Prelude, A Novel & The 1854 Diary of Adeline Elizabeth Hoe
A book in two parts, Prelude, A Novel and The 1854 Diary of Adeline Elizabeth Hoe combine research and interpolation in a genealogical study that casts new light upon the interior lives of young women in nineteenth-century America. The book began with Adeline’s brittle, faded diary, inherited by Helen Davidson, a direct descendent. Through years of painstaking research, Helen and Richard Davidson transcribed and annotated the diary and brought the teenage Adeline, daughter of a famous nineteenth-century inventor and industrialist Richard March Hoe, back to life. Family friends, and visitors to her father, included William Sidney Mount, noted as the first American painter to accurately depict African-American life; William Batchelder Bradbury, the NYC choral director and founder of the Bradbury Piano Company; and Robert Nunns, also of piano-making fame. The Davidsons’ poignant footnotes explain the diary’s enigmatic references to the events and culture of Adeline’s day.
The result of Helen’s continuing quest to understand her heritage, Prelude, A Novel, is a captivating thriller about the Underground Railroad inspired by the Davidsons’ research into Adeline’s life and times as revealed through her own writing. The title Prelude refers to the piano’s central role in upper-class 1850s social life, the passage to adulthood documented in a teenage girl’s most intimate recollections, and, especially, to the undertones of secession that already dominated 1850s America. Davidson recreates the social milieu of Adeline around the most dramatic movement in the America in which she lived. In doing so, Davidson breaks new ground in showing how genealogy studies can be imbued with meaning as well as pride.
In the spring of 1854 a seventeen-year-old girl began to keep a daily diary. Filled with six months of the details of a young girl’s life, the diary itself offers a wonderful window into the mind of an educated young woman from a well-to-do family living in Lower Manhattan in the turbulent decade before the Civil War. Her meticulous record of the elegant music, dances and literature she and her sister enjoyed is juxtaposed with her matter-of-fact relation of epidemics and sudden deaths, conveying a vivid picture of mid-nineteenth-century life.