A FEARFUL INNOCENCE by Frances Davis

A FEARFUL INNOCENCE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Oh the persistent hopes of cadres of brothers!"" So mused the author on seeing new Utopians proselytizing for their kingdoms of late, all in the tradition of America's several Brook Farms--or ""the Farm"" in West Newbury, Massachusetts, where Frances Davis spent her childhood and some of her youth. Founder of the Farm, in 1909, was Congregational minister Rory Albertson, a social gospeler who lured converts from among Boston's Fabians, trade-unionists, suffragettes, and intellectual young of all shades. Those who trooped down on weekends, to join the regulars in a perfect union of ""high thought and lowly labor,"" included future literary lights, journalists, engineers, and politicians. Under Rory's goad, they would all cut hay, bake bread, turn beans, and at night Discuss around the fire. Earth Mother/housemother was Rory's second wife Hazel; raised by the Book--Whitman's Leaves of Grass--and caught up in the dream of joyful brotherhood, Hazel was a bracing sight in chestnut braids and white bloomers. (By silent consent, no one else wore that liberating garment in white.) Davis was two when her union-organizer parents packed her off from their slum-habitat to the Farm. The children of the Farm--""privileged heirs"" to the peaceable kingdom--ran in packs, sang in groups, held adults in common: ""Living was sharing--by fiat."" (There was nothing to claim as one's own, even Mommy.) Davis follows the Farm's various declines, rescues, and resurrections--also caught up, now, in momentous events outside, events touched off by crimes against humanity never dreamt of in Utopia. She recalls, with youthful ardor and high color, her brief period as a foreign correspondent in Civil War Spain (her 1940 war journal, My Shadow in the Sun, might well be considered for reissue). There followed a debilitating illness, her return to the Farm (when she gathered much of the material here), and the happy advent of ""Adam,"" the man who would become her husband (now a Harvard professor). Along with the marvelous farm vignettes and photographs, comes a prime bonus: a series of letters to Hazel Albertson from Farm habituÉ Walter Lippmann. ""There is a deep sadness in things,"" Lippmann wrote. ""Ever not quite."" The perfect society was ever-not-quite, but the Farm-ites survived, as Davis says, to allow others ""to dream anew of the millenium."" A lovely book for kindred, un-quashed spirits.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1981
Publisher: Kent State Univ. Press