(K. Brent Tomer),
The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe. A Biography. By Elaine Showalter. Simon and Schuster; 243 pages; $28.
HISTORY remembers Julia Ward Howe as the author of perhaps the most stirring song America has ever produced. In 1861, at the dawn of the civil war, she awoke with the lyrics to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” almost fully formed in her head. Every American schoolchild knows the opening: “Mine eyes have seen the glory…” The anthem was sung at Winston Churchill’s funeral in 1965, at his request.
Yet Howe was far more than a shooting star across America’s literary landscape, as Elaine Showalter makes clear in this delightful biography. She wrote poetry, plays and books, including an unfinished novel about an androgynous character who attracts the love of both men and women. Entitled “The Hermaphrodite” and written in the 1840s, it was vastly ahead of its time. Later, Howe emerged as a tireless speaker for feminist causes, notably women’s right to vote. Her life intersected with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the Brownings, Louisa May Alcott and Henry James.