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My Turn: Cruel treatment of Jane Pierce biographer

I want to protest the rude treatment of Ann Covell, British author of the new biography, Jane Means Appleton Pierce: U.S. First Lady (1853-1857): Her Family, Life, and Times.

First, Ben Conant and Keith Testa, in “The Insiders” column, belittled her work on the day of her talk at the New Hampshire Historical Society. Second, the head of the society glowered at Ann during her talk that evening. And last, but certainly not least, former Monitor editor Mike Pride, a man who should have had the maturity to know better, blasted her book publicly when it would have been much more acceptable to write her privately to let her know of his specific complaints (“Life of Tragedy: Jane Pierce’s Story,” Sunday Monitor Books page, July 21).

Covell is an amateur writer who used her own money and time to write a work about a woman with whom she connected because of having lost her own children. She spent time at the Library of Congress, the University of Michigan library and La Jolla, Calif., studying what little correspondence is available. She availed herself of the works in Maine at the Bowdoin library, our own New Hampshire Historical Library and historical societies in Amherst, N.H.; Massachusetts; and Maine.

This was a work of love that began in our lovely Union Station in Washington, D.C., after hearing young American women complaining about the lack of information on first ladies as they struggled to complete an assignment for school.

Covell’s own step-granddaughters encouraged her to write her first book about the first ladies using a quote from Abigail Adams, “Remember the ladies.”

To know Covell is to love her. She is a sweet, polite and intelligent woman who cares very much how her words, both written and oral, will be received. Since I was a child, I have always felt protective of foreigners visiting and joining our land. I would protect your lovely wife, Mr. Pride, having met her at a Woman’s Club function years ago. Perhaps, if you were to put your own wife into the equation, you might see my point of view.

The fault of any errors in the text is not entirely the fault of Covell, but also belongs to the editorial staff of her publisher.

I write this letter not only in defense of Ann Covell but any people who have been treated or maligned cruelly and unnecessarily by our own citizens. I trust that you will pick yourselves up and dust yourselves off and begin anew to examine your own motives and outcomes for the sake of our community and reputation both locally and abroad.

At that point, Mr. Pride, I will gladly call you by your surname and mean it.

(Kathleen Braden lives in Concord.)

Legacy Comments6

Sometime during the age of dinosaurs I took a course in literary criticism. Most of it is forgotten now, but I remember something about separating the work from the author. Makes one wonder why the letter writer included: "To know Covell is to love her. She is a sweet, polite and intelligent woman who cares very much how her words, both written and oral, will be received." It serves no critical purpose except to throw sand in people's eyes.

My concern was not the criticism, Gracche (vocative form), but the tone. And, as a former surfer of a ten foot board, I love the ocean and encourage all to enjoy it. I would never kick sand, either literal or proverbial, in anyone's eye. There is criticism and there is diatribe. There are marches and then the Death March in Bataan. I sincerely hope that they will publish a comment I added yesterday on Hamlet, Polonius, and being cruel to being kind.

Actually the errors in the text are the fault of Covell. If I am writing a book, you can bet I will check the facts, and not just take for granted that my staff are correct. Any boss knows to check what is submitted to them. Books are reviewed, many times they are reviewed harshly. Every writer knows that. I am sure Covell was aware she was putting her work out there and not everybody would love and praise it. Lesson learned, do not publish anything unless you make sure your facts are correct. Otherwise your open season for critics.

You are certainly correct in stating that the ultimate fault belongs with Mrs. Covell. She is sincerely hoping to glean from Mr. Pride and correct those errors. I pray it happens. I believe that you must have meant you're or you are in your last sentence. It is very difficult to proof one's own work as the mind sees what the author meant. I promote sympathy and understanding as opposed to shotguns blasting.

Mrs. Covell is hoping to contact Mr. Pride in order to learn of his specific findings and have them corrected as soon as possible.

I am sure the author is a nice lady but part of writing a book is knowing it is going to be reviewed. Some of the most famous authors had their first books trashed by reviewers and were able to learn from the experience and go on to write masterpieces. Miss Covell may not have a masterpiece in her but putting anything, book, poem picture or screenplay out in the public means you have to have a tough skin. I have to admit I haven't read the book but I did read Mike Pride's review and the fact that he said that Mrs. Pierce's birthday was wrong among other errors gives me pause to wonder how much research was done before the book was written.

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