Blindspot

Blindspot

by Jane Kamensky, Jill Lepore

Paperback(Reprint)

$18.00

Overview

Stewart Jameson, a Scottish portrait painter fleeing his debtors in Edinburgh, has washed up on the British Empire's far shores—in the city of Boston, lately seized with the spirit of liberty. Eager to begin anew, he advertises for an apprentice, but the lad who comes knocking is no lad at all. Fanny Easton is a fallen woman from Boston's most prominent family who has disguised herself as a boy to become Jameson's defiant and seductive apprentice.
Written with wit and exuberance by accomplished historians, Blindspot is an affectionate send-up of the best of eighteenth-century fiction. It celebrates the art of the Enlightenment and the passion of the American Revolution by telling stories of ordinary people caught up in an extraordinary time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385526203
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/29/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 544
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Jane Kamensky, professor of American history and chair of the History Department at Brandeis, is the author of The Exchange Artist
 
Jill Lepore is the Kemper Professor of American History at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker.

Read an Excerpt

Had Columbus my gut, the world would be a smaller place. And maybe the better for it. O brave new world: wild, rebellious, mysterious, and strange. And distant. God above, who knew it could be so bloody far?

Now begins a gentleman’s exile, and, with it, my tale.

You may wonder, dear Reader, dear, unfathomable Reader, why I have undertaken this voyage, why a man of parts, of fine parts, I may say, and education, better than most, would hazard a crossing and that, in April, the most treacherous of months—showers sweet turn to tempests bitter—and, worse, on a galleon with no berth for a gentleman but a bunk not fit for a dog, not even my mastiff, Gulliver—and I, though six foot tall, his Lilliputian—who, despite my best efforts, splays himself, fleas and all, atop my moth- ridden blanket, with me huddled under it, as if I were a city and he a great army, equipped with cauldrons of drool, besieging me. While you wonder why I wander, know this: run I must.

Aye, I would have stayed home if I could. If I could. Instead, each day the winds blow me farther from the dales and vales of Jamesons past, clan of clans, men among men, though, truth be told—and here, dear Reader, it will be told, and without ornament—our tartan is sold by the yard at Covent Garden to every shaver, ever striver, every waster with twopence in his pocket and a plan to marry a merry widow with ten thousand a year and an estate in Derbyshire, with horses, comely, and tenants, timely in their rents. Had I ever come across such a lady—let us call her the Widow Bountiful—I would have wooed her with sighs enough to heat a stone- cold bed- chamber in the dead of winter. Perhaps she waits for me, my Widow B., somewhere on the other side of this wretched sea. Hark, she pants for me. Or, no, ’tis only Gulliver, giant cur.

As a man of both sense and sincerity, I admit, freely, and with that same unsparing candor which you must henceforth expect of me, that I leave behind little but debt. Twould be an even greater sorrow to leave Edinburgh, that nursery of enlightened genius, did not each degree of longitude stretch the distance betwixt me and my creditors, to whom I owe so much gold, and so little gratitude, the brothers McGreevy, with their Monday duns, Tuesday threats, and Wednesday bludgeons. Suffice to say: I sailed on a Thursday, a day too late, with the scars to show for it. Departed, the Sea- Serpent, April 5, 1764.

Sterner men on stouter ships have crossed this vast and furious ocean, training their hopeful gaze upon the horizon; I, ever squeamish, scan only the depths and see naught but gloom. I would blind myself—and spare you the sight—but I find, as ever, that I cannot close my painter’s eye. Here the blue sloshes into green, and there, gray, and just here, as I lean over the gunwales, lo but the ocean becomes a rainbow of muck, a palette of putrefaction. The lurching, the To and the Fro, are my twin tormentors; and the sea, my sewer and my jailer.

Wheel of Fortune, pray, turn: let some young Bluebeard take the Sea-Serpent as his prize. Let his pirates throw me overboard. Let them haul me ’neath the keel and drown me. Sweet Jesus, just get me off this ship. Captain Pumble, a bulge- eyed, blotchy frog of a man, hops about the deck, uncloaked, even against the fearsome wind, as I, shivering, lean over the rails once again. He tells me that Boston will be temperate by the time we dock.

“Yar, ’twill be blooming in the city,” croaks he, clapping me on the back, as jolly as if we were sat in a tavern, instead of steering through a storm. “Ladies walking about without shawls. And a dandy, and a Scots gent, no less, will be most welcome by the lasses. Or is it the gents you favor, Jameson?”

Between you and me, Reader: this Pumble has not entirely earned my affection.

“At the moment, Captain,” I manage to reply. “I favor deep pockets. Deep pockets, and solid ground.”


It is customary, at this point in a narrative of a gentleman’s adventures in the world, be he knave or rogue, to offer a pedigree. So be it.

The brown hound that whelped my Gulliver belonged to a butcher who cut meat for the Laird of Firth, a corpulent and stingy man—for I find that podginess and parsimony generally travel together—who claimed that his mastiffs were descended from the kennel of the Kubla Khan, brought West by Marco Polo, and on down, across the generations, to the court of Henry VIII and his bloody Mary, and thence to Scotland. In Firth, the Laird fed his dogs better than most gentlemen feed their valets. But the old miser—too cheap to pay for the meat—instead gave the butcher his best bitch, her belly swollen with pups who, once weaned, nearly ate the butcher out of his shop. Cheated and bested, he returned the litter to the Laird. Twas then came I to town, to paint a portrait of the Laird and his favorite dog, a beast as big as himself, with teeth a sailor might scrimshaw. The subject would have defeated even my friend Gainsborough. My portrait, a study in Venetian red, caught the Laird’s greed in his ruddy cheeks, his bleary eyes, his dog’s great maw. Alas, rarely does a man love his true self. Seeing his and his mascot’s likeness so well captured displeased this gentleman, who refused to pay the balance of my fee, instead tendering a black- and- white pup, the runt of the litter, though as tall at the withers as a lad of ten. And so was I saddled with Gulliver, sired by gullibility, son of a butcher’s bitch.

A devil’s bargain, you might think, Reader: ’twas either the cur, or naught. Would you deny me the dog’s company? Surely my exile would be even lonelier had I forfeited my fee. And be forewarned: I have made worse bargains.


chap t e r 2


In Which Our Author Secures a
Situation in a City on a Hill

As Pumble navigated the Sea- Serpent through the harbor—I craving land more than poor, scurvy Magellan ever did, and Gulliver, galumphing about deck, in a frenzy of anticipation—we sailed past a chain of small islands, perfect refuges for pirates.

“Are you quite sure we won’t run aground, Captain?” I ventured, for, though the day was clear and the water calm, we tacked perilous close to the isles.

“I could put you at the helm, if you like, Jameson. Got the sea in your blood, eh?” he smirked. But then he softened, slightly. “No, you sorry Scot. Rest easy. I won’t smash her to bits. Though this shallow harbor has wrecked many a ship, I don’t mind saying.”

“Shallow, Captain?” I asked nervously.

“Yar, she’s deep enough for the Sea- Serpent, but New York, where I’m bound, has deeper. Which is why that city builds banking houses, while this here Boston builds churches.” He nodded toward the town—cut against the sky, as if in silhouette—and pointed out the North Church, with its proud wooden spire, the tallest among a thicket of steeples. Prim, pious, and provincial. Trim, trim, and tidy, all.

“Ah, well then,” I answered, brightening. “Tis proved: a merchant measures his prospects by a port’s fathoms and not by its people’s piety, just as a whore measures a man’s parts by the bulge of his purse and not of his breeches.”

Pumble rewarded me with no more than a mincing smile.

Mark me, dear Reader: bidding my captain farewell will not break my heart.

Closer to shore, I spied people bustling about—along streets riddled with ruts and gutters of mud and manure whose stench reached us even before we docked—everyone hurrying, but at a trot and not a gallop. Here is no London, where men race as foxes chased by hounds. Here is a place where, pray God, I can stand still.

I put on my hat, left my bags on board, and stepped ashore. Stumbling about the dock, my spirits soon improved, and my gut seemed to slow and finally halt its orbit round my middle. Along what is called the Long Wharf, I found a tavern, the Blue Herring, and I quaffed. Say I: there is fine beer here, brewed, I am told, by a man named Adams, in barrels built of the pine woods of New Hampshire. Steadied, fortified, I took a brief tour of the waterfront, and report, also, this: if there is nothing elevated and fine in the town of Boston, there is little to be found that is particularly unpleasant, save the restraint of the townspeople, who stare at strangers—even at a tall, brass- buttoned Scottish gentleman, and likelier than most—with a coldness that runs to cruelty.

I next made my way west along King Street, cluttered with shops, though whether this ambitious avenue is a credit to our third George in this, the fifth year of his reign, I could not claim. The trade seemed lackluster at best. Along a street called Corn- hill, I saw an utter desolation: the ruins of dwelling- houses, stores, and shops, burned in a fire that looked to have raged some winters ago, in a city too straitened to rebuild.

Just in front of a brick building called the Town House, which sits in the very middle of King Street, I found a spindle- shanked boy, no more than ten, peddling salted cod wrapped in old newspaper.

“I’m afraid I can’t stomach the fish, lad,” I said to him. “But be so good as to tell me where I might find fresher news than what’s printed in your wrappers.”

He directed me up an alley dubbed Crooked Lane—though all the streets here would equally well bear that name—to a dark, cluttered print shop whose stink made my eyes to tear ere I crossed the threshold. (My father had once wanted to apprentice me to an engraver, Reader, but I forswore the trade just as soon as I learned that every printer washes his plates in his own water. I would not toil in a piss- house.)

Behind the counter, tinkering with types, stood a man of about my own age, wise- eyed and wigless, his face as flat and round as the moon, his ginger hair tied back. From this gentleman, Mr. Benjamin Edes, I purchased a deck of cards, a map, and, for five shillings, a rather windy history of the town, written by one Thomas Newcombe, wherein I have since read that Boston’s founder, a proper Puritan named John Winthrop, proclaimed to his followers in 1630, as they neared shore: “We shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world.”

Now, careful Reader, I ask you this: From such a lofty start, can any city do less than fall? Tis a small port, and charming enough. But it does not content itself with its smallness, its slack bustle, its less- thanprofound harbor. Nay, ’twould be Jerusalem. Here is a town that, by pretending to be more than it is, makes itself less. I had rather not draw an overhasty conclusion. But I have to wonder whether this is what hobbles Boston: its oversized ambition. The very opposite of what hobbles me.

While the printer tallied my items in his ledger, I picked up a copy of his twice- weekly newspaper, the Boston Gazette, and flipped to its back pages, filled with advertisements: “A fine Negro Male Child to be given away. It has been kept remote from the Small- Pox.” “To be SOLD: The very Best Vinegar for Pickles.” “RAN AWAY from his Master: A stout Irish servant.”

“Are you looking for something else, sir?” Edes asked.

“Aye. My bearings.”

“Just landed, I take it? If you don’t mind my saying, sir, you’re still a bit green about the gills.”

“Green’s an improvement, I assure you,” was my smiling reply. “Aye, I’m just in, from Edinburgh.”

“It’s as well you ain’t come from London, sir, else you’d bring bad tidings, sure.”

I gave him a puzzled expression.

“You wouldn’t have heard, sir, if you’ve been at sea these last two months. Parliament voted as you set sail, and the news washed up on our shores the day before you did. I’m just now setting the type to put it in Thursday’s edition. Bastards mean to tax us to pay for their war, what’s ended not a twelvemonth ago, with the French and the Indians. Tax our sugar, they will. Worse: we ain’t allowed to pay with our own paper money. Coin of the realm, it has to be. I ask you, sir, who has hard money in these hard times? And mind, they promise, next, to tax with stamps our every piece of paper!”

“I’m sorry to hear it,” I offered, and sincerely. I liked this plainspoken printer, and admired his argument, for the town looked poor enough already.

“Not so sorry as you’ll be when the shops start closing, for ain’t we struggling, after seven years of war? But I suppose I needn’t tell a Scotsman about English wars and English taxes.”

“Aye, that you don’t,” I agreed. “My grandfather fell at Culloden. But I trust you colonials will protest these measures. For as I always say, an empty stomach has a loud mouth.”

“Ain’t heard that one afore, sir, and ’tis true enough,” he said, flashing a smile. “But we won’t be laughing when the King sends over his redcoats, those lobsterbacked sons of bitches! Their fingers will be in our purses soon enough. There’s only so much a free people will bear, I tell you, and only so far the hand of tyranny can stretch, ere its reach exceeds its grasp.”

I shook my head, and pushed back my hat.

“Edes, your metaphors alarm me. Many’s the hand I would welcome in my pocket,” I said with a wink. “But not the hand of tyranny.”

Now did the printer laugh, easy, warm, and unrestrained.

“Say, Edes, do you get any Scottish papers here?”

“Indeed, sir. When traveling gentlemen bring them by. You’ll have no trouble hearing news from home. Old news, mind, but news just the same.”

Reader, this news of news is good and bad. Maybe I haven’t fled far enough.

Reading Group Guide

1.  Discuss the motifs of blindness and seeing in the novel. Why do you think Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore chose Blindspot as the novel’s title? What types of blind spots do the characters in the novel experience?

 2. Jameson’s and Fanny’s narratives are quite different from each other. What are the stylistic differences between them? What aspects of Jameson’s and Fanny’s roles and experiences account for those differences? Do their styles of writing remind you of other novels you’ve read? 

3. Blindspot is meant to be read as if it were written in Boston in 1764. How do the authors signal the language, values, and feel of that place in time? What role do the excerpts from the Boston Gazette, many of them loosely adapted from the actual newspaper, play in setting the mood and advancing the story? Why do you think the authors chose to tell the story with both fictional elements and historical documents? 

4. Not long after landing in Boston, Jameson points out an irony inherent in the colonists’ desire for freedom: “Ably do they see the shackles Parliament fastens about them, but to the fetters they clasp upon others, they are strangely blind” (p. 26). What do you think of his statement? How does the novel address issues of liberty and slavery?

 5. Jameson often addresses his “dear Reader” directly. Who do Jameson and Fanny assume their respective readers to be? How do their assumptions about their audience affect the ways they tell their stories? 

6. In her letters to her childhood friend Elizabeth, Fanny Easton bemoans the limits placed upon female education and ambition. What constraints shaped Fanny’s life as a woman, and does she successfully escape them by posing as Francis Weston? How different were the expectations governing American women’s lives in the eighteenth century from those in our own day? What can Jameson do that Fanny can’t? 

7. Blindspot is rife with riddles, puns, and wordplay. Jameson’s speech is filled with bawdy puns, and Fanny enjoys entertaining him with riddles. In fact, the solution to the book’s mystery is found in the pages of a book of puzzles. Discuss the role of puzzles in the novel. 

8. Although Jameson is technically Francis Weston’s superior, he often feels controlled by his apprentice: “Are you so blind you cannot see that you are master?” he implores Francis. Discuss the various master/slave relationships in the novel. How do they develop as the novel progresses? Did Kamensky and Lepore complicate your previous notions of this relationship? 

9. Why do you think the authors chose to make the main characters of Blindspot artists? What kinds of connections do the authors draw between Jameson’s paintings and the patriot politics of the Friends of Liberty? Is Jameson’s art itself revolutionary? 

10. Although the character of Ignatius Alexander—an erudite and refined African who has been educated as an experiment—may seem surprising, Kamensky and Lepore’s portrayal of him is actually very closely based in fact. Discuss his function in the novel. How well do Jamie and Fanny understand Sander’s world and his vision? Why do you think the authors chose to tell Sander’s story through Jamie’s and Fanny’s voices, and why does the doctor resist telling his own story? 

11. Jameson seems just as attracted to Francis Weston as he is to Fanny Easton. What do the authors suggest about understandings of sexuality in eighteenth-century America? Do you think our society today is more or less tolerant than the one depicted in the novel? 

12. Blindspot is a historical novel, but many of the issues it addresses still feel relevant today. What kinds of similarities did you notice between the political issues addressed in the novel and the ones you think about in your own life? 

13. Did the novel support or upturn your previous sense of Revolutionary America? In which ways was it similar, and in which was it different? Did anything surprise you? 

Foreword

1.  Discuss the motifs of blindness and seeing in the novel. Why do you think Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore chose Blindspot as the novel’s title? What types of blind spots do the characters in the novel experience?

 2. Jameson’s and Fanny’s narratives are quite different from each other. What are the stylistic differences between them? What aspects of Jameson’s and Fanny’s roles and experiences account for those differences? Do their styles of writing remind you of other novels you’ve read? 

3. Blindspot is meant to be read as if it were written in Boston in 1764. How do the authors signal the language, values, and feel of that place in time? What role do the excerpts from the Boston Gazette, many of them loosely adapted from the actual newspaper, play in setting the mood and advancing the story? Why do you think the authors chose to tell the story with both fictional elements and historical documents? 

4. Not long after landing in Boston, Jameson points out an irony inherent in the colonists’ desire for freedom: “Ably do they see the shackles Parliament fastens about them, but to the fetters they clasp upon others, they are strangely blind” (p. 26). What do you think of his statement? How does the novel address issues of liberty and slavery?

 5. Jameson often addresses his “dear Reader” directly. Who do Jameson and Fanny assume their respective readers to be? How do their assumptions about their audience affect the ways they tell their stories? 

6. In her letters to her childhood friend Elizabeth, Fanny Easton bemoans the limits placed upon female education and ambition. What constraints shaped Fanny’s life as a woman, and does she successfully escape them by posing as Francis Weston? How different were the expectations governing American women’s lives in the eighteenth century from those in our own day? What can Jameson do that Fanny can’t? 

7. Blindspot is rife with riddles, puns, and wordplay. Jameson’s speech is filled with bawdy puns, and Fanny enjoys entertaining him with riddles. In fact, the solution to the book’s mystery is found in the pages of a book of puzzles. Discuss the role of puzzles in the novel. 

8. Although Jameson is technically Francis Weston’s superior, he often feels controlled by his apprentice: “Are you so blind you cannot see that you are master?” he implores Francis. Discuss the various master/slave relationships in the novel. How do they develop as the novel progresses? Did Kamensky and Lepore complicate your previous notions of this relationship? 

9. Why do you think the authors chose to make the main characters of Blindspot artists? What kinds of connections do the authors draw between Jameson’s paintings and the patriot politics of the Friends of Liberty? Is Jameson’s art itself revolutionary? 

10. Although the character of Ignatius Alexander—an erudite and refined African who has been educated as an experiment—may seem surprising, Kamensky and Lepore’s portrayal of him is actually very closely based in fact. Discuss his function in the novel. How well do Jamie and Fanny understand Sander’s world and his vision? Why do you think the authors chose to tell Sander’s story through Jamie’s and Fanny’s voices, and why does the doctor resist telling his own story? 

11. Jameson seems just as attracted to Francis Weston as he is to Fanny Easton. What do the authors suggest about understandings of sexuality in eighteenth-century America? Do you think our society today is more or less tolerant than the one depicted in the novel? 

12. Blindspot is a historical novel, but many of the issues it addresses still feel relevant today. What kinds of similarities did you notice between the political issues addressed in the novel and the ones you think about in your own life? 

13. Did the novel support or upturn your previous sense of Revolutionary America? In which ways was it similar, and in which was it different? Did anything surprise you? 

Customer Reviews

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Blindspot: By a Gentleman in Exile and a Lady in Disguise 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
pjpick More than 1 year ago
This book was hitting a strong 4-5 star rating with me at first. I loved the writing, the method in which the story was told, and the historical pictures/accuracy. The authors paint an exquisite picture of American colonial life and culture not only with descriptions but with the style of dialogue. Although some readers may be put off by the method of the story telling I found it quite entertaining and effective. One part of the story is told through the male protagonists writing to the "reader" where the other part of the story is told via letters from the female protagonist to a beloved friend. The method was done in a way that it was obvious which protagonist was speaking (which I dearly appreciate as many authors are unable to pull it off). Unfortunately, the authors decided to switch Fanny's mode of commuication from letters to a journal and the uniqueness of the story was loft after that. Why a three star rating after such a big start? Frankly, I think the story could have been told without the romance section--in fact, I feel it hindered and warped the story in such a way that the book became almost a disappointment. If only the authors had made Fanny a real boy and there were no romantic story but only a "caper," I imagine this would have rated a 4.5 star rating from me. The authors leave a possibility of a sequel but alas, I don't think I'll be one that reads it.
AgentA More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. My favorite books are usually historical fiction with a strong female lead - this books absolutely fits this. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to get lost in the Revolutionary War period and a great love story.
Morning-Star More than 1 year ago
I had expected a very different story than what is actual, based upon the summary on the back cover. This book is constructed around a most unusual love that embraces two characters from very different points of life. This story offers a bouquet of a murder mystery, muffled by 18th century judicature, or lack thereof, a civil-libertarian prospective of slavery and women's rights, and many factual references of the time period. On the verge of a very complex novel due to the many subjects introduced, I think it missed out on giving the reader a substantial piece of plot to hold on to. Very witty, crude, informative, these characters blended smoothly together to give this novel the drive to the ending. Though the relationship between the two main characters, Jameson and Weston (Fanny) demands change in response to their evolving relationship, I felt distant from them as the story unraveled, leaving me somewhat disconnected. Overall, I enjoyed Blindspot to the extent it allowed me to do so. Their descriptions gave my imagination a vivid view.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
kuhlcat More than 1 year ago
This book took me by surprise. At the Boston Bookfest last October, I had the privilege of hearing the two authors speak about their novel. From what they said, I was expecting a book about two people at the cusp of the American Revolution, and how the patriotism and rebellion affected their lives. Instead, I got two people at the cusp of the Revolution, and how slavery and a murder mystery and lots of sex affect their lives. The novel was filled to the brim with excellent details and historical facts about Boston 10 years before the Revolution. It was great to see the difference between those who wanted to continue under the rule of King George and those who wanted to break away. And I loved the correlation between the colonists owning slaves, but at the same time complaining about being a slave of the king's because of all the taxes. I enjoyed the style-- both characters wrote in their own voice with bits and pieces of the Boston Gazette littered in between. The characters were lovable, if not a bit melodramatic at times. Even Jameson would cry more often than I would think a man should cry, even a sensitive one. And he didn't wonder about Weston, when tears would just come out of nowhere? Maybe in the pre-Revolutionary period, people cried all the time... Oh, but the sex! I don't consider myself a prude, I used to read romance novels all the time, but it got in the way of the story itself. Jamie and Fanny are supposed to be solving a murder and saving lives, and they're underneath a tarp in the painting room going at it like rabbits. I hope someday that I have such an all-consuming relationship, but when it gets in the way of the plot line, I don't need to read about it. Overall it was a great novel. It emphasized the important events of the time period and did a good job of exploring the nuances of slavery, both black vs white and commoner vs royalty. Definitely pick it up next time you're at a bookstore, and you can skip over the sex parts. ;)