March a novel, p.1

March: a novel, page 1


March: a novel

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March: a novel

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page



  CHAPTER ONE - Virginia is a Hard Road

  CHAPTER TWO - A Wooden Nutmeg


  CHAPTER FOUR - A Little Hell

  CHAPTER FIVE - A Better Pencil

  CHAPTER SIX - Yankee Leavening

  CHAPTER SEVEN - Bread and Shelter

  CHAPTER EIGHT - Learning’s Altar

  CHAPTER NINE - First Blossom

  CHAPTER TEN - Saddleback Fever

  CHAPTER ELEVEN - Folling Bells




  CHAPTER FOURTEEN - Blank Hospital


  CHAPTER SIXTEEN - River of Fire

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN - Reconstruction

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN - State of Grace








  Geraldine Brooks is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March and Year of Wonders and the nonfiction works Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence. Previously, Brooks was a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal in Bosnia, Somalia, and the Middle East. Born and raised in Australia, she lives in rural Virginia with her husband, Tony Horwitz, their son Nathaniel, and three dogs.

  Praise for March

  “March is a beautifully wrought story about how war dashes ideals, unhinges moral certainties and drives a wedge of bitter experience and unspeakable memories between husband and wife.”

  -Los Angeles Times Book Review

  “Clarity of vision, fine, meticulous prose, the unexpected historical detail, a life-sized protagonist caught inside an unimaginably huge event. [March] shows the same seamless marriage of research and imagination.... Brooks’s version of March’s story is both harrowing and moving ... March is an altogether successful book, casting a spell that lasts much longer than the reading of it.”

  -Karen Joy Fowler, The Washington Post Book World

  “Pitch-perfect writing.”

  - USA Today

  “Researched with great historical thoroughness, March hews faithfully to the spirit of Alcott’s original.... [March] enhances rather than appropriates its sister work from 1868. Louisa May Alcott would be well pleased.”

  -The Economist

  “It is harder, sometimes, to review a glorious book-to convey its power and influence without relying on suspicious adjectives. Good books can be slotted, characterized, explained; great books often cannot. I believe Geraldine Brooks’ new novel, March, is a very great book. I believe it breathes new life into the historical fiction genre, the borrowing-a-character-from-the-deep-past phenomenon, the old I-shall-tell-you-a-story-through-letters tradition. I believe it honors the best of the imagination. I give it a hero’s welcome.”

  -Chicago Tribune


  -The Boston Globe

  “March is a first-rate historical novel.... It feels honorable, elegant and true, an adult coda to the plangent idealism of Little Women.”

  - The Dallas Morning News

  “The pictures that Brooks paints of the war-ravaged South, particularly on the liberated plantation, are haunting. This richness, of time and place and of March’s unrelenting struggle to live up to the man he thinks he should be, makes March a spellbinder. The picture is not simple, neither in terms of the life nor in the emotions of its principals. It is, however, compellingly honest. It is the feeling that the reader is witness to truth that elevates March beyond a gimmick to an engrossing, thought-provoking tale.”

  -The Denver Post

  “Brilliant ... It is this disconnection between the inner self (what one knows and feels) and outward presentation (what one allows others to see and know of oneself) that provides this wonderful novel with dazzling narrative tension.... It is this struggle for balance-between being human and being principled-that is Brooks’ brilliant creative stroke. From the intimidating virtues of the March sisters, it’s clear that Alcott favored principles. But thank goodness for Geraldine Brooks: She allows her characters to be human. And in the end, they have more to teach us.”

  - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

  “Brooks has written a gripping story of an impossible time, and simultaneously a neat deconstruction and reconstruction of one of American literature’s best-known families.”

  -The Oregonian (Portland)

  “Richly imagined ... This meticulously researched and well-crafted book reveals that atrocities occur on both sides in war, leaving countless innocent victims, and that even the most seemingly dedicated often have feet of clay.”

  -Rocky Mountain News

  “When I learned the subject of this novel, I felt a twinge of envy. How inspired to fill out Mr. March, absent from nearly all of Little Women but, as a chaplain in the Civil War, probably up to something quite as interesting as the tribulations of his four daughters at home.... [I]n March, Brooks dares to create a man of his times, who believes that curbing his wife is among his proper duties as a husband. She also allows him to be as self-righteous as might be expected of someone with his fervent, high-minded convictions.”

  -Christina Schwarz, The Atlantic Monthly

  “It’s lively history, the sort that jumps off the page and won’t let you go. Brooks’ talent lies in her ability to bring life and personality to history.”

  -Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

  “Inspired ... A disturbing, supple, and deeply satisfying story, put together with craft and care and imagery worthy of a poet.... I picked up March because I liked the idea of the book. I closed the cover loving its execution.”

  -The Cleveland Plain Dealer

  “Brooks has achieved something extraordinary in her new novel. It is powerful yet entertaining, and thought-provoking as it breathes life into something familiar. And for all the hardship and suffering it contains, March is most abidingly a story of redemption, one of heartfelt depth and humanity.”

  -The Charlotte Observer

  “[T]he vivid description of battles and atrocities is equal to any found in The Red Badge of Courage and Andersonville.... This is a gripping historical novel, brave enough to reveal the gray areas of politics and war. Although set in the nineteenth century, there’s a timeless relevance to the novel. That, coupled with Brooks’ powerful command of language and her ability to create engaging minor characters, firmly establishes her as a writer to watch.”

  -Rocky Mountain News

  “March is a hugely successful novel, both for the history it reframes and the all-too-human lives it captures. Brooks’ adept language and her enviable ability to give adequate historical reference without weighing down the narrative place her new novel alongside her first-which is quite a feat.”

  -The TImes-Picayune (New Orleans)

  “March] is a wholly original and engrossing story about a man whose lofty principles are scorched by his failings during the Civil War.”

  - The Christian Science Monitor

  “Stunning ... Fascinating and meticulously researched ... Masterfully depicted.”


  “Luminous ... Brooks’ affecting, beautifully written novel drives home the intimate horrors and ironies of the Civil War and the difficulty of living honestly with the knowledge of human suffering.”

  -Publishers Weekly (starred review)


  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 H
udson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

  Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario,

  Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

  Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England

  Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)

  Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124,

  Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)

  Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017, India

  Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand

  (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)

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  Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England

  First published in the United States of America by Viking Penguin,

  a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 2005

  Published in Penguin Books 2006

  Copyright © Geraldine Brooks, 2005

  All rights reserved


  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product

  of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons,

  living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  eISBN : 978-1-101-07925-6

  1. United States-History-Civil War, 1861-1865—Fiction. 2. March family (Fictitious

  characters)-Fiction. 3. Fathers and daughters—Fiction. 4. Soldiers—Fiction. I. Title.

  PR9619.3B7153M37 2004

  823’.914—dc22 2004049496

  The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means

  without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only

  authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy

  of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

  For Darleen and Cassie- by no means little women.


  Jo said sadly,

  “We haven’t got father, and shall not have him for a long time.” She didn’t say “perhaps never,” but each silently added it, thinking of father far away, where the fighting was.

  -Louisa May Alcott, Little Women


  Virginia is a Hard Road

  October 21, 1861

  This is what I write to her: The clouds tonight embossed the sky. A dipping sun gilded and brazed each raveling edge as if the firmament were threaded through with precious filaments. I pause there to mop my aching eye, which will not stop tearing. The line I have set down is, perhaps, on the florid side of fine, but no matter: she is a gentle critic. My hand, which I note is flecked with traces of dried phlegm, has the tremor of exhaustion. Forgive my unlovely script, for an army on the march provides no tranquil place for reflection and correspondence. (I hope my dear young author is finding time amid all her many good works to make some use of my little den, and that her friendly rats will not grudge a short absence from her accustomed aerie.) And yet to sit here under the shelter of a great tree as the men make their cook fires and banter together provides a measure of peace. I write on the lap desk that you and the girls so thoughtfully provided me, and though I spilled my store of ink you need not trouble to send more, as one of the men has shown me an ingenious receipt for a serviceable substitute made from the season’s last blackberries. So am I able to send “sweet words” to you!

  Do you recall the marbled endpapers in the Spenser that I used to read to you on crisp fall evenings just such as this? If so, then you, my dearest one, can see the sky as I saw it here tonight, for the colors swirled across the heavens in just such a happy profusion.

  And the blood that perfused the silted eddies of the boot-stirred river also formed a design that is not unlike those fine endpapers. Or-better-like that spill of carmine ink when the impatient hand of our little artist overturned the well upon our floorboards. But these lines, of course, I do not set down. I promised her that I would write something every day, and I find myself turning to this obligation when my mind is most troubled. For it is as if she were here with me for a moment, her calming hand resting lightly upon my shoulder. Yet I am thankful that she is not here, to see what I must see, to know what I am come to know. And with this thought I exculpate my censorship: I never promised I would write the truth.

  I compose a few rote words of spousal longing, and follow these with some professions of fatherly tenderness: All and each of you I have in my mind, in parlor, study, chambers, lawn; with book or with pen, or hand in hand with sister dear, or holding talk the while of father, a long way off, and wondering where he is and how he does. Know that I can never leave you quite; for while my body is far away my mind is near and my best comfort is in your affection ... Then I plead the press of my duties, closing with a promise soon to send more news.

  My duties, to be sure, are pressing enough. There are needful men all around me. But I do not immediately close my lap desk. I let it lie across my knees and continue to watch the clouds, their knopped masses blackened now in the almost lightless sky. No wonder simple men have always had their gods dwell in the high places. For as soon as a man lets his eye drop from the heavens to the horizon, he risks setting it on some scene of desolation.

  Downriver, men of the burial party wade chest deep to retrieve bodies snagged on fallen branches. Contrary to what I have written, there is no banter tonight, and the fires are few and ill tended, so that the stinging smoke troubles my still-weeping eye. There is a turkey vulture staring at me from a limb of sycamore. They have been with us all day, these massive birds. Just this morning, I had thought them stately, in the pearly predawn light, perched still as gargoyles, wings widespread, waiting for the rising sun. They did not move through all the long hours of our Potomac crossing, first to our muster on this island, which sits like a giant barge in the midstream, splicing the wide water into rushing narrows. They watched, motionless still, as we crossed to the farther shore and made our silent ascent up the slippery cow path on the face of the bluff. Later, I noticed them again. They had taken wing at last, inscribing high, graceful arcs over the field. From up there, at least, our predicament must have been plain: the enemy in control of the knoll before us, laying down a withering fire, while through the woods to our left more troops moved in stealthy file to flank us. As chaplain, I had no orders, and so placed myself where I believed I could do most good. I was in the rear, praying with the wounded, when the cry went up: Great God, they are upon us!

  I called for bearers to carry off the wounded men. One private, running, called to me that any who tried it would be shot full of more bullets than he had fingers and toes. Silas Stone, but lightly injured then, was stumbling on a twisted knee, so I gave him my arm and together we plunged into the woods, joining the chaos of the rout. We were trying to recover the top of the cow path-the only plain way down to the river-when we came upon another turkey vulture, close enough to touch it. It was perched on the chest of a fallen man and turned its head sharply at our intrusion. A length of organ, glossy and brown, dangled from its beak. Stone raised his musket, but he was already so spent that his hands shook violently. I had to remind him that if we didn’t find the river and get across it, we, too, would be vulture food.

  We thrashed our way out of the thicket atop a promontory many rods short of the cow path. From there, we could see a mass of our men, pushed by advancing fire to the very brow of the bluff. They hesitated there, and then, of a sudden, seemed to move as one, like a herd of beasts stampeded. Men rolled, leaped, stumbled over the edge. The drop is steep: some
ninety feet of staggered scarps plunging to the river. There were screams as men, bereft of reason, flung themselves upon the heads and bayonets of their fellows below. I saw the heavy boot of one stout soldier land with sickening force onto the skull of a slight youth, mashing the bone against rock. There was no point now in trying to reach the path, since any footholds it might once have afforded were worn slick by the frenzied descent. I crawled to the edge of the promontory and dangled from my hands before dropping hard onto a narrow ledge, all covered with black walnuts. These sent me skidding. Silas Stone rolled and fell after me. It wasn’t until we reached the water-laved bank that he told me he could not swim.

  The enemy was firing from the cliff top by then. Some few of our men commenced tying white rags to sticks and climbing back up to surrender. Most flung themselves into the river; many, in their panic, forgetting to shed their cartridge boxes and other gear, the weight of which quickly dragged them under. The only boats were the two mud scows that had ferried us across. For these, men flung themselves until they were clinging as a cluster of bees dangling from a hive, and slipping off in clumps, four or five together. Those that held on were plain targets and did not last long.

  I dragged off my boots and made Stone do the same, and bade him hurl his musket far out, to the deepest channel, so as to put it from reach of our enemies. Then we plunged into the chill water and struck out toward the island. I thought we could wade most of the way, for crossing at dawn, the poles had seemed to go down no significant depth. But I had not accounted for the strength of the current, nor the cold. “I will get you across,” I had promised him, and I might have done, if the bullet hadn’t found him, and if he hadn’t thrashed so, and if his coat, where I clutched it, hadn’t been shoddily woven. I could hear the rip of thread from thread, even over the tumbling water and the yelling. His right hand was on my throat, his fingers-callused tradesman’s fingers-depressing the soft, small bones around my wind-pipe. His left hand clutched for my head. I ducked, trying vainly to refuse him a grip, knowing he would push me under in his panic. He managed to snatch a handful of my hair, his thumb, as he did so, jabbing into my left eye. I went under, and the mass of him pushed me down, deep. I jerked my head back, felt a burn in my scalp as a handful of hair ripped free, and my knee came up, hard, into something that gave like marrow. His hand slid from my throat, the jagged nail of his middle finger tearing away a piece of my skin.

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