- Star of Destiny: The Private Life of Sam and Margaret Houston by Madge Thornall Roberts, and: The Raven’s Bride: A Novel of Eliza Allen and Sam Houston by Elizabeth Crook (review)
- Western American Literature
- University of Nebraska Press
- Volume 29, Number 4, Winter 1995
- pp. 370-371
- View Citation
- Additional Information
370 WesternAmerican Literature Star ofDestiny: The Private Life ofSam and Margaret Houston. By Madge Thornall Roberts. (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1993. 464 pages, $29.50.) The Raven’s Bride: A Novel ofEliza Allen and Sam Houston. By Elizabeth Crook. (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1993. 432 pages, $12.95.) Reading Madge Thornall Roberts’ Star ofDestiny, I often imagined myself having tea with Roberts in a sunlit parlor while she recounted stories passed down in her family about her great-great-grandparents Sam and Margaret Houston. In this story of a marriage, Roberts weaves the pieces of her greatgreat -grandmother’s life into a tapestry that is intricate in detail and rich in color. Roberts’love for her matrilineal heritage isclearly evident in her account of this marriage, for unlike other biographies of the First governor ofTexas and his wife, this is not Sam’s but Margaret Lea Houston’s story. The memories Roberts relates, memories softened with time and with many tellings and retellings, are stories of love and praise for a woman whose life has until now been hidden from the public gaze. In retelling this story, Roberts brings together family stories and historical accounts, interweaving them with hundreds of previously unpublished letters Sam and Margaret Lea Houston wrote to each other during their twenty-three years of marriage. Margaret’s letters are often loud cries ofanguish that are met with Sam’s letters of passionate but rational adoration. Because of his political responsibilities, Sam often returned home only several weeks out of each year, long enough to remind Margaret of the painfulness of his absence and to leave her once again pregnant. Throughout these years of their separation, Margaret maintained sole responsibility for raising their children and for managing the family estate in spite of frequent illnesses and many difficult pregnancies. Although Roberts makes no comment on the stress these long absences caused Margaret, the passages from the letters she includes tell the story poignantly. At times Iwanted to hear more ofthe letters and less ofRoberts’interpreta tions. But this is a story, not solely of the letters of two people. This is a family heirloom, a historical memoir. The stories Roberts tells are ones she heard from her grandmother, stories grounded in truth and embellished with the years. In contrast, Elizabeth Crook’s novel TheRaven'sBrideis a fictional retelling, with only one foot tenuously grounded in historical facts. Crook’s imagination is as much a part of the retelling as are the historical facts of the relationship between Sam Houston and his first wife, Eliza Allen. Married onJanuary 22,1829, when Sam Houston was 35 years old and Eliza Allen only 19, Sam and Eliza lived together only three weeks before they separated. In the years that followed there was much speculation as to the cause. When asked by a close friend, Houston reportedly replied, “It is an absolute secret and will always remain so.”And so it has remained. Except for the dates of their marriage, a few scattered stories, and numerous newspaper articles ques Reviews 371 tioning their abrupt and secretive marriage, historians have found no access to the love affair between Sam Houston and ElizaAllen. No family stories that have been passed down from one generation to the next; no letters found in dusty trunks hidden in the attic. There is only imagination to fill in the gaps. This sense of imagination is the basis for The Raven's Bride. As Crook states in her forward, a biographical novel “isa hybrid creature offact and fabrication, in which authenticity becomes a dubious virtue.” In telling this story, the collecting offacts was a difficult task since there is no one story ofthis marriage, or even agreement that there was a marriage. Unlike Margaret Houston, “Eliza left no such record of herself; the only clues into her nature are mere scraps—a few statements made about her, long after her separation form Sam Houston, touching mostly on her demeanor and appearance, and a few words attributed to her on the subject of her marriage to Houston.” The strength of Crook’s work is in the appendix to the book, Crook’s speculation on the events...