More a collection of short stories than a traditional
novel, The Friendly Persuasion
features the Birdwells, a Quaker family living in southern Indiana near
the town of Vernon in the mid-19th century. Jess Birdwell is a
nurseryman, growing and delivering flora on his horse-drawn buggy to
customers. Eliza Birdwell is a “preacher” at their Quaker meeting
house. They have six living children.
The 14 stories span four decades, from the children’s youth to Jess’s and Eliza’s old age. They range from the serious, such as son Josh’s un-Quaker decision to defend Vernon against Confederate raiders, to silly, such as Eliza’s going to court to reclaim a pet goose.
The Friendly Persuasion is based on Jessamyn West’s own Quaker family history. Recovering at the family home from tuberculosis, West listened to her mother’s stories about growing up Quaker in southern Indiana. Her grandparents became models for the Birdwells. She originally published the stories separately in magazines and then had them reprinted together as a book. In the 1950s it was adapted into a film starring Gary Cooper.
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