The "Gibson Girl" embodied popular American fashion beginning in the 1890s and remained popular well into the 20th century.
Charles Dana Gibson's "The Weaker Sex", one of many of the illustrator's sketches to appear in LIFE magazine featuring the "Gibson Girl".
After completing the writing and first round of line-editing for the original draft of Loggerhead, I still didn't have a title for the book, or for the town itself. Originally, the town was going to remain unnamed in the story, the implication being that it could have been any of a number of localized, small townships in contemporary 1890s Florida such as Sarasota, Fruitville or Bee Ridge (This fact was referenced by characters at the end of the final book of the Green Flourish Pentalogy). Upon re-reading the story, I quickly realized that it would be much more fun to design a fictitious locale based specifically upon Sarasota. Thus, alterations were made to create the evil sister-city to the waterfront town, and references to Sarasota as a distinct location were added to the story. Plenty of bad things happened in Sarasota's true history (the Vigilance Committee was a very real organization), but by mixing contemporary social attitudes and actual political organizations, Loggerhead takes evil to the fictional extreme.
Another big change between the first and final drafts was the addition of the edited flashbacks gleaned from the Pentalogy. In writing Loggerhead, I intended to create a stand-alone novel (as opposed to the serialized five books of the Pentalogy), but I felt it would help to create a more complete understanding of the characters of Mary and Abigail if references to their earlier lives were included. Anyone interested in the details of the flashbacks can always read the Pentalogy, but for those new to the series, Loggerhead essentially allows readers to catch-up by covering all of the highlights.
The Opening Letter - Themes
The basic purpose of starting each Mary Fisher novel with a letter written to her daughter is to frame the time and reason of Mary writing her autobiography and to set up the theme of the book. During the story of her visit to Loggerhead, Mary is seventeen years old, and if she were writing contemporarily to the action, her views might have been drastically different. She makes it clear that, at the actual time of her writing, it is 1936, and thus she is around fifty-seven years of age and looking backwards on her life with a great many more experiences in which to put the events of her youth into perspective. It is important to note when she is writing not only to show how her perception of contemporary events can influence her writing, but also because her statements clearly set the symbolical meaning of the entire story.
While the town of Loggerhead, Florida is fictitious, the fact of the matter is that the Nazis did in truth host the Olympic Games at Berlin in August of 1936. In her letter, Mary states: “History, it seems, truly repeats itself, for when I consider the events of my brief stay in Loggerhead forty years ago, I see, albeit on a smaller scale, the same sort of political browbeating that has come to infect Europe in the modern day.” She later refers to Hitlerism as: “the final result of a sick ideology [that] fructifies in the hearts of men.”
Themes - Political Allegory
Like the town of Loggerhead, the Graybacks may be fictitious, but they are based on actual paramilitary groups of the United States that existed in the 19th century. In modern terms, many people consider such groups to be a European phenomenon, especially as relates to the Sturmabteilung (storm troopers), the paramilitary group that saw Hitler and the Nazi party “legally” elected in Germany in the 1930s, but the truth is that even the American Republicans used such a group, known as the Wide Awakes, to support the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. There were numerous such groups which used uniforms and symbols and secret oaths in order to band together in support of their chosen candidates, and while they used nowhere near as draconian measures as the Nazis, by today’s standards the very notion of such groups is considered backwards in a free, democratic society. In opposition to the Wide Awakes, the Democratic Party had a group known as the Chloroformers. There were several such groups in the South known as Minute Men which continued to exist even after the first incarnation of the better known Ku Klux Klan dissolved in the 1870s.
In writing of this episode in her young life, Mary is making an objective criticism, the sort likely only a foreign born and raised person could make, of the land she has come to adopt as her home. In doing so, she relates the people and their actions to similar events contemporary to her writing, nearly forty years later, and projects what she sees as being the future of the next several years in Europe (1936-1945) so that the individual characters come to represent the millions of people of the countries involved in World War II. In brief, the nations and organizations involved are:
Mary - Britain
Abigail - America
Thrasher - Germany
Skjeggestad - Norway and the other Scandinavian nations
Ivanov - Soviet Russia
Dottie - Austria
Beauregard - Vichy France
The Ponsobys - Poland and Czechoslovakia
Deputy Wilson - The Schutzstaffel (SS)
The Graybacks - The Sturmabteilung (SA)
While in some cases the metaphor is clear, such as in the case of place of birth (Mary, Abigail and Ivanov), or familial nation of ancestry (Skjeggestad and Beauregard), the following conclusions can be reached based upon both the attributes and actions of the particular characters:
- Thrasher represents not only Germany, but Hitler himself. Hitler was a veteran of the First World War, and just like Thrasher’s experiences during the American Civil War, it was Hitler’s experiences during the earlier conflict that shaped his ideology, his desire to attain political office, and his need to conduct another war to set things “right” and institute a cultural Renaissance; like Hitler, Thrasher was blinded temporarily as a young man in the earlier war;
- Dottie represents Austria in the manner in which she was brought in to the group, being a “bloodless conquest” who decides to join based upon the ideology presented although she will come to regret that decision; as William L. Shirer called the annexation of that nation by Germany in 1938, the anschluss was the “rape of Austria”, and in modern terms that is what happened to Dottie; in assigning a young woman to be Austria, Thrasher’s sister plays the part in the earlier war (The American Civil War as World War I) and her death mirrors the tearing apart of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the end of that conflict;
- The interaction between Thrasher and Ivanov is a reflection of the political interaction of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany before and during the war; the two unlikely comrades join in the sense of the non-aggression treaty of 1939 known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact; the same as during the war when Germany invaded Russia in 1941, Thrasher turns on Ivanov when the time is right for him, effectively breaking their treaty;
- The Ponsobys, for all of their well-meaning civility, are by themselves in no position to survive on their own; they effectively represent the smaller nations of Europe, most notably with the man being Czechoslovakia and his wife being Poland, though they are somewhat interchangeable; as Mary notes, Mr Ponsoby is essentially publicly castrated by his inability to act in the same sense that the democratic republic of Czechoslovakia was dismembered by Germany before the entire world in 1939 in the interest of keeping the status quo and avoiding war; as for Mrs Ponsoby, Ivanov states that he wants to “split her right in the middle” just as Russia and Germany did during the invasion of Poland in 1939; Mr Ponsoby’s resistance to the overwhelming strength of Thrasher can be seen as the resistance of the Poles to Germany when they futilely sent their cavalry, bearing lances and carbines, against the panzer tanks and motorised infantry of the invading Germans; the outcome for the man is much the same as for the Poles themselves, and ultimately it is the British (Mary) and Americans (Abigail) that set things right for the Ponsobys again;
- Reverend Lasker, who seems to find himself side-lined throughout the story, represents the helplessness of the church in the face of fanatical Nazism, both of the Catholic Church under leadership of Pope Pius XII, and the Protestant Lutheran Church of Germany itself under the leadership of such men as Martin Niemöller;
The Broadway Oyster House and the De Soto Hotel in Sarasota, circa 1890s.