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Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West Paperback – April 24, 2012
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“If you were impressed with Laura Hillenbrand’s efforts to breathe life into Seabiscuit—or wax romantic about Willa Cather’s classic My Antonia—this is a book for you.”—Grand Rapids Press
About the Author
Dorothy Wickenden has been the executive editor of The New Yorker since January 1996. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard, Wickenden was national affairs editor at Newsweek from 1993-1995 and before that was the longtime executive editor at The New Republic. She lives with her husband and her two daughters in Westchester, New York.
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The author of “Nothing Daunted,” Dorothy Wickendon, is the most fortunate of biographers. She had a treasure trove of letters, news clippings, and family remembrances on which to develop her story. Historical researchers and writers are ecstatic when finding such abundant material.
Her grandmother. Dorothy Woodruff, and close friend of eighty-three years, Rosamond Underwood, will be two of the most likable and adventurous women the reader will ever meet. In their late twenties, with open spirits and inquisitive minds, the two ladies signed on to be teachers in the remote high country of Colorado. They knew nothing of being a teacher or of subsisting in a turbulent environment, but overcame all the hurdles with their eager and resolute attitude.
The amazing thing about their comments is the absence of complaints or odious remarks about anything or anybody they encounter. It’s almost Pollyannaish in its reading, yet refreshing and delightful in our contemporary world of distasteful literary efforts.
Dorothy’s letters are filled with insight and amusing anecdotes. I squirmed when reading of the flea infestation found in the straw flooring of Parisian carriages. And I understand her perplexed look at Matisse paintings. She was opinionated and set in her ways, but in an agreeable and down-to-earth manner.
There are interesting glimpses at Isadora Duncan, Nijinsky, and Agnes de Mille, who, as a thirty-year-old dance instructor, wanted to see a real square dance. She came to Elkhead, witnessed and joined in the locals’ dance, and ended up in the sagebrush when she was pitched through the door at the end of a “crack the whip” step. Seven years later she danced the lead in her ballet, “Rodeo,” to Aaron Copeland’s rousing score, crediting her trip to Elkhead as the inspiration.
There’s not a disagreeable character in story. Perhaps the most intriguing is Ferry Carpenter, a local lawyer, who hires the two women and becomes their guardian angel. He is about their age, kind and solicitous, and I sense a romantic entanglement never acted upon until Ros marries him after the death of her husband many years later.
This book is an uplifting look at the goodness in people, not only in Dorothy and Ros, but also in the people they encounter. That feeling of benevolence is extended to the author as she interviews the expanded group of family members from the early days of Elkhead, Hayden, and Oak Creek. Wickendon’s gift for language, passion for research, and painstaking construction of complex relationships will fascinate you.
Schuyler T Wallace
Author of TIN LIZARD TALES
It seems this book was destined to be written due to the number of saved letters and documents and taped accounts, etc. that exist.. It is presented as a documentary rather than historical fiction and I felt it truly come alive when I heard the women's 'voices' through their letters. Inspiring