Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Separate Star: Selected Writings of Helen Hunt Jackson

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Title: A Separate Star: Selected Writings of Helen Hunt Jackson
Author: Edited by Michelle Burnham
Publisher: Heyday Books
Pages: 299
Yearly Count: 32

"Lifted by something over life
To power and service."

"The healing of the world
Is in its nameless saints. Each separate star
Seems nothing, but a myriad scattered stars
Break up the night and make it beautiful."
(p. 203)

I had heard of Helen Hunt Jackson prior to reading this book, however I can genuinely say I had no idea who she was- and that now I feel I know her at least glimpse of her. To know someone is to know what they stand for and what they are passionate about, what they will defend. In A Separate Star, which is composed of Selected Writings of Helen Hunt Jackson, Helen is caring for children and appalled by the treatment of Native Americans. Her writings include: poetry, travel writing, articles on the social living condition of the Native Americans, and parenting advice. She had a dream that through her words, change would come, and come swiftly, she wanted to make a difference. I doubt she saw the changes she desired, as her hopes were lofty for those times, but it is interesting that even now we can read her works and see how progressive her thoughts were. And how true her dreams were, and that they should have been heeded immediately.

I enjoyed reading A Separate Star, I took my time, read and thought about what she was communicating though her works, and in the end I found that she truly inspired me, many times and in many different ways. She left a legacy in her writing that still speaks today, her dreams of equality, of bettering the treatment of children, and of the journey of the Native American. I heard her voice in her words, and I know that I am not the only one, as she is known for challenging, provoking, and standing her ground on her claims and opinions. She is a women of the old west, but there is a side to her that I would not have expected to be present, she had a heart, a heart that rung through her words and openly displayed caring, and loving for those she was protecting. And not a calloused love, but she did fully love and embrace those she was fighting for, and did not hold back at a safe distance, not even for her safety.

A Separate Star contains many of her writings, and among them excerpts from her best known books :A Century of Dishonor and Ramona. This is one of my favourite quotes in the history selections is from "the Wards of the United States Government"(1880), it shows just how passionate she was about the issues that she wrote about.

That the Indians should be called "wards" of the United States Government, would seem a natural thing, significant of the natural dictionary definition of the word "ward" is "one under a guardian," and of the word "guardian," a "protector." [...] the term "ward applied to the Indian, savors of a satire as bitter as it was involuntary and unconscious on the part of the Supreme Court, which, I believe, first used the epithet, or, if it did not first use it, has used it since, as a convenient phase of "conveyance" of rights, not to the Indian, but from him; to define, not what he might hope for, but what he must not expect; not what he is, but what he is not; not what he may do, but what, being a "ward," he is forever debarred from doing (p. 111).

I recommend this book, I love history, I believe it is how we learn from our past mistakes and move on to treating each other with respect, dignity and full-hearted integrity. Without knowing our history we will just continue to make the same mistakes over and over. I learned a great deal from this book, and enjoyed myself while doing it! This was a great read.

This book is from Heyday Books and is part of the California Legacy series, "vibrant and relevant writings drawn from California’s past and present." Check them out.

Who was Helen Hunt Jackson?: here is her wikipedia home

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