I received a very nice surprise in my mailbox today. I came home to find an envelope that looked like it held a book, so I figured it was my latest Book Mooch request, but when I looked at the envelope more closely, I saw that it was from Stefanie. It turns out she and her husband had an extra copy of Frances Willard’s book A Wheel Within a Wheel and decided to send it along to me. Aren’t they the coolest?
I’m so pleased with my new book. I love the picture on the front cover, and I rather desperately want it turned into a poster so I can hang it in my study or my office (or both). The book was originally published in 1895 and was reprinted in the 1990s by Applewood Books. It’s a very short book, about 80 pages, and it tells the story of how Willard learned to ride a bike when she was 53 years old. Willard, the back of my book tells me, was the founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and was a well-known suffragette. The back cover offers this quotation from the book about Willard’s cycling costume:
[It] consisted of a skirt and blouse of tweed, with belt, rolling collar, and loose cravat, the skirt three inches from the ground; a round straw hat, and walking-shoes with gaiters. It was a simple, modest suit, to which no person of common sense could take exception.
I’m suspecting she might be horrified by what people wear on their bike rides today. Or perhaps not — I should read the book before I guess what her reaction would be to today’s not-at-all modest cycling outfits.
I’ve read only the first two pages, but already I’ve fallen in love with the book. I can’t resist quoting from the beginning:
… Born with an inveterate opposition to staying in the house, I very early learned to use a carpenter’s kit and a gardener’s tools, and followed in my mimic way the occupations of the poulterer and the farmer, working my little field with a wooden plow of my own making, and felling saplings with an ax rigged up from the old iron of the wagon-shop. Living in the country, far from the artificial restraints and conventions by which most girls are hedged from the activities that would develop a good physique, and endowed with the companionship of a mother who let me have my own sweet will, I “ran wild” until my sixteenth birthday, when the hampering long skirts were brought, with their accompanying corset and high heels; my hair was clubbed up with pins, and I remember writing in my journal, in the first heartbreak of a young human colt taking from its pleasant pasture, “Altogether, I recognize that my occupation is gone.”
How tragic! Oh, I sympathize completely, even though I never experienced such a thing — I know I would have hated it. High heels and corsets! Terrible.
My work then changed from my beloved and breezy outdoor world to the indoor realm of study, teaching, writing, speaking, and went on almost without a break or pain until my fifty-third year, when the loss of my mother accentuated the strain of this long period in which mental and physical life were out of balance, and I fell into a mild form of what is called nerve-wear by the patient and nervous prostration by the lookers-on. Thus ruthlessly thrown out of the usual lines of reaction on my environment, and sighing for new worlds to conquer, I determined that I would learn the bicycle.
“Sighing for new worlds to conquer,” getting mental and physical life into balance, the bicycle as anti-depressant — you can see, can’t you, that I will love this book?