The Reading Gods must have been listening when I was complaining about my inability to hit anywhere near the novels I was most interested in while playing Reading Roulette: this time around they dropped me in the right century, at least – just. My latest random selection is The Rebel’s Daughter by John Gabriel Woerner, which was published in 1899.
It’s a start.
For the following information we have to thank Woerner’s own son, William, who published his John Gabriel Woerner: A Biographical Sketch in 1912. A German immigrant, Woerner spent his early years in Philadelphia, but grew up in Missouri, in St Louis and the (then) small towns of Springfield, Belle Font and Waynesville. Initially acquiring only a patchy education along the way due to his need to earn a living to help support his family, Woerner took every opportunity that presented to improve himself in this respect. Beginning in trade, Woerner became a printer and then a newspaper editor, but his ambition was for the law. Obtaining a legal clerkship, he studied in his spare time and was admitted to the bar. He found great success as a lawyer, but his career was interrupted by the outbreak of the Civil War. Missouri was a bitterly divided “border state”; Woerner served on the Union side in the militia, reaching the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
In parallel with his legal career, Woerner entered politics on the Democratic ticket, repeatedly elected as a Councilman before being elected to the Senate in 1866. Before this, however, he was forced to confront the political division of his state. During the war years, despite his affiliation with the Democrats, Woerner not only served in the Union forces but became a supporter of Lincoln; afterwards, however, he fought against what he considered the self-defeatingly punitive measures of the Reconstruction. In 1870, Woerner was elected to the position of Judge of Probate, an appointment that would shape the rest of his life. Apart from an unblemished career on the bench, Woerner won professional fame for his legal treatises, in particular for one dealing with probate law – on which subject, I gather, he quite literally wrote the book.
But law books were not Woerner’s only literary output. From an early age he had written and published poetry and short stories. He also wrote a novel, which was serialised in a German-language newspaper and then published to strong sales amongst the German-speaking community. Also in German, he wrote a play that was completed in 1873: it was Anglicised and produced as Amanda, The Slave, and became a success. After this, Woerner wrote another play, which was also produced, but which he later evolved into a fully-fledged novel: The Rebel’s Daughter: A Story Of Love, Politics And War, which in its author’s words was intended to illustrate, “An ideal of a Southern woman, purified and chastened by the fierce war of rebellion and representing the triumph of Truth and Freedom over the negative phases through which American civilization has passed.”
Appropriately enough, I have had to obtain a copy of this novel from Missouri – thank you to Patten Books of St Louis.