Fair and Tender Ladies

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"This is about a moving a work of literature as has ever been written." ANNIE DILLARD
The story of Ivy Rowe, spanning almost a century in the Virginia backwoods, is told completely through the letters that Ivy never stops writing over the course of her long and varied life. A remarkable portrait of a time, a place, and a person.

The acclaimed author of Oral History now relates the life and times of a unique Appalachian woman. Ivy ...

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Overview

"This is about a moving a work of literature as has ever been written." ANNIE DILLARD
The story of Ivy Rowe, spanning almost a century in the Virginia backwoods, is told completely through the letters that Ivy never stops writing over the course of her long and varied life. A remarkable portrait of a time, a place, and a person.

The acclaimed author of Oral History now relates the life and times of a unique Appalachian woman. Ivy Rowe tells the story of her life in the rustic beauty of the mountains through very touching yet humorous letters she writes to family and friends.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Readers will be thoroughly captivated by Ivy Rowe, the narrator of this epistolary novel, and will come to the end of her story with a pang of regret. Smith ( Oral History , Family Linen ) has produced her best work here, creating a fully rounded heroine and other vivid characters who inhabit Virginia's Appalachia region. The letters begin around the turn of the century when Ivy is a child living with eight siblings on the family farm on Blue Star Mountain. Written with quaint misspellings and in the vernacular of Southern speech, the missives reflect the harsh poverty of farm life, as well as the simple beauties of the land: ``This is the taste of spring,'' her father tells Ivy, and she never forgets it, even when the family must move to the boom town of Majestic after her father's death. Ivy's talent as a budding writer is recognized early on, but just as she is about to realize her dream of going North to school, she is betrayed by her passionate nature. Though pregnant and ``ruint,'' she marries a childhood friend who takes her back to the family homestead, where she bears several children and endures the endless toil of a farmer's wife. Just when life seems drearily predictable, she succumbs in middle age to an irresistible passion that brings tragic consequences. Ivy is a woman of bewitching appeal and endearing faults: bright, with a poet's eye and soul; spunky, impetuous, sensual and proud. Following her heroine over seven decades, Smith conveys the changing conditions of life in Appalachia, during which time, as Ivy laments, ``everybody has took everything out of herefirst the trees, then the coal, then the children.'' In the old tradition of oral storytelling, Smith has fashioned a dramatic, magical, poignantly true-to-life tale. Literary Guild selection. (September)
Library Journal
This haunting epistolary novel captures the heartbreaking beauty of Appalachia through the voice of an engaging narrator: feisty Ivy Rowe, a born storyteller growing up on a pre-World War I farm. Poverty and early motherhood destroy her dream of writing professionally, but write she does, scores of letters from girlhood until death. In her descriptions of ``Whitebear Whittington,'' tempestuous Depression-era coal camps, proud ``holler'' communities, and most of all the colorful Rowe clan of Sugar Fork, Virginia, Ivy brings her beloved home country and its lore to dramatic life. Her sassy, clearheaded reports blend unforgettably with her almost mystical passions as she pieces together the vivid quilt of her life. Smith's best work yet; highly recommended. Starr E. Smith, Georgetown Univ. Lib., Washington, D.C.
School Library Journal
YA-- Ivy Rowe, Virginia mountain girl, then mother, wife, and finally, ``Mamaw,'' writes letters ``to hold on to what is passing.'' Her story tumbles out in words that are colloquial and sometimes misspelled as she pens letters to her family and friends throughout her long life. Although her attendance at school is sparse, the teachers encourage her, believing that she is exceptionally gifted in language. As a teenager, she thinks that she does not want to have children ``as they will brake your hart.'' But have them she does, a process which makes her ``bones screech,'' but she comes to see that ``children swell up your heart.'' She learns the difference between lust, ``a fiery hand in the vitals'' (as in Jane Eyre, a book to which she often refers), and love, which she finds with her husband Oakley. Readers will savor many passages of this novel. On the electrification of Bethel Mountain (``a lovely lady's necklace laid out''), or the invention of birth control pills (``the greatest thing since drip dry''), and many other matters, Ivy writes with a verve and immediacy which prove that her creator, Lee Smith, is a storyteller supreme.-- Keddy Outlaw, Harris County Public Library, Houston
Library Journal
In the remarkable Ivy Rowe, Smith has conjured a character that chronicles 70 years of life centered in the Appalachian region of Virginia through letters written to family and friends. Born on a farm at the turn of the 20th century, Ivy has the heart and eye of a poet even though her life path follows a far more prosaic course. A mother before she wished to become one, she is soon tied to the land as a farmer’s wife, and other dreams are put away. Regardless of her fate, and she is witness to tragedy and great change in her own life and her wider circle, Ivy remains undaunted, writing letters that reflect her daily life, love of the landscape around her, and deep connections to family. By recording her life and those of others in her letters, and by filling those letters with a beautifully realized sense of time and place, Ivy becomes a storyteller and poet after all.

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345362087
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/28/1989
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: FIRST/REPRINT
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.88 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Lee Smith
Lee Smith was born in Grundy, Virginia. She is the author of ten novels and four story collections.
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Foreword

1. Fair and Tender Ladies is an epistolary novel, told through a series of letters from Ivy Rowe to those around her. How is this an effective narrative technique? How would the story be different if it were conducted as a conventional narrative, even from Ivy’s point of view?

2) By her own admission, Ivy is an insatiable letter writer. What about her personality compels her to write letters? How are Ivy’s letters a form of oral storytelling? Does she have other outlets to express her feelings? What are they?

3) Why doesn’t the author, Lee Smith, include any of the letters that others write to Ivy? How important are those to her? How would the book have taken a different shape if the letters of others had been included?

4) How do Ivy’s first letters to Mrs. Brown and to Hanneke provide an introduction to her family and to her life in Sugar Loaf? How do they convey the culture of Appalachia, both in their content and in the style of writing? In your opinion, why doesn’t Ivy write anything other than letters?

5) Ivy's teachers have a profound effect on her life. How does her first teacher, Mrs. Brown, hope to influence Ivy’s life? What potential does she see in Ivy? How does the life of her niece, Molly, compare to Ivy’s existence? What do the two girls learn from one another? How do Revel’s actions effectively cast the Browns from Ivy’s life? What impact does this have on her?

6) Ivy’s father refuses Mr. Brown’s help, saying “We will not be beholden.” How does this theme of indebtedness to others thread throughout the book? To whom does Ivy feel beholden? Howdoes this sentiment affect her actions?

7) How is Ivy’s father presented in the beginning of the novel? What was he like while he was healthy? How does his illness and death throw the family into disarray? How does Ivy’s mother change as a result of his death?

8) Why does Ivy’s family ultimately decide to leave Sugar Loaf? What are Ivy’s feelings about moving to Majestic? What aspects of the town does Ivy like, and in which ways does she miss the mountains? How is living in Geneva’s boardinghouse a new experience for her?

9) What is Ivy’s reaction to the attention paid to her by another teacher, Miss Torrington? How does she react when Miss Torrington kisses her, and why does it propel her into Lonnie’s arms? Based on what came before, is Ivy’s behavior expected or unexpected? If Ivy had gone to Boston, how might her life have taken a different path? Do you believe that Ivy regrets that missed opportunity?

10) After she learns that Ivy is pregnant, why does Geneva urge her to have an abortion? Why does Ivy’s mother forbid it? Do you think that Ivy wants Lonnie’s child? How is Ivy’s life different after she has been “ruined,” in both positive and not-so-positive ways?

11) What is Ivy’s reaction to Lonnie’s death in the war? Do you think she told the Wilkes family that she was pregnant with his child? Why or why not?

12) How would you characterize Ivy’s relationship with Silvaney? Why do you think the two girls have such a connection? How does Ivy react to hearing about Silvaney’s death? Does she indicate that she might feel responsible for it? Why does Ivy continue to write to Silvaney, even after she learns of her death?

13) Ivy’s other siblings drift in and out of her life. With which ones does she have the most profound connection? Does she express different feelings about the male siblings than her female ones? What are they?

14) Why does Ivy move to the company mine town? What are her first opinions about the town? Why is she so positive about her surroundings? What circumstances, both personal and worldwide, compel her to change her mind?

15) When Ivy has her first child, Granny says, “For once you have had an easy time of something.” (Page 148) What difficulties has Ivy faced up to that point? How does she cope with them?

16) Ivy’s sister Beulah says that Ivy has many chances, but throws them all away. (Page 156) How true is that statement? Does it represent what others feel about Ivy? Do you think that Beulah resents her?

17) Ivy is attracted to a number of different men. What about Franklin Ransom appeals to her? What about him gives her pause? How much of her attraction to him is due to Beulah’s influence? In your opinion, why does Ivy have so many admirers, both romantic and platonic? What about her appeals to others?

18) In which ways is Violet Gayheart unlike the other women that Ivy has known? How does she take Ivy under her wing? What does Ivy do for Violet in return?

19) At first, Ivy refuses to be Oakley Fox’s “girl.” Why? How does the collapse of the mine change her mind? How does her life change after she marries him? Do you think she still considers him her “best friend?” Does Oakley view Ivy as an equal partner in their marriage?

20) When Ivy has children, does her personality change? What is Ivy’s attitude toward being a mother? Does she enjoy it? What aspects of her life pre-children does she miss the most?

21) Why does Ivy disappear with Honey Breeding? What about him so mesmerizes her? Why, ultimately, does she return? How does her flight change both her marriage and her relationship with her children?

22) What role do religion and the notion of salvation play in Ivy’s life? How does the behavior of religious “leaders,” like Sam Russell Sage and her brother Garnie, impact her? What is her attitude about Oakley’s faith?

23) After Oakley’s death, how does Ivy mourn for him? Are her feelings about him different than her sentiments when he was alive? Why does she write, “It is like I am a girl again, for I am not beholden to a soul”? (Page 277)

24) Why does Beulah cut off all contact with Ivy and the rest of the family? What does she aspire to, and how are these dreams different from Ivy’s? How does Beulah achieve these goals, and how are they her undoing? Were you surprised that Curtis arrives at Ivy’s doorstep after their respective spouses are dead, and his proposition to her? Why or why not?

25) As Ivy grows older and more infirm, why does Ivy does she refuse to leave Sugar Loaf or to have her children live with her? Why is Ivy fiercely protective of her land, much like her parents before her? How does she express that sentiment?

26) To which of her children does Ivy seem to feel the closest? How do her letters indicate those feelings? How does each of her children reflect different aspects of Ivy’s own personality? How do they live out their dreams in ways that she could not?

27) Why does Dreama Fox decide to take care of Ivy when she grows more frail? Why does Ivy accept her care, but not that of anyone else? Ultimately, do you believe that Dreama forgives Ivy for her transgressions?

28) How do Ivy’s letters change over time in terms of syntax, diction and dialect? Is it a gradual or sudden change? How does this convey Ivy’s own development?

29) In Ivy’s final letter, what is the significance of the Biblical verse interspersed with her own words? What about the Bible intrigues Ivy, from both a religious and a literary perspective? Why is it ironic that Ivy reads a Bible that belonged to Garnie?

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Reading Group Guide

"This is about a moving a work of literature as has ever been written." ANNIE DILLARD
The story of Ivy Rowe, spanning almost a century in the Virginia backwoods, is told completely through the letters that Ivy never stops writing over the course of her long and varied life. A remarkable portrait of a time, a place, and a person.

1. Fair and Tender Ladies is an epistolary novel, told through a series of letters from Ivy Rowe to those around her. How is this an effective narrative technique? How would the story be different if it were conducted as a conventional narrative, even from Ivy's point of view?

2) By her own admission, Ivy is an insatiable letter writer. What about her personality compels her to write letters? How are Ivy's letters a form of oral storytelling? Does she have other outlets to express her feelings? What are they?

3) Why doesn't the author, Lee Smith, include any of the letters that others write to Ivy? How important are those to her? How would the book have taken a different shape if the letters of others had been included?

4) How do Ivy's first letters to Mrs. Brown and to Hanneke provide an introduction to her family and to her life in Sugar Loaf? How do they convey the culture of Appalachia, both in their content and in the style of writing? In your opinion, why doesn't Ivy write anything other than letters?

5) Ivy's teachers have a profound effect on her life. How does her first teacher, Mrs. Brown, hope to influence Ivy's life? What potential does she see in Ivy? How does the life of her niece, Molly, compare to Ivy's existence? What do the two girls learn from one another? How do Revel's actionseffectively cast the Browns from Ivy's life? What impact does this have on her?

6) Ivy's father refuses Mr. Brown's help, saying "We will not be beholden." How does this theme of indebtedness to others thread throughout the book? To whom does Ivy feel beholden? How does this sentiment affect her actions?

7) How is Ivy's father presented in the beginning of the novel? What was he like while he was healthy? How does his illness and death throw the family into disarray? How does Ivy's mother change as a result of his death?

8) Why does Ivy's family ultimately decide to leave Sugar Loaf? What are Ivy's feelings about moving to Majestic? What aspects of the town does Ivy like, and in which ways does she miss the mountains? How is living in Geneva's boardinghouse a new experience for her?

9) What is Ivy's reaction to the attention paid to her by another teacher, Miss Torrington? How does she react when Miss Torrington kisses her, and why does it propel her into Lonnie's arms? Based on what came before, is Ivy's behavior expected or unexpected? If Ivy had gone to Boston, how might her life have taken a different path? Do you believe that Ivy regrets that missed opportunity?

10) After she learns that Ivy is pregnant, why does Geneva urge her to have an abortion? Why does Ivy's mother forbid it? Do you think that Ivy wants Lonnie's child? How is Ivy's life different after she has been "ruined," in both positive and not-so-positive ways?

11) What is Ivy's reaction to Lonnie's death in the war? Do you think she told the Wilkes family that she was pregnant with his child? Why or why not?

12) How would you characterize Ivy's relationship with Silvaney? Why do you think the two girls have such a connection? How does Ivy react to hearing about Silvaney's death? Does she indicate that she might feel responsible for it? Why does Ivy continue to write to Silvaney, even after she learns of her death?

13) Ivy's other siblings drift in and out of her life. With which ones does she have the most profound connection? Does she express different feelings about the male siblings than her female ones? What are they?

14) Why does Ivy move to the company mine town? What are her first opinions about the town? Why is she so positive about her surroundings? What circumstances, both personal and worldwide, compel her to change her mind?

15) When Ivy has her first child, Granny says, "For once you have had an easy time of something." (Page 148) What difficulties has Ivy faced up to that point? How does she cope with them?

16) Ivy's sister Beulah says that Ivy has many chances, but throws them all away. (Page 156) How true is that statement? Does it represent what others feel about Ivy? Do you think that Beulah resents her?

17) Ivy is attracted to a number of different men. What about Franklin Ransom appeals to her? What about him gives her pause? How much of her attraction to him is due to Beulah's influence? In your opinion, why does Ivy have so many admirers, both romantic and platonic? What about her appeals to others?

18) In which ways is Violet Gayheart unlike the other women that Ivy has known? How does she take Ivy under her wing? What does Ivy do for Violet in return?

19) At first, Ivy refuses to be Oakley Fox's "girl." Why? How does the collapse of the mine change her mind? How does her life change after she marries him? Do you think she still considers him her "best friend?" Does Oakley view Ivy as an equal partner in their marriage?

20) When Ivy has children, does her personality change? What is Ivy's attitude toward being a mother? Does she enjoy it? What aspects of her life pre-children does she miss the most?

21) Why does Ivy disappear with Honey Breeding? What about him so mesmerizes her? Why, ultimately, does she return? How does her flight change both her marriage and her relationship with her children?

22) What role do religion and the notion of salvation play in Ivy's life? How does the behavior of religious "leaders," like Sam Russell Sage and her brother Garnie, impact her? What is her attitude about Oakley's faith?

23) After Oakley's death, how does Ivy mourn for him? Are her feelings about him different than her sentiments when he was alive? Why does she write, "It is like I am a girl again, for I am not beholden to a soul"? (Page 277)

24) Why does Beulah cut off all contact with Ivy and the rest of the family? What does she aspire to, and how are these dreams different from Ivy's? How does Beulah achieve these goals, and how are they her undoing? Were you surprised that Curtis arrives at Ivy's doorstep after their respective spouses are dead, and his proposition to her? Why or why not?

25) As Ivy grows older and more infirm, why does Ivy does she refuse to leave Sugar Loaf or to have her children live with her? Why is Ivy fiercely protective of her land, much like her parents before her? How does she express that sentiment?

26) To which of her children does Ivy seem to feel the closest? How do her letters indicate those feelings? How does each of her children reflect different aspects of Ivy's own personality? How do they live out their dreams in ways that she could not?

27) Why does Dreama Fox decide to take care of Ivy when she grows more frail? Why does Ivy accept her care, but not that of anyone else? Ultimately, do you believe that Dreama forgives Ivy for her transgressions?

28) How do Ivy's letters change over time in terms of syntax, diction and dialect? Is it a gradual or sudden change? How does this convey Ivy's own development?

29) In Ivy's final letter, what is the significance of the Biblical verse interspersed with her own words? What about the Bible intrigues Ivy, from both a religious and a literary perspective? Why is it ironic that Ivy reads a Bible that belonged to Garnie?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 15 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2001

    One of the Great American Novels

    This is my favorite book of all time. Someday it will receive the recognition it deserves. Lee Smith's prose drips from the page, it is so beautifully wrought. The novel is made up of letters written by Ivy Rowe, one of the most vivid and wonderful characters in American literature. The letters are written to penpals, sisters, even to the letter-writer herself. Do not miss this book. Absolutely spell-binding and wonderful

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 6, 2013

    I was required to read this book my senior year of high school.

    I was required to read this book my senior year of high school. I loved this book so much that I ended up buying. I read it to my husband when we got married :D and I have read it a few times since then. This is just one of those stories that touches your heart and stays with you for a long time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2013

    Good storytelling!

    Ivy is a force to be reckoned with. I love this powerful strong storytelling by this female.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2012

    Great!

    Ivy is insane! I loved this book even though I wanted to scream at Ivy. I laughed and I cried. A great Appalachian story!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2012

    This book changed my life.

    One of my top ten. I love Ivy Rowe. She taught me so much about life, about myself. For years after I first read this book I missed having Ivy in my life. It's a book you never want to end.

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  • Posted July 8, 2012

    excellent, especially if you have an interest in Womens' History

    Poignant story of an Appalachian woman and what it might have been like for someone with few material but many rich spiritual and cultural resources to move through the circumstanes of pre-WW II -- although fictional, the character breathes and the reader is compelled to care -- particularly relevant to those who value a realistic understanding of women born into poverty -- will change the minds of people who judge others by socioeconomic circumstances alone --highly recommend-- will be reading all the author, Lee Smith, has written

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2012

    One of my favorites ever

    I absolutely love this book.

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  • Posted February 12, 2011

    Wonderful Book

    This is definitely one of my favorite books. It is beautifully written and includes engaging characters whom you will learn to love and hate.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2007

    Well Crafted and Written, Touching and Believable

    This is one of my favorite books. The life and personality of the lead character is very multi-faceted and believable. This is no one dimensional character but someone with whom I connected on an intimate level, even though my life has little in common with hers. The storytelling device used here may be off-putting to some people. The book is written entirely in letters, but this in no way detracts from the story and in many ways, enhances it. Perhaps the biggest barrier to some readers may be Ms. Smith's use of the dialect of the SW Virginia mountains. This is an important part of the writing because it enables the writer to understand the main character and her background, and to observe the changes in her as the story progresses. This is a truly great novel and I consider it to be a classic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2001

    Worth Reading

    Although this novel gets off to a slow start, I think if you stick with it, you'll quickly get involved with the characters and learn to love them.

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    Posted August 19, 2013

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    Posted June 7, 2013

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