In the spring of 1854 seventeen-year-old Adeline Elizabeth Hoe began to keep
a daily diary. Filled with six months of the details of a young girl’s
life, the diary 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. Author Helen Davidson, a descendant
of Adeline, transcribed the diary with her husband, Richard Davidson. Helen
wrote the novel Prelude, while transcribing Adeline’s diary, re-imagining
the life of this spirited young girl.
The novel Prelude commences in the spring before the eighteenth birthday of
Adeline Elizabeth Hoe, when she and her older sister Emilie travel to summer
destinations in the countryside. Addie was the second daughter of famed
inventor and manufacturer Richard March Hoe, whose “Lightning” printing
press had become widely used in the United States and beyond. Adeline
recorded her experiences and reflections in delicate script at the
instigation of her boy cousins.
The diary, covering six months of her life, describes a middle-class world
filled with family and acquaintances, one of whom appears often in the Hoe
household and the places Addie visits. He is Joe Stewart. In Prelude, he
comes to occupy a central role. Haberdasher, expert horseman, and friend of
R. M. Hoe, he leads a secret life. As his confidante, Adeline becomes aware
of the atmosphere of antebellum opposition to slavery and begins herself to
espouse Abolitionist sentiment, the closer she gets to the mysterious Joe.
About the Author
A lifelong music teacher, choral director, dramatist and writer, Helen
Davidson is the custodian of many heirlooms in a family whose American roots
stem from the early 1600s. These include her ancestor’s diary, which was
transcribed and annotated through many years of research, and which became
the inspiration for the novel, Prelude. She co-edited the diary with her
husband, Richard Davidson (Amherst class of 1963). They live in Plainfield,
New Hampshire, in the home where Helen was raised.