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“Polly the Pagan: Her Lost Love Letters” by Isabel Anderson is a historical novel set in the early 20th century.
The book is based on the real-life correspondence between Polly Thayer and Edward “Ned” Bangs, two young lovers who met while attending art school in Boston. The letters, which were rediscovered by Anderson many years later, provide a fascinating glimpse into the lives and loves of a generation that lived through both World War I and II.
The novel begins with Polly, now an elderly woman, reflecting on her youth and the letters she wrote to Ned. As she reads through them, she remembers the passion and excitement of their early romance, as well as the challenges they faced as they tried to build a life together.
The first section of the book takes us back to 1917, when Polly and Ned first met. Polly is a talented artist who dreams of studying in Paris, while Ned is a handsome and charismatic musician. They are both drawn to each other’s artistic talents and quickly become inseparable. However, their romance is threatened by the outbreak of World War I, which leads Ned to enlist in the army and fight in Europe.
The middle section of the book focuses on Polly’s struggles to make a name for herself as an artist in Boston, while also waiting anxiously for news from Ned. As the war drags on, Polly’s letters become more desperate and pleading, as she longs for Ned’s return. Meanwhile, she becomes involved in the local pagan community, which provides her with both solace and inspiration.
The final section of the book takes us through the 1920s and 30s, as Polly and Ned try to build a life together while facing new challenges and obstacles. Ned struggles with alcoholism and depression, while Polly grapples with the demands of her career and the pressure to conform to society’s expectations. The couple faces a series of setbacks and disappointments, but they never lose faith in each other and their love.
Throughout the book, Anderson paints a vivid picture of life in early 20th century America, with all its social, cultural, and political complexities. She explores themes such as gender roles, sexuality, artistic expression, and the meaning of love and commitment. Her writing is at once poetic and evocative, capturing the emotions and sensations of her characters with great sensitivity and insight.
One of the most compelling aspects of the book is its portrayal of the pagan community in Boston, which was largely misunderstood and ostracized at the time. Anderson’s depiction of this community is sympathetic and nuanced, showing how it provided a sense of belonging and purpose for people like Polly who felt alienated from mainstream society.
Another strength of the book is its exploration of the creative process, both in art and music. Anderson clearly has a deep appreciation for the arts, and she brings a wealth of knowledge and insight to her descriptions of the creative process. Her characters are complex and multidimensional, with their artistic pursuits serving as both a source of inspiration and a source of frustration.
In conclusion, “Polly the Pagan: Her Lost Love Letters” is a rich and rewarding novel that will appeal to anyone interested in history, art, music, or romance. It is a poignant and insightful exploration of love, loss, and the human spirit, and it is sure to resonate with readers of all ages and backgrounds