Continuing on my journey through the bookish legacy from my father, who passed away last month, Duel of Eagles is a nonfiction account of the fight for the Alamo. My dad was an enthusiast of the Wild West, both the true history and the many pop-culture tributes. So many of the books he gave me, and most of those I never actually read, were Texas history-related. This book is preparation for the fiction book he gave me, The Gates of the Alamo.
This one, at least, promises not to be a stereotypically dry history book. Long seems to regard the Dead White Guy approach with tongue in cheek:
Texas seemed to open her prehistoric arms to Old Hickory, to Crockett, Houston, Bowie, and tens of thousands of other Anglo-Americans. She seemed to await their powerful hand, their radical voice, their ax and gun. To await their seed... cotton and otherwise. Texas offered herself as the last Eden, a soil in need of industry, and idea in need of consecration. The Americans visualized Texas in their own image.
The strange thing was not how they needed Texas but how - they testified - Texas needed them. Even those who had never seen the land, and most had not, were transfixed by the thought of saving it. To those pilgrims who actually crossed the Sabine River or sailed down from New Orleans, Texas sang like a flock of naked angels. Texas bewitched and seduced them.
The endlessly quotable writing saves this book from being a fairly standard Southern Gothic Romance. The plot and characters are full of tropes. But, oh, so much fun in the way it’s written and the way the characters are drawn! It’s told from the POV of the Ingénue, who at the time of telling the story is older, wiser, wearier, and who looks back at her naïve former self with a lot of sympathy and a little impatience. For me, though, she is still far more sympathetic than I am, as Reader, and indeed much more sympathetic toward the male characters than I have patience with – I think they all deserve a good kick in the pants. And, although this is the point of the book, I simply can’t view the Queen Bee as all-powerful, though she is deliciously wicked. In order to fall in with the narrator’s POV, the reader must be willing to adopt that tired old attitude that men are helpless victims of their libido when women weaponize sex.
Still, though, this is a really fun read:
It was then that my aimless, drifting eyes came to Eva. Listening, she stood near a lamp, its glow enfolding and caressing the soft hair, the sweet lifting breasts, the singing line of body. Her hand rested on the back of a nearby chair. And seeing the body not yielding now but tensely held and wary, the tilted head, the raised chin, the lambent eyes which seemed to look at something far off, I was suddenly afraid. In her tense stillness there was the deadly, wary waiting of the reptile, its poisonous fang sheathed but ready to strike, swiftly and with cunning accuracy.
Vintage 1949 hardcover, inherited from my grandmother. And here’s a fun bit of trivia for Texas history buffs: it still has the original price sticker, from E.M. Scarbrough & Sons (colloquially referred to as “Scarboroughs” in the way that native Austinites pronounce their places as they damn well please), stamped “Literary Guild $2.00”. I remember shopping at the Scarbroughs in downtown Austin when I was a kid. All that’s left, alas, is the historic building.
Disclaimer: I’ve never seen the 1955 movie. Didn’t even know there *was* a movie adaptation until I looked for a synopsis to get a sense of what the book was about, since my copy is missing the dust jacket. But, oh, I’m definitely going to spend the money to rent it. I can’t wait to see Joan Crawford bring that predatory female to life as only she can.
2/7/18 page 3
2/7/18 Movie trailer
2/8/18 page 9
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2/10/18 page 140