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Comfort and Mirth

Lori Joan Swick

Publication Year: 2009

Comfort and Mirth offers a rare glimpse into the capital city of Texas during the years of World War I, the formation of the Texas suffrage movement, the prohibition, and the first round of controversies over the Jim Crow Laws. It traces the growth of Austin from a frontier town to a cosmopolitan southwestern city including such events as the arrival of the first motorcars to the dusty streets Congress Avenue, the opening of the Hancock Opera House, the formation of Elizabet Ney’s sculpture museum in Hyde Park, and the construction, flooding, and reconstruction of the great dam to form the Texas Hill Country lake system. Set early in the twentieth century, this novel traces a young woman’s journey of self-discovery and struggle for self-empowerment. Camille Abernathy leaves her home and widowed mother in Seattle to move to Austin with her worldly new husband who has accepted a position as Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas. As she devotes herself to the tasks required to create a home of ease and elegance for her husband and her children, she is drawn into a whirling social circle of professors’ wives and introduced to the world of urban opulence and hypocrisy. Through the letters she writes to her mother, Camille learns to unravel the complexities of her new life by trusting in her natural instincts and relying on her greatest innate strengths—depth of philosophical and spiritual wisdom.

Published by: TCU Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 3-4

Dear Mother, If a broken mirror brings seven years of bad luck, how long would it take the world to right itself if the sky shattered? I ask because the southwestern winds have sheared the clouds into a sheet of glass with the luster of quicksilver, and lately, I have come to ...

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1. Daughters

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pp. 5-10

The brakemen called to one another from above, a whistle pierced the drone of the engine, and the train slowed to pass through another station. Perhaps they would stop at this one, she thought; she longed to walk in fresh air for a ...

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2. Perception

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pp. 11-24

“Abernathy!” Camille’s new last name resounded from within the crowd. Brooks looked around. “Thomas! How good of you to come.” A young man with a captivating smile and horn-rimmed glasses hurried over with an attractive woman

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3. Tidings

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pp. 25-28

December 23, 1910 Dear Mother, Brooks insists I write to you. I’ve put it off for some time—I know you understand. It’s hard for me to realize the only way I can communicate with you now is to pour myself out on paper, but I ...

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4. Promises Made

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pp. 29-32

She folded the papers neatly and placed them in the drawer of the nightstand. Brooks set his pen down and stretched. “Are you still awake?” he asked. “I thought you were sleeping.” “I’ve written a letter to Mother.” ...

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5. Germination

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pp. 33-38

Brooks started at the university in early January, and Camille spent her days bustling from room to room in her new home making decisions about future furniture design and wall and window treatments. She walked the lawn often, taking note of tree placement ...

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6. Probability

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pp. 39-45

March 25, 1911 Dear Mother, We’ve put off getting a carriage, as Brooks wants to buy a motorcar. No matter how late he gets home in the evening, he spends at least an hour after dinner studying the motor ads in the newspaper, no doubt trying to imagine which one he would look the most dashing in driving

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7. Promises Kept

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pp. 46

March 25, 1911 DearTess, Here is the book I promised at last.With the move and all the details of setting up a household, time got away from me and I didn’t get this off to you nearly as soon as I had intended.But, of course, ...

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8. Mirth

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pp. 47-52

Camille watched the oranges and lavenders of the sunset flatten themselves across the western hills and understood how Austin had come to be called the violet crown. Shadows of dusk lengthened over the gold and green grass ...

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9. Lunacy

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pp. 53-63

Baby Andrew was three weeks old when he had his first outing; he slept through most of it. Camille dressed him in cotton leggings and swaddled him against the autumn chill in his plaid flannel hooded bunting. She felt his soft breath on her neck as Brooks carefully ...

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10. Dichotomy

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pp. 64-69

November 2, 1911 Dear Mother, How shall I describe your grandson to you? He has lots of dark hair and the face of a cherub.He even has his own intoxicating smell, different from any other in the world. His miniature hands and feet are all wrinkled and pink, and his new red baby face is smoothing ...

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11. Attachment

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pp. 70-78

January blew in cold and wet—not the kind of weather to take a baby strolling about in—so Camille had been confined to the house for almost two weeks. Coral was coming every weekday, and though life was completely different, their daily ...

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12. Pleasantries

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pp. 79-97

Camille stood in her muslin corset and petticoat, eyeing herself critically in the wardrobe mirror. She had lost the extra weight from her pregnancy, but her normal body weight had redistributed itself, and none of her clothes fit as they had before. She frantically ...

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13. The Trellis

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pp. 98-105

Herbs have a variety of temperaments, and flowers have distinctive characters. Camille had learned this as a young child and made careful allowances for it in planning the formal gardens for the backyard. According to the 1912 ...

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14. Seedlings

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pp. 106-110

March 21, 1912 Dear Mother, I’ve finally finished putting in gardens in the back lawn. It doesn’t look like much now, save the herb garden, which produces new delights daily, but in a couple of months I should have lots of roses, and by fall the beds should be filling ...

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15. The Opera

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pp. 111-125

Camille and Eveline spent the afternoon at the beauty parlor the day of the opera. Eveline had purchased a dark blue frock with a narrow lace yoke and bands of shirring, while Camille had selected a champagne-pink Marquisette gown ...

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16. Sunsets

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pp. 126-127

April 8, 1912 DearTess, Another daughter! How delightful! Now you have a trio of angels. It was so good of you to remember me with an announcement, and it leaves me feeling somewhat foolish, for I had a son last October and never thought to mail cards.Andrew is seven months old and looks like a miniature ...

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17. Lace

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pp. 128-156

Coral arranged to stay late the day of the dinner party. She had the house sparkling clean by noon and spent the afternoon keeping Andrew content and helping Camille hang her herbal garlands and watch the oven. As the sun started its slant ...

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18. Propagation

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pp. 157-163

Texas was abloom in May. Bluebonnets, black-eyed Susans, and Indian paintbrushes covered the fields and roadsides, and Camille’s herbs thrived in a splendid array of color and aroma.On Eveline’s last visit, she told Camille she would like to put in a small herb ...

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19. Wisdom

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pp. 164-166

May 27, 1912 Dear Mother, Before dad died, did you ever wake up in the morning with the feeling your husband had somehow disappeared through the window during the night and a man who looked like him had taken his place? I scrubbed the floors until well after midnight, mostly because ...

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20. Tinctures

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pp. 167-174

Brooks brought his typewriter home in June to work on his book. He set up a study corner in the guestroom and worked for an hour or two every afternoon. After dinner most evenings, he went back in, shut the door, and didn’t ...

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21. The Gazebo

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pp. 175-188

Camille had dinner on the table by the time Brooks got home from golf.Andrew’s cough had eased considerably, and he ate all his chicken and dumplings. She had the kitchen clean in record time, and as she pulled on a mint green cotton ...

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22. Power

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pp. 189-201

As registered suffragists, Camille and Eveline had been encouraged to march in the Fourth of July parade. But Camille wanted to watch the parade with Andrew, and Eveline didn’t want to march without Camille, so the ...

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23. Dewberries

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pp. 202-204

July 5, 1912 Dear Mother, I’m ten weeks pregnant.This one is so different from the first. I suffer with more nausea than I did with Andrew, and I have weak spells. Brooks called the doctor over last night after I fainted on the front steps. Eveline brought me to with smelling salts, and when ...

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24. Lines

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pp. 205-218

Brooks took his typewriter back to his office in late July so he could write in between his frequent meetings and preparations for the fall semester. Every Monday morning, Eveline baked fresh gingerbread and brought a pan over ...

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25. Sons

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pp. 219-221

February 3, 1913 DearTess, As you see, I followed your lead and sent out announcements this time.Alexander is a beautiful baby—much fairer than Andrew and a full pound heavier in birth weight.Though it’s only been sixteen months since Andrew was born, I’d forgotten just how small an ...

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26. The Trolley

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pp. 222-229

The University of Texas faculty held its year-end picnic at Deep Eddy Recreation Area on the Colorado River. Camille was reluctant to take four-month-old Alexander out in the mid-May sun, but Brooks insisted they make an ...

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27. Formosa

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pp. 230-240

Jewel telephoned early one morning in October. “I’m calling everyone!” she shouted. “Have you read the Statesman?” “Not yet,” Camille replied. “I just saw Brooks off to work, and the boys are finishing breakfast.” “You won’t believe it.We did it!We actually did it.” ...

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28. Fall Annuals

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pp. 241-244

October 25, 1913 Dear Mother, I love autumn.The oaks are fading golden with an occasional exclamation of orange, and after such long hot summers, the cool breezes are especially exhilarating. I’ve had a spectacular late blooming with my roses, and the backyard is a wonderland of burgundy and

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29. Security

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pp. 245-248

July 4, 1917 Dear Mother, This year’s Independence Day parade was quite a bit different from those we’ve seen before.Only a war could bring out such stunning examples of civic patriotism.Texans are especially determined to aid the allies in winning the war ...

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30. Suffrage

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pp. 249-257

The state of Texas was to start impeachment proceedings against Governor Ferguson in early September of 1917 following an investigation of allegations that he had achieved his political aspirations through bribery and embezzlement. He ...

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31. Parades

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pp. 258-270

Camille and Jewel confided only in Eveline concerning Morgan’s plight, and in the following months after each of their rounds, they spent at least an hour discussing ways they could help to rescue her; every conversation ended in a ...

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32. Mirrors

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pp. 271-277

September 18, 1919 Dear Mother, If a broken mirror brings seven years of bad luck, how long would it take the world to right itself if the sky shattered? I ask because the southwestern winds have sheared the clouds into a sheet ...

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33. Salves

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pp. 278-286

Camille’s days were long through the fall of 1919.As she spent hour after hour trying to nurse Margery Rose, she had plenty of time to think. At six months Margery Rose still refused to eat mashed fruits or even drink ...

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34. Patterns

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pp. 287-294

In time Camille began to observe certain patterns in Margery Rose’s development. It took about twice as long for her to master motor skills as it had for either of the boys. While Andrew and Alexander sat up by themselves and started ...

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35. Subtleties

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pp. 295-297

March 21, 1923 Dear Mother, I am a colored woman. I have seen the postwar South from the underside, and it is an ugly place in which to be imprisoned. I’m much like Coral—but not entirely. Coral’s so dark brown it seems ...

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36. Desire

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pp. 298-309

Camille’s evening dresses were hopelessly out of date, and she had no time or desire to shop.While looking through her wardrobe and fabric reserve and checking the trends as reported on the society page of the Statesman, she devised a plan. She pegged ...

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37. Home

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pp. 310-317

Two weeks after their train left Austin, the Abernathys took a steamer from the Seattle–Belltown dock to Bainbridge Island on Puget Sound. Camille was anxious to show her children where their grandfather had worked.They ...

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38. Perennials

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pp. 318-321

So much happened in Austin during the three weeks they were gone on vacation, Camille felt as if she were returning to another life.Thomas picked them up from the train station and told them a violent storm had blown through town the ...

39. Comfort

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pp. 322-323

E-ISBN-13: 9780875654782
E-ISBN-10: 0875654789
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875653945
Print-ISBN-10: 0875653944

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: 1

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Subject Headings

  • Historical fiction. -- gsafd.
  • Austin (Tex.) -- Fiction.
  • Texas -- History -- 1846-1950 -- Fiction.
  • Self-realization in women -- Fiction.
  • Housewives -- Fiction.
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