positively un-Quakerly.