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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Finishing Up a Fun Week on HF, the Final Exam

So fellow seminarians, we’ve had — and I hope continue to have — a lively discussion. So for your final assay (consideration) and essay (if you want to write about it) here are a couple of extracts from the Pulitzer Prize winning historical novel March by Geraldine Brooks (which, by coincidence, Marina was reading just as I was posting about HF). I suspect that some high school teachers are already using this with their classes, and they should. After all many young people know the shadow he cast already — by reading Little Women.

Washington DC in 1862
"And all that rises from the slough is ramshackle or unfinished, so that it looks already ruined. We passed the obelisk meant to honor the father of the natin. It rises like a broken pencil, no one-third built, and beneath it he dressed stones piled here and there, grass grown all around…..It came to me that if the fortunes of war do not turn, then maybe the city is destined to be no more this this: ruins, merely, sinking back into the swamp; the shards of an optimistic moment when a few dreamers believed you could build a nation upon ideas such as liberty and equality." 
So friends, does this achieve hallucination for you or does it fail to cast a spell of the vivid past? Why, why not? Which parts work, or don’t work?

Very late in the book
"Go home, Mrs. March," she said. Then her voice softened. "If you sincerely want to help us, go back to Concord and work with your own people. Write sermons that will prepare your neighbors to accept a world where black and white may one day stand as equals."
How does this read, how does it stand in the grid of presence and distance? How does it fit with our discussions of reading and utility and critical thinking? And friends if you feel, entirely correctly, that you cannot answer by reading snippets but must rush out and read the book — again you should.


  1. Yes! Achieves hallucination. Instantly for me. Rising from the slough…grass grown all around. love it.

  2. Mary, thanks for breaking the ice.

  3. Vicky Alvear Shecter says:

    See, it’s the words “Final Exam” in the headline that paralyzes. And yup, Marc, I’m going to have run out and “get me” that book as we say here in the South (Atlanta). I get so caught up in reading about other periods, I somehow missed this one. In answer to your questions, absolutely, the writing had me “hallucinating” the scene. Not so sure about the second question because I grew intensely curious about Mrs. March’s response. Well, I guess that means it did, in some sense, engage me in the “utility” of the question–i.e., how will she respond versus how I might respond and/or how I would WANT her to respond… This has been a very enjoyable seminar/series!

  4. Thanks Vicky, enjoyed your contributions