Sobel Weber Associates, Inc.
- HARRIET WOLF'S SEVENTH BOOK OF WONDERS
- (Little, Brown, forthcoming)
- by Julianna Baggott
btb Verlag: Germany
Harriet Wolf was one of the most famous and reclusive writers of the 20th century. During her lifetime, she hid the truth about her past, in particular, how she grew up in the Maryland School for Feebleminded Children where she fell in love with young Eppitt Clapp in the billowing steam of the industrial laundry room and how they were separated by a strange twist of fate and finally found each other again -- a doomed romance. After Harriet buried this history, she wrote six novels following the lives of two of the most beloved characters in literary history. A cult following of The Harriet Wolf Society has written hundreds of versions of Wolf's seventh book, which is rumored to exist but has never been discovered.
In HARRIET WOLF'S SEVENTH BOOK OF WONDERS, we follow the lives of Harriet’s fiery, overprotective daughter Eleanor, and her two grown granddaughters: Tilton, a fragile hermit who never left home, and Ruth, who ran off at sixteen and never looked back. But when Eleanor has a heart attack, Ruth decides it's time to do right by a pact she made with her younger sister long ago -- to return home and save her sister. Further complicating matters, Ruth is bent on finding their father, George, who fell in love with another woman when the girls were young. She wants to bring the family together -- one last time.
As Harriet Wolf whispers her true life story to the reader -- a tribute to her century-long love of the man named Eppitt Clapp -- the mystery of her lost seventh book hangs in the balance... Will the truth ever be known or will this final beautiful confession be lost forever?
On Writing HARRIET WOLF'S SEVENTH BOOK OF WONDERS
Turns out, prolific novelists are also sometimes slow novelists. While I’ve published twenty books under my own name and pen names, I’ve worked on HARRIET WOLF'S SEVENTH BOOK OF WONDERS for over seventeen years. It has been my secretively ambitious literary novel, one that I never knew if I’d ever finish. The first story from it was published over twelve years ago. Another published story became a thirty-page section of the novel that has now been whittled to one paragraph, as it goes. I admit there were times when I walked away from these characters and the huge demands of the novel’s research. Sometimes I walked away because the novel itself, its potential – and maybe my own potential -- scared me. Its literary ambition is obvious, as it spans one hundred years and tells the story of a famed literary recluse, and within these pages I’ve gotten to tell so many stories I wanted to, needed to. It was always the characters who called me back, as if they were telling me that they weren’t done with me yet.
This book has many points of origin. Why I was reading the history of Sheppard Pratt, a mental institution in Baltimore, their in-house publication, or, further, why I was drawn to one particular footnote that mentions The Maryland School for Feebleminded Children or why I was then drawn to visit the enormous, beautiful, old, asbestos-ridden and condemned buildings, once home to thousands of unwanted children, I’ll never know. That footnote sparked this novel, in many ways. The good people who worked at the rehab center in the shadow of what was once that school allowed me to walk the grounds and to look at the old records from 1911, which I photocopied and held onto -- incredibly precious documents for me. I don’t know if those buildings still exist or not. I’ve lived far from them for a long time. I’ll tell you this: if you saw them, they would break your heart.
When I was a young novelist, the University of Delaware Library sold year-long passes for twenty dollars. My parents took care of my young kids while I roamed the stacks. This is where I randomly came across a book called Man Bites Man: the scrapbook of an Edwardian eccentric, George Ives. This shaped young Harriet Wolf in ways I never could have predicted.
And I should note that as a kid, my dad let me sit in my favorite booth at The Howard House in Elkton, Maryland where we ate Old Bay crabs in the summers. This booth had a framed newspaper clipping that read “Dead Fell From Sky.” My father told me his recollection of the tragedy. And when I was writing at Ragdale seventeen years ago, I had the chance to interview Jack and Abbie Fassnacht, living outside of Chicago at the time, who were witnesses – in fact, they were on their way home from a potluck, much like Eleanor and George in the novel, when the plane was struck by lightning. They were kind enough to recount the strange and terrifying event for me.
A handful of people have read this novel over the years – including my agent, Nat Sobel. He has guarded Harriet Wolf better than any member of the Harriet Wolf Society ever could, and he protected me, as a writer, while pushing me to live up to the promise this novel holds, a promise of the imagination – my own and hopefully, one day, the imagination of the reader.
— Julianna Baggott