Perfectionism in The Rose of Winslow Street

Elizabeth Camden The Rose of Winslow Street 2 Comments

If you have read The Rose of Winslow Street, you will have met the heroine’s father, Professor Willard Sawyer.  Professor Sawyer is an eccentric inventor who is brilliant, creative, but also deeply insecure and suffers from a crippling sense of perfectionism.  His inability to settle for anything less than a flawless invention has stunted his ability to publish any of his work or release his inventions.   

I got the inspiration for this character from a lovely woman named Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672).  She was an English woman who came over on one of the first ships of Puritans immigrants to America, when the land was a raw, unsettled wilderness.  Her father had been a steward to an English duke, so she grew up in an actual castle….then she found herself living in a crude hut with a dirt floor in Massachusetts.  During those early, difficult years she wrote poetry.  Hundreds and hundreds of poems.  Unbeknownst to Anne, in 1647 her brother-in-law travelled for a visit to England with copies of her poems in tow.  He had them printed and distributed in England, and returned to “surprise” her with news of their publication.

From the distance of over four hundred years, it is difficult to know Anne’s reaction, but in a subsequent poem she wrote of her dismay, bemoaning the flaws in her poems she would never be able to correct now they were released into the world.  Here is a snippet of An Author to Her Book, in which she compares her poems to blemished, imperfect children:

My rambling brat (in print) should mother call.
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
The visage was so irksome in my sight,
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.


Poor woman!  Psychiatrists recognize severe perfectionism as a pathology which can cripple a person’s ability to be a productive, functioning person.  Although there is no evidence that Anne Bradstreet suffered from this level of the condition, I exaggerated her anxiety to help me create Professor Sawyer’s brilliant, frustrated persona.   

Lest the excerpt above give you the impression that Anne Bradstreet was a bitter, difficult woman, I thought I would close with my favorite poem by Bradstreet, a joyous celebration in which she shouts her love for her husband, Simon Bradstreet, to the world:

 If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were lov’d by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.


Books as Bad Medicine

Elizabeth Camden The Book World 4 Comments

Is there anyone else out there who despises the books students are required to read during their K-12 years?  Most of the people who read this blog are probably book lovers….and as a writer and  librarian, I certainly consider myself a book lover, but that happened despite of the books I was required to read in high school.  

How many people can truly say they enjoyed reading Heart of Darkness, or Moby DickJulius Caesar, anyone? I am not arguing the merit of these classics, but they are not designed to appeal to the typical student.  According to a recent report from the National Endowment for the Arts, less than one-third of 13-year olds are daily readers, a 14% decline from twenty years ago.  Clearly there are dozens of reasons that might account for this.  Competition from video games, hundreds of cable television stations, Facebook, and other forms of electronic communication are hugely seductive, and I am not suggesting that we dumb-down the reading lists….but will reading Death Be Not Proud make a convert of young adults who are not naturally inclined to read?

I confess to having been a stubborn reader as a child.  I had zero interest in reading until I was about thirteen and stumbled upon the book that appealed to me (Watership Down by Richard Adams).   I am no expert on young adult literature, but I am certain there are great titles out there that would be more likely to inspire reluctant readers to pick up a book. 

I know there are good reasons to assign The Scarlet Letter, a wonderful story, but it is a heavy, dense slog that most students will read only at gunpoint.  I am grateful that I was coerced into reading it in high school, even though I did not enjoy a moment of it.  I needed the teachers help in unpacking the language, understanding the history of the era, and learning to see literary techniques.  But must this be the only type of books that are assigned?   

I hope I did not trample on anyone’s favorite novel…. I merely question the reading selections put together by the typical school curriculum. 

Drawing courtesy of Sue Clark

Splendid Libraries: The Kinsey Institute

Elizabeth Camden Splendid Libraries Leave a Comment

The Kinsey Institute in housed in Morrison Hall at Indiana University, where I got my Library Science degree.  While I was plugging away in graduate school, I had an internship at the library of the Kinsey Institute, the world famous research facility for sexuality and reproductive health.  Now that was an interesting place to work!


As you can imagine, the library was closed to the public unless you had authorization.  The library itself was very hard to find, as it is on one of the top floors, there is no signage, and the only means of access is through a locked stairwell.  My job was to catalog the medical journals, which was generally pretty tame, but the library also collected art, artifacts, photography, and just about anything that related to human sexuality.  I must say…..every day was a surprise when I showed up to work!

The Perfect Man: Do Romance Novels Warp our View of Real Life?

Elizabeth Camden Ramblings about Romance Leave a Comment

I suspect a lot of women got their start reading romance novels during their impressionistic, teen-aged years.  There is a genuine concern that reading such novels, at any age, may set expectations for romance waaaaay too high.  After all, how many men are millionaire dukes, smokin’ hot, with the heart of a warrior, but he’s also sensitive and kind and loves small children?

I think we under-estimate girls and women if we assume that reading such books is going to make them expect the guy they are dating to morph into such a superhero.  Our children read about “the old lady who lived in a shoe, she had so many children she didn’t know what to do,” but we don’t jump to the conclusion that they will start believing little people live in their shoes.  Children are perfectly capable of setting aside that fairy tale and flip back into real life the moment the book closes.

And yet…..some of the themes and morals learned in fairytales and romance novels WILL linger after the book is over.

The themes women learn in romance novels are perseverance, self-respect, and fighting for a cause.   The heroine may face a bumpy road as she locks horns with the hero and fights for a respectful, loving relationship, but she’ll get it by the end.  The trappings in a romance novel (the castles, the clothes, the dramatic storylines) make the novel more fun to delve into…..but that’s all they are….trappings.  What we take away from a novel are the themes of life-affirming, optimistic values that we can apply in real life.  And that’s a good thing!

Which Downton Abbey Character are You

Elizabeth Camden Musings on Life 3 Comments

You know you are hopelessly gone if you submit yourself to take a quiz to find out which Downtown Abbey character you are.  I’m Anna, the Housemaid.

Anna may be the most sympathetic chracter in the entire Downton Abbey cast……but I have class-envy.  Couldn’t I have been one of those ladies with the pearls, the silks, the rides in the countryside?  Please, oh please? 

You can take the quiz here.