07 September 2007

Synopsis of Book

I've been writing to literary agents, seeking someone who might help me nevigate a course to the publication of a novel about antebellum America and the growth of north/south tensions. Today I received a first tiny nibble. One agent wants to see a synopsis.

I don't really want to synopsize for her the whole first draft, which takes a long windy route from 1830 to the firing on Fort Sumter in 1861. Instead, I want to tighten up the book, so that after a prologue (still set in 1830), we jump ahead to 1843, and then finish up in 1850. Everything after 1850 can only come in by way of foreshadowing, and everything between 1831 and 1842 in the original can only come in by way of character background.

Anyway, this is the synopsis I've been working on today. I'll send something like it to the agent soon enough.

Title: Lengthy Preparation for a Duel


Prologue 1830.

Webster gives his “reply to Hayne,” and indirectly to the doctrines of John Calhoun. The scene is realistically portrayed, with but one important fictional element – the presence of a young staffer in the British embassy in Washington, Henry Nofield.

I introduce Nofield as he sits in the gallery taking notes on the debate.


I. 1843

Bureaugard Felt, a freedman hitherto has lived in Louisiana, arrives in Nauvoo, Illinois, now the center of Mormonism. Felt’s there as a messenger, to deliver news to the elder who manages the town’s bank, Parley Campbell, with regard to Campbell’s brother in New Orleans.

There’s nothing for him any longer in Louisiana, and after delivering the intra-family message entrusted to him, Felt decides to stay in Nauvoo.

At about the same time, a Rhode Island based ship builder, Nathanial Berne, in need of cash for his expansion plans, travels to Washington DC for a meeting with a visiting dignitary, a Rothschild. He doesn’t get the loan, but he does meet a brilliant naval engineer, John Ericsson, co-inventor of the screw propeller, and new business opportunities suggest themselves.

II. 1844

We learn that Berne has a daughter, Gertrude, who years ago married an English lord, known to us as Henry Nofield. But Gertrude’s true love, and Berne’s protégé in the shipping business, is a freemason named Isaiah Jerome. In May 1844, Nofield shows up at the Berne house in Providence looking for Isaiah, about whose relations with his wife he has heard scandalous things, and demanding an affair of honor.

III. 1845

Back in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith is now dead, and there is a power struggle under way to determine his successor. Campbell and Felt are caught up in this. Meanwhile, the hostility of neighboring towns has intensified and the Latter-Day Saints begin to talk of a migration west.

Nofield has discovered that he can’t duel Jerome because Jerome has a pegleg due to an old horse riding accident. It wouldn’t be gentlemanly for a whole man to call out a cripple. But still looking for appropriate revenge, Nofield searches for ugly truths about Jerome’s past. His search takes him to Springfield, Illinois and an encounter with a prominent lawyer there.

IV. 1846

Installments of a comic narrative called “The Puking Conspirator” begin to run in a Providence, RI newspaper. Jerome recognizes this as a satire on certain incidents in his earlier life, though at least at first no one else in town makes the connection. Consumed with curiosity about who is doing this, Jerome keeps vigil by the office door of the newspaper where the next installment is due. He is abducted there.

V. 1847

Brigham Young has now solidified his position at the head of the LDS, and the westward migration is underway. Our two acquaintances have moved in different directions. Parley Campbell has become disenchanted with Young’s leadership, and has headed for Ireland, as a missionary for a breakaway Mormon sect. But Beauregard Felt has become Young’s confident and secretary.

VI. 1848

We catch up with Parley’s brother, Paul Campbell, in New Orleans. His business – a cotton exchange – fails in a credit contraction. But he hears news from California of the discovery of gold.

We also learn what happened to Jerome after his abduction, how he escaped alive.

VII. 1849

Nofield, his American travels and vendetta having drained his fisc, can’t lead the life of country nobility. He takes a colonial position in Madras. While hunting a tiger there, he loses an arm, and decides that one cripple may honorably challenge another to a duel, so he may yet conclude his business with Jerome.

We also glimpse Gertrude in London, and learn that she has adapted to life without either husband or lover.

Epilogue 1850. We’re in the Senate chamber again, for the final confrontation of Webster and Calhoun over the nature of the union. Calhoun has to be carried in on a litter, such is his proximity to death. But there is still the old fire in the two antagonist’s eyes.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.