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The Silver Baron's Wife Paperback – September 15, 2016
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An artistic, sympathetic imagining of the life of a 19th-century woman who made headlines for all the wrong reasons. -- KIRKUS REVIEWS
From the Back Cover
At long last we get to hear Baby Doe's compelling side of the hurtful tale that made her the most hated woman in the West. Donna Baier Stein has captured young Lizzie's Doe's agency in her first marriage, as well as older Lizzie's Tabor's deep spiritual resilience during her decades of isolation.Through Stein's artistry, Baby Doe's story makes the heart ache. --Judy Nolte Temple, BABY DOE TABOR: THE MADWOMAN IN THE CABIN
Donna Baier Stein paints a heartfelt, poignant picture filled with loving details of Baby Doe's celebrated life that lingers long after the last page is turned.--Ann Parker, THE SILVER RUSH MYSTERY SERIES
Explosive, gripping andromantic... An absorbing read about a fiercely independent woman who charted her own course only to find herself paying the price.--Talia Carner, HOTEL MOSCOW
With sumptuous, tactile prose, rich historical detail, and an evocative recreation of the American West, The Silver Baron's Wife excavates the legend of Elizabeth McCourt Tabor to expose a character's humanity and soul.--Diane Bonavist, THE CATHARS
...a beautiful and absorbing novel, rich in history and vivid period detail...This is a moving and memorable book.--Ronna Wineberg, SEVEN FACTS THAT CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE
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Stein is an award-winning poet, fiction writer, and publisher of the highly respected Tiferet journal. Stein is an artful writer with a gift for visceral prose borne of poetic sensibilities. Her elegance is backed by meticulous research through which descriptions shine, tapping into the telling details of long lost pasts, such as the advice to sew rocks into the hem of a dress “to keep it from blowing in the high mountain winds” as well as to “sit with your back to the horses [in a coach] for a less bumpy ride.” Stein calls our attention to “green scrollwork that decorated the shiny black doors of a stagecoach,” brushing one’s teeth “with a mixture of honey and pulverized charcoal,” and the hawk on the lock of Lizzie’s (Baby Doe’s) trunk, “poised for flight,” its feathers quivering. At the end of life, Lizzie’s “toes had gnarled into their own odd sculptures.”
Yet it is Stein’s descriptions of opulence that I found most sumptuous, the women at the Tabor Opera House, “bustled, bonneted, and bejeweled” and the abundance of the opera house itself: “Crimson paint shimmered on the walls, and a thick crimson carpet muffled footsteps. Two huge brass chandeliers hung from the ceiling.” In describing the bedroom she shared with the love of her life, Horace Tabor, Lizzie tells us, “...silver boxes shone in a curio cabinet, a silver-backed mirror and brush lay atop my dressing table. The doors of my armoire were closed, but I knew there were thirty elegant gowns insides; two dozen pairs of shoes; feathered hats and beaded purses.”
Stein relates in Acknowledgements that she has been fascinated, if not obsessed with, Elizabeth McCourt Tabor since she was seven years old and learned of Baby Doe on a family vacation to Colorado. The Silver Baron’s Wife is obviously Stein’s passion project and we are the lucky recipients of her brilliant portrayal of this complex iconoclast and the life she led.
Author: Donna Baier Stein
Publisher: Serving House Books
206 pages, $3.99 Kindle, $14.95 Paperback
Award-winning literary novelist Donna Baier Stein has just published a moving and powerful portrait of a controversial and memorable character well known here in Leadville, Colorado but little known at lesser altitudes, “Baby Doe” Tabor, the second wife of Horace Tabor, the 1880s Silver King who left his name on many local landmarks.
Baier Stein brings respect and restraint to this story of a scandalous love affair, keeping her story firmly rooted in a real woman’s battle to live her life on her own terms. In a time when women were expected to keep house and tolerate their men’s misdeeds, Elizabeth McCourt (Doe) Tabor boldly divorced a philandering, drug-addicted husband and sought her fortune in the booming mining town of Leadville. There she met and won the heart and hand of wealthy Horace Tabor, who divorced his wife Augusta for the beautiful young Lizzie. Baier Stein keeps her focus on Lizzie’s choices and actions, brilliantly illuminating her character as a woman of strength and courage. In Baier Stein’s telling, Lizzie truly loved her Horace, raising her two daughters with him after his financial ruin until his death. After his passing, while still a young woman left penniless with two daughters to support, she carried on as best she could to meet his last request, a plea to attempt to revive the Matchless Mine.
To Leadville locals, surrounded on every side by buildings still bearing the Tabor name and tourist picture postcards of the beautiful young Baby Doe, the dashing Horace Tabor and the stern-faced Augusta Tabor, the broad outlines of this story are familiar territory. What I found most moving and engaging in Baier Stein’s account was Lizzie’s inner experience of these familiar events. Her distress, for example, as an earnest and devout young Catholic, at contemplating divorce. Her visions and dreams, which she carefully recorded and pondered, looking for divine instruction and guidance. Her courage in seeking work in a man’s world, refusing the only readily available work for women in Leadville—prostitution. Far from the gold-digger of popular imagination, this Lizzie was a woman of constancy and spiritual depth, a devoted if disappointed mother and a true partner and lover to her Horace.
This is a work of fiction, and so Baier Stein’s Lizzie is a fictional Lizzie, but an authentic and believable one well-rooted in her time and circumstances. The author clearly researched her subject and the period deeply and rigorously, and drew much from Baby Doe’s own journals and letters, as well as the often lurid newspaper accounts of the time. As a reader who loves historical fiction, history and biography, I greatly admire the author’s skill in creating a vivid and memorable character while honoring the historical record and the oral traditions surrounding Baby Doe that still echo around town.
Recommendation: I wholeheartedly recommend this beautifully written book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, especially set in the Wild West, biography or well-written biographical fiction. Whether you know the story of Baby Doe, or if you have never heard of her, you will enjoy this engaging and moving story of a brave and tragic woman who met life on her own terms no matter the cost.