In 1830, Experience "Speedy" Goodrich died after undergoing an abortion in Burlington, Vermont. This tragedy and the resulting inquiry provide the foundation for Jeffrey D. Marshall's meticulously researched first novel. From the vibrant intellectual life of the University of Vermont to the public outcry over grave-robbing medical students in search of subjects for dissectIn 1830, Experience "Speedy" Goodrich died after undergoing an abortion in Burlington, Vermont. This tragedy and the resulting inquiry provide the foundation for Jeffrey D. Marshall's meticulously researched first novel. From the vibrant intellectual life of the University of Vermont to the public outcry over grave-robbing medical students in search of subjects for dissection, and from the progressive social movements of the day to the commercial bustle of a thriving inland port, Marshall offers a compelling portrait of the city and the era. Speedy's death and the subsequent inquest are described by three narrators: Charles Daggett, a student at the UVM medical school who is accused of procuring--and some say actually performing--the abortion; Stephen Decatur Parker, an undergraduate who is drafted to serve as scribe for the inquest into Goodrich's death; and Nancy Goodrich Proctor, the sister of the deceased. Daggett and Proctor were real, while Parker is entirely fictional. Marshall gives them distinct and compelling voices as they recount the events of the tragedy and its personal consequences for each of them. The 1830s were a time of great social, political, and religious upheaval. As in our own time, abortion, religious fundamentalism, and civil liberties were topics of heated debate. Marshall places Speedy Goodrich's story in the context of these enduring controversies in a work of fiction that is both dramatic and historically plausible....
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The Inquest Reviews
(This review was initially published on Practicing Writing, and is based on a review copy provided by UPNE.)I admit that I'm biased a) toward historical fiction and b) toward historical fiction written by authors who, like me, have some professional training in history. So when I saw that UPNE was publishing this novel by Jeffrey D. Marshall, who is Special Collections Librarian and University Archivist at the University of Vermont and editor of A War of the People: Vermont's Civil War Letters, I was immediately intrigued.Marshall's debut novel is inspired by the true story of a Vermont woman--Experience "Speedy" Goodrich--who died in 1830 after having an abortion. Marshall presents the story through three first-person accounts of individuals who played some role in the story, especially in the inquest that followed Speedy's death: Charles Daggett, a student at the University of Vermont medical school accused of procuring (and, in the eyes of many, performing) the abortion; Stephen Decatur Parker, another student who is asked to record the proceedings of the inquest because of his unusual shorthand skills; and Nancy Goodrich Proctor, Speedy's sister.Only Parker is a wholly invented character. Marshall cleverly (if somewhat disappointingly) leaves out accounts from others involved in the case by opening the book with a note titled "About These Accounts." The narrator of this note is Charles Adams, a former prosecutor for the State of Vermont who explains that he was dissatisfied with the original inquest and had decided "to inquire of several persons most familiar with the facts of the case whether they would set down their recollections, in narrative style, for my edification." He then adds that of the individuals whose testimony he solicited, only Daggett, Decatur, and Proctor responded.It was a very smart choice to open the book with Daggett's narrative. Daggett has the most knowledge of the case; he's central to everything else that occurs; the reader finds herself caring about what happens to him at least as much as--if not more than--what happens to Speedy herself. In some ways, it's not difficult to imagine his section of the book as a stand-alone novella, although the other two sections do round out the story.Throughout, Marshall conveys a tremendous amount of historical information. Those interested in the history of science will learn a lot about medical education in the early 19th century; the history of New England comes alive here, too. And then, of course, there's the historical context of this particular story of an abortion.Like many other works of historical fiction, this one appends an "Author's Statement" which throws light on how Marshall developed and researched his book. Somewhat atypically, at least in my reading experience, the statement appears as part of a Reading Group Guide which presents not only some questions for group (or class) discussion, but a Q&A with Marshall, too."In the end," Marshall says in his Author's Statement, "I am not sure that I have done justice to Speedy and the other real characters by presenting the story as historical fiction, but I hope I have suggested something closer to the truth about the times they lived in than I could otherwise do. I hope, as well, that the story will prove entertaining and thought-provoking." He has, and it does.
Based in Burlington, Vermont in the 1800's and based on a true story. Written by a UVM historian and it is fun to read about long ago Burlington. Good story, needed more editing. Girl dies during abortion, interesting portrayal of UVM medical school.