Purple Passages: Secrets of Grimke House, Charleston

“Heidi, would you mind stopping by 329 East Bay Street before we leave town?”

We were on our way out of Charleston during our recent road trip, and my niece Heidi graciously agreed to stop her SUV long enough for me to catch a snapshot of the Grimké House basking in the bright morning sun. Its open arms-double staircase once welcomed visitors with a hospitable hug. (Until recently it housed attorneys’ offices, so you can draw your own conclusion about its more recent history!)

Grimke House_Charleston_mod

This house was made famous by Sue Monk Kidd’s book of historical fiction The Invention of Wings. Here is an excerpt from my review:

“ . . . the novelist creates parallel stories representing two strata of early nineteenth-century America, alternating chapters with the voices of two engaging characters: the aristocratic Sarah Grimké and the hand-maid (creative name for slave) assigned to her, Hetty Handful Grimké. Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten-year-old Handful. Over the next thirty-five years, both strive for a life of their own ‘bucking the constraints of cultural attitudes toward women and slavery, which Sarah and her sister openly challenged.'”

All the purple passages quotes today are pulled from the pages of The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd’s historical fiction about the Grimké family:

 

The Weather

“I slipped through the back door into the soft gloom, into the terror and thrill of defiance. The sky had gone cobalt. Wind was coursing in hard from the harbor.” (50)

(We experienced a Charleston, SC storm downtown as we entered this city May 7, 2015)

 

Mosquitoes

Mother Mary had ordered “the mosquito netting out of storage and affixed above the beds in anticipation of the blood-sucking season, but having no such protection, the slaves were already scratching and clawing their skin. They rubbed themselves with lard and molasses to draw out the itch and trailed its eau de cologne through the house.” (56)

(Disparity between the races no longer noticeable in Charleston today, at least to tourists. )

Wall-hanging on sale in Charleston on Market Street
Wall-hanging on sale in Charleston on Market Street

 

Despair

“My breath clutched at my ribs like grabbing hands. I closed my eyes, tired of the sorry world.” (280)

 

Missing Someone

Sarah’s unrequited love: “Nina was speaking now, her face turned up to Theodore’s, and I thought suddenly, involuntarily of Israel and a tiny grief came over me. Every time it happened, it was like coming upon an empty room I didn’t know was there, and stepping in, I would be pierced by it, by the ghost of the one who once filled it up. I didn’t stumble into this place much anymore, but when I did, it hollowed out little pieces of my chest.” (281)

 

Yearning for a better world

[Lucretia] “leaned toward me. ‘Life is arranged against us, Sarah. And it’s brutally worse for Handful and her mother and sister. We’re all yearning for a wedge of sky, aren’t we? I suspect God plants these yearnings in us so we’ll at least try and change the course of things. We must try, that’s all.’” (275)

 

The Pineapple: the universal symbol of hospitality seen everywhere in Charleston's interiors and exteriors
The Pineapple: the international symbol of hospitality seen frequently in Charleston’s interiors and exteriors. Daughter Crista purchased a pair of these.

 We must try, that’s all!

Share your words: your thought, a quote or story adds to the conversation. It’s always nice to meet you here!

Coming next: Jenna’s Rainbow Cake: A Pot of Gold?

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34 thoughts on “Purple Passages: Secrets of Grimke House, Charleston

  1. Good morning, Marian! I still have not read that book. I must do so soon! Thank you for the reminder quotes and the lovely photos. Isn’t it great that the house is still standing and that you got to see it? What is the house now–private home or business?

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    1. I honestly couldn’t tell. There was no signage in front of the house, but I did notice two garbage cans, certainly a sign of life within. Ever since I read the book, I wanted to see the house with its open-arms double staircase outside and imagine the story writ large in each room. It is currently not open to the public.

      Heidi was so gracious to stop. After a busy busy weekend she was eager to head south to Tampa and her husband and girls.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Ahhh–I did not see plaque, but just went back and looked at the photo. It looks like some sort of historic marker, doesn’t it? It was kind of Heidi to stop so you could see the house.
          I wonder where they lived in Philadelphia?

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  2. I am so pleased you were able to see this house. Perhaps one day it will be opened to the public. I think it always makes the story so much more real when you see the actual place. I too need to read the book.

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    1. Writing memoir, it is helpful to have access to photos of our home-place and Grandma’s house, which Aunt Ruthie still owns. When you read the book, you will appreciate all the detail of the home’s interior, a result of the writer’s extensive research.

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  3. How cool to get the photo of the house you had read about. I can understand calling for a car stop! After I read your post more thoroughly, I remembered reading about this book you reviewed earlier. I was trying to figure out if you meant something specific with this line: (draw your own conclusion about its more recent history!) Are you hinting that discarded law offices become brothels or something?? Upon second reading, I realized you probably just meant “you don’t know” and “readers can guess.” Seriously, it deserves a plaque of some kind there, for the history of Sarah and her sister.

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    1. Melodie, I was referring to the subsequent history of the house, but since the house is obviously not a law office any more, probably the “you don’t know” and “readers can guess” conclusions are the more accurate. Thank you for being such a close reader of my posts and always with judicious comments.

      I wish I had read the etching on that plaque – drat!

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  4. Sarah and Angelina Grimké were among the first women to be resurrected by the resurgence in women’s history in the 1970’s. Gerda Lerna wrote a book about them which I included in my Womanhood in America course syllabus. I was delighted that their courage and convictions arose at least in part from their Quaker background. I have been told by many people that I need to read The Invention of Wings, and now you make me want to do so even more.

    I love visiting the places of authors and of book settings. So glad you could see this one! Thanks for sharing the purple passages, also, Marian. They inspire me to look for better verbs and to condense as much action into one sentence as possible.

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    1. Ever since I became acquainted with Sue Monk Kidd in Guideposts I have admired her writing style. She has a gift for probing deep with each word choice. I notice you do the same.

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  5. Marian, Your post always get me “thinking” about things I should do and books I should read. I haven’t read this one but I’ll be putting it on my order. Sounds like a fascinating story and her writing is wonderful.

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    1. You know me well enough to consider this a gentle nudge, not a mean push, Joan!

      Monk Kidd is an excellent writer, but the extensive research into the historical period and women’s rights made her book all the more interesting. Yes, indeed, you would enjoy it immensely.

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  6. Marian — I love Sue Monk Kidd. I loved reading “The Invention of Wings.” How doggone COOL that you got to stop and photograph the house! Your last photograph reminded me that my folks had a pineapple door knocker. THANK YOU for stirring that lovely memory.

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    1. You know how to knock on doors of awareness and memory too each week with your thought-provoking prompts, Laurie. Just a thought: maybe that pineapple door knocker is still reverberating with hospitality in your home town. Who knows!

      I’m glad you read The Invention of Wings and know the context for the quotes in this post. Smart woman!

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  7. I googled Grimke house plaque to see if there would be an image of it, but could not find one. However, your Purple Passages:Grimke House post shows up in the listings.

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  8. Sue Monk Kid ‘s ‘The Secret Life Of Bees’ has to be at the top of my list for my favourite books of all time . I have read it at least three times and recommended it to everyone . But for some reason I left ‘The Invention Of Wings ‘I only got half way , it is still waiting for me . Every time you mention it I think that’s my next book to read and something always replaces it . I have no idea why . It’s historical content interests me , the characters interest me and I love the way she writes . I ‘ve had it in hardback and on my kindle . So what’s stopping me . Maybe when you love an author’s book so much nothing after that first one is good enough …I just don’t know .
    Cherryx

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    1. I usually give a good 50 pages before I think about giving up. Perhaps all the historical detail is a little intimidating in this one. I like your last idea: “Maybe when you love an author’s book so much nothing after that first one is good enough.” I’m certainly impressed with your reading her “Bee” book three times.

      If/When you get a chance to read it, rest assured it will be worth your while.

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  9. Marian,
    l love reading your blog. I learn something new always. The pictures and excerpts of book has nudged my curiosity to to read this book. Dont have time right now. Leaving to ecuador August 1st will read on plane. Plan on taking both books one to read on the way there the other on the way back. Loved the pictures need the pineapples for my entrance.
    Thank you
    gloria

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    1. Thanks will do that. I’m meeting our son Pablito there. He and his wife go to Quito to buy merchandise to sell in Cuba. So it will be fun to hangout with them in Quito. So looking forward to seeing them. Iwas hoping Nikko would come with me. He said “I’ll see them in Cuba in March. So I’m going by myself which gives me time to read.

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  10. This is a touching, significant post, Marian. It’s so true, for many peoples throughout our country, that “We’re all yearning for a wedge of sky…” Early Italian settlers in southeast Kansas (hired to do strip mining in the wooded areas threaded with underground streams, dangerous stone croppings and river runoffs ) struggled for their own “warmth of God’s sky” for their families and their dreams. When we learn of all that slaves went through–and Native Americans, too, as well as other groups–it’s a powerful and important reminder to all of us.

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    1. I appreciate the compliment, Marylin. And I’m happy to read your references to other examples of injustice even in the heartland. (I believe you are originally from Kansas but now live in Colorado – right?) As I’m typing this, I’m thinking of another example of oppression: David Guterson’s account of the mistreatment of the Japanese during World War II in Snow Falling on Cedars, a Pen/Faulkner prize winner.

      Our writing is one way to keep those dreams alive. You hold the torch high. Thank you for stopping by today!

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  11. Beautiful quotes. This book is already on my to-read list. Maybe I should move it up. And thanks for your review tidbits. I love that sense that everything is so different and yet much the same when it comes to love and the state of the world.

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    1. I’m prone to think the world’s the worst it’s ever been, but when we review the past, there is cause to pause as you suggest. I guess that’s why the idea of trying to change the course of things for the better resonates with me so clearly.

      “We must try, that’s all.”

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    1. Right! I had not heard of urban slavery before I read this amazing story. Though it’s categorized as historical fiction, it is based on true characters.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment here, Debby.

      Liked by 1 person

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