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Library Journal Review
In 1874-75, America was gripped by the scandal of the century, when the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, one of the nation's most renowned reformers, orators, and preachers, known as "the most trusted man in America," was accused of having an adulterous affair with one of his Brooklyn parishioners. The complicated story of intimate associations between Beecher and both Theodore and Elizabeth Tilton and the ensuing public trial fed a print culture eager for sensationalism. Beecher's church stood by him, and he escaped conviction in a civil suit, but he and his causes became subjects of mockery. Through it all, the "truth" of the charges was never secured. Fox (history, Boston Univ.) approaches the scandal ingeniously by reading it backward from the memories of the principals and the public accounts to show how the "truth" was constructed by the invention and layering of stories. He brings all the tools of the historical detective and the sensitivity of a novelist to the task to provide a fascinating portrait of storytelling and news mongering. A book of uncommon insight and intelligence.ÄRandall M. Miller, St. Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Fox's book will make challenging reading for those convinced that recent sex scandals are clear and sufficient markers of the decline of American culture. The Beecher-Tilton affair of the 1870s, involving one of the country's most revered and famous ministers, was at least as titillating and portentous to Gilded Age Americans as the Clinton-Lewinsky fiasco has been to the present generation. Fox provides a subtle, intelligent, nuanced, and valuable retelling of the Beecher-Tilton story. Several features of his approach will make this book problematic for some readers, however. Fox abandons at the outset any attempt to determine who was telling the truth and who was lying. Arguing that a search for "truth" is an unworkable and largely unedifying procedure in this case, he instead concentrates on examining what the multiple narratives or "stories" offered by the principal participants tell readers about 19th-century American culture. In an unusual but surprisingly successful strategy, Fox also casts his own narrative in reverse chronological order, beginning with the deaths of the main figures and working his way back to the trial and alleged scandal itself. This is not a simple or straightforward book, but it is an important treatment of an issue of cultural significance and unusual current relevance. Upper-division undergraduates and above. K. Blaser; Wayne State College