Shame the Devil: A Novel

SUNY Press
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FINALIST – 2011 ForeWord Book of the Year in the
Historical Fiction Category

Based on the remarkable and true
story of the nineteenth-century novelist, journalist, and feminist Fanny

“There may be married people who do not read the
morning paper. Smith and I know them not … It is not too much to say the
newspapers are one of our strongest points of sympathy; that it is our meat and
drink to praise and abuse them together; that we often in our imagination edit a
model newspaper, which shall have for its motto, ‘Speak the truth, and shame the
devil.’” — Fanny Fern

Shame the Devil tells the remarkable and
true story of Fanny Fern (the pen name of Sara Payson Willis), one of the most
successful, influential, and popular writers of the nineteenth century. A
novelist, journalist, and feminist, Fern (1811–1872) outsold Harriet Beecher
Stowe, won the respect of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and served as literary mentor to
Walt Whitman. Scrabbling in the depths of poverty before her meteoric rise to
fame and fortune, she was widowed, escaped an abusive second marriage, penned
one of the country’s first prenuptial agreements, married a man eleven years her
junior, and served as a nineteenth-century Oprah to her hundreds of thousands of
fans. Her weekly editorials in the pages of the New York Ledger over a
period of about twenty years chronicled the myriad controversies of her era and
demonstrated her firm belief in the motto, “Speak the truth, and shame the
devil.” Through the story of Fern and her contemporaries, including Walt
Whitman, Catharine Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Jacobs, and Nathaniel
Hawthorne, Shame the Devil brings the intellectual and social ferment
of mid-nineteenth-century America to life.

“Debra Brenegan will
undoubtedly receive high praise for her superb portrait of Fanny Fern. Readers
will gain an insightful look at this overlooked author and her firsthand account
of American society during her time.” — Historical Novel

“…[an] excellent novel … This enlightening book collects
well-selected snapshots, pieces of interpretive history that will be
remembered.” — ForeWord Reviews

Shame the Devil is a
passionate and stirring tribute to a refined wordsmith who paved the way for
generations of women.” — Milwaukee Shepherd Express

Margaret Fuller and Emily Dickinson, her contemporaries of the mid-nineteenth
century, Fanny Fern was an American woman far ahead of her time. Debra Brenegan
has brought the drama of Fanny Fern’s story to life in her carefully researched
and stirring biographical novel Shame the Devil. There is an
authenticity to every page brimming with the flavor of Fern’s era and the drama
of her insurgence against puritanical social mores and unjust patriarchal laws.
The characterization of the young rebellious Sara Willis, later to be known as
the famous columnist Fanny Fern, in the beginning pages of the book is lively
and endearing and sets the stage for the pioneering adventures that follow. The
reader will find it hard to put down this book as it takes one on a thrilling
and adventurous journey into the life of a great American humanitarian—an
advocate of women’s and children’s rights who forged her way into the American
mind, leaving behind a rich legacy of accomplishment upon which we continue to
thrive in our struggle to progress toward being fully decent and enlightened
humans.” — Daniela Gioseffi, author of Wild Nights, Wild Nights: The Story
of Emily Dickinson’s “Master,” Neighbor and Friend and

“Brenegan’s Fanny Fern is a marvel—fiercely determined,
passionate, and alive with a strikingly modern wit. Shame the Devil is
a fine tribute to the writer who paved the way for generations of women.” —
Kelly O’Connor McNees, author of The Lost Summer of Louisa May

“Debra Brenegan has created a lively portrait of an amazing
woman. The heart-wrenching ups and downs of Fanny Fern’s life make for riveting
reading, and the lush depictions of mid-1800s Boston and New York, peppered with
glimpses of Walt Whitman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Harriet Jacobs, make for a
vivid, rollicking tale of one of the most pivotal moments in American literary
history.” — Tina May Hall, author of The Physics of Imaginary

“In her wide-ranging way, Debra Brenegan turns an age of
great social and artistic change—for the races, for women, for the country—into
a narrative of compelling characters. This novel emerges from history and
becomes something more valuable—great literary art. Brenegan’s Fanny, her
family, and the cluster of historical characters come to us complicated and
whole, demanding our attention.” — Robert Stewart, editor of New

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About the author

Debra Brenegan is Assistant Professor of English and Coordinator of Women’s Studies at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. Her work has been published in CALYX, The Cimarron Review, Southern Women’s Review, Phoebe, and other publications.
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Additional Information

SUNY Press
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Published on
Jul 1, 2011
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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