For Women’s History Month, it is timely to mention Maine’s first novelist, Madam Sarah Sayward Barrell Keating Wood (1759-1855). Madam Wood, as she was later known, observed the conventions of her time, which dictated that women should never seek publicity and that married women of the gentry class should at least pretend they did no work for compensation. Like many another spunky New England woman, however, she turned to writing for profit when her family finances tanked.
She was widowed in 1783 with three young children. Sometime in the next 16 years, she started writing fiction. At the time, novels were considered morally suspect — a corrupting influence unless they explicitly promoted virtuous behavior. The four novels that Sally published from 1800 to 1804 all upheld civic virtue and moral rectitude.
Her second novel, “Dorval,” subtitled “The Speculator,” focused on the financial ruin brought on by speculation and investment scams. Her fictional character, Colonel Morely, is lured to invest in a land speculation scam by the promise of fabulous wealth, which wrecks his family’s finances.
In contrast to her foolishly greedy parent, the colonel’s daughter Aurelie exemplifies the virtues of industry and moderation. Because she has already learned to sew and cook, when her family is suddenly impoverished she is prepared to live without servants.
Aurelie passes up most of the fancy balls that ran late at night, preferring elegant and restrained tea parties in her neighborhood. The author uses conversations at these tea parties to disclose events happening at a distance that will drive the plot.
Bread and butter, homemade preserves and simple cakes would be served at these neighborhood tea parties. Sponge cake with jam would be suitable. The following sponge cake recipe is adapted from a manuscript cookbook that a Massachusetts woman started writing in 1801.