Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller

“We can be an army of two. We can be Plato’s perfect army: lovers, who will never behave dishonorably in each other’s sight, and invincible. Let the world either kill us or grow accustomed to us; here we stand.”

 

Alma Routsong alias Isabel Miller, her penname, referencing her mother’s maiden name and an anagram of the word “lesbia” writes the story of the pioneers: painter Mary Ann Wilson and her partner Mrs. Brundidge. She saw Mary Ann Wilson’s name in a museum, while admiring one of her folk-art paintings, when Alma read a small review out of which she realized Mary Ann’s partner was another woman and that is when she start being interested in writing about their lives. Alma and her partner even communicated with Mary Ann and her partner through a Ouija board and found out that Mrs. Brundidge’s first name was Florence.

The book’s original name was “A place for us” and after it was renamed to “Patience and Sarah” it was first published in 1969 and of course it was self-published by the author.

“Patience and Sarah” is a historical lesbian romance whose drama of the struggle of two women trying to move out of Connecticut and make a life for each other during the nineteenth century in the state of New York was a touchstone for the gay and women’s activism of the 1960’s and early 1970’s.

 

“I began to wonder if what makes men walk so lord like and speak so masterfully is having the love of women. If that was it, Sarah and I would make lords of each other.“

 

The unexpected expected in this lesbian classic : Patience, the lipstick lesbian of the couple is 27 years old, she seems fragile and sweet, with a nice education given by her father, is ready to get married, especially that her father has passed away and she lives with her brother and her sister in law and their children, they want to get rid of her, so that they can have the house for themselves and give Patience the crumbles left by their father. Patience’s faith seems to be sealed, but Patience is not only pretty and feminine, she is also smart and very strong, with a will that stuns according to the fact that the action of the novel is set in the nineteenth century, more precisely 1816.

Sarah is the butch lesbian stereotype of the couple. She is 21 years old and her family is numerous and they hold a farm and she is the physically strongest of the children and that is why she has the main role as her father’s help and endures the hard work of the farm. She understands that she is different, because she understands the feelings she has towards women. But, only after she meets Patience, she understands how is it like to be attracted by a woman and also to feel the act returning, to feel how it is like to have in front of you another women that is attracted to you. She knows that she has to leave her father’s farm, so that she will be able to have a life as she desires and to have a home with the woman that she loves.

 

“I knew she’d let me go with her, and that she was only trying to play man, all slow and steady, not impulsive, weighing carefully. I was amused, but I didn’t say so. Time enough later to teach her that it’s better to be a real woman than an imitation man, and that when someone choses a woman to go away with, it’s because a woman is what’s preferred”

patience and sarah by isabel miller

 

The author has other plans for Sarah. She must go the road less taken to maturity first. She needs to evolve as a person and have an unique life experience that will change her life forever and that will prepare her for the future of her life with Patience. Also, Sarah makes the mistake of telling one of her sisters that she loves Patience and her whole family knows that now and her father doesn’t takes it well and applies Sarah painful corrections. Sarah knows she has to leave.

Sarah is crossed-dressed and she can very well pass as a man and when she finally decides to leave home and take Patience with her, she’s shocked by Patience’s denial.

 

“You leave me. I feel the cold air like a sword where your warmth has been. You tear my whole front open when you cease to lie along it. My skin goes with you. I could bleed to death.”

 

Patience is also somehow shocked herself, but the reader understands Patience is not yet ready to leave and Sarah is not yet ready with a relationship with Patience and with her own self, she needs to evolve as an individual, and so she starts her new path, after she leaves Connecticut and taking Patiences’s denial with a heavy heart, she goes through many difficult situations, passing as a young man, but every farmer she meets and offers her shelter, suspects he (she calls herself Sam) is a villain, a convict of some sort.

Until she meets Parson Peel that drives a carriage and sells book from door to door and he shows Sarah a different side of humans, he is kind and helpful and they start a journey that will be the best life experience for Sarah in this certain moment of her lifetime.

The striking moment that changes their relationship is when the Parson makes a move on Sarah thinking she’s Sam, a man, showing he’s desires for other men. Sarah confesses she is a woman loving another women, being the reason for her passing as a man. And so starts their friendship. The Parson and his wife will help Patience and Sarah when they will arrive to New York.

After that moment, Sarah decides it’s time for her to go back to Connecticut to her family and to Patience.

patience and sarah

They have a talk and they find a way to see each other daily : Patience will teach Sarah how to read. Sarah always comes with a female member of her family, they don’t really get the chance to be together. Her father is greatful Sarah is back and helping him with the farm and everything is alright between them.

Patience had her own ways of evolving herself, more like inner self. She understands her position in her brother’s house, she knows he has to give her some money for the part of the house her father left and for her animals. She knows why Sarah left and she is waiting for her to return, as she felt the glimpse of desire far more acute than Sarah. And she had to face her own demons, her past desire for her sister in law from the beginning of her adulthood when they were friends, before she became her brother’s wife. She had to go away from her, to stop feeling responsible for her, to help her with the children and with the household, because she was pregnant. She also told her brother she had wanted to leave at one point. She misses Sarha more than she can say or show someone, she is incomplete. She understands her love for women and her passion for Sarah. She waits for Sarah to return to her with a despair that almost hurts.

And when Sarah returns, Patience feels complete again and she knows what she has to do to convince Sarah of her love and that they need to leave Connecticut to find their place in the world, as a whole, together.

Patience in not impatient anymore, she has patience now. She will convince everyone of her friendship with Sarah and creates a plan for them to leave, not empty handed but with her small inheritance and make a home for themselves in New York state.

 

“You come to me through the dark, when you need rest, when the snow is deep and blowing, when no sister is gracious about accompanying you, when your mother protests and your father threatens, you come to me. And now, you know as well as I, that you cannot resist me. We both need the proof.

You are so much finer than I, noble, generous, devoted to freedom, unwilling to bully. But it is I, and the traits in which I differ from you, who will save us.”

 

That’s why she proposes Sarah to see each other daily and that she will teach Sarah how to read and that she needs to come always together with a family member. They will have some small moments from themselves, when they will show their love for each other, they share kisses and embraces. Remember we are talking about women who love each other in the 1816, they had no role model, they had no idea why they had these feelings, they only knew they desire each other and want to live together.

Patience also has another trick in her sleeve, she will attract Sarah in her bedroom and will leave the door open, hoping her brother or her sister in law will come in at one point, and so it happened. Her sister in law never liked Sarah and she was the one who “caught” them in bed kissing and told her husband and Patience had to face an angry Edward. But, after he reconsidered, they talked and Patience told her about their plans, that she will leave to be happy with Sarah and that he and his family will have the house and the animals for themselves, with a small contribution from his part. Agreed, and so Patience and Sarah’s journey to Genesee starts on a ship. They have a cabin of their own, but of course, they had some strange occurring issues, too. Sarah is confused with a man and a man came over her, not realizing she is a woman.

 

“And where do you put your hands?

Here, I said, holding mine out to her.

Now that you are a woman, I can treat you like one”

 

After that awkward moment, she will be silent, Patience’s supposed rich and silent relative. Patience is the bold one and does all the talking and they safely arrive to New York city. The captain helps them too, as Edward asked him too, they arrive at the Parson’s home and finally they try to find a home in New York state, not reaching Genesee, but after a great search they find a home for each other and they leave happily ever after.

“I looked on up to her eyes and held there steady, thinking pretty soon she’d look away, and then when I knew she wouldn’t, the silver thread our eyes were joined by began to hum like far-off bees. I felt my soul melt and flow out along it. I felt my heart melt and drip off my fingertips.

I am trying to tell exactly true.

“Do you forgive me ?” she whispered.

“Yes.” I wanted to say more. I couldn’t , but it was enough.

We stayed that way a time that can’t be said the ordinary way.

One minute-twenty minutes-a thousand years-I don’t know.”

 

 

I enjoyed the fact that the narrators are both Patience and Sarah, evoking the facts at first person, showing both their points of view on different situations, as well as their daring love and passion for each other, an outstanding love story between two strong women with a confident defiance and a belief in their strengths and their wishes. They are the creed of the 60’s generation : live and love free as your heart desires.

“The story of the Prodigal Son attracted and warned me. He demanded his patrimony, as I meant to demand mine. He squandered it. I tried to imagine how one might squander – what dissolute living might consist in it. Searching my soul for an answer, I found again my longing for Sarah’s lips. But that wasn’t dissolute in a man. Men could have women’s lips. And I felt, I think for the first time, a rage against men. Not because they could say, “I am going” and go. Not because they could go to college and become lawyers and preachers while women could be only drudge or ornament, but nothing between. Not because they could be parents at no cost for their bodies. But because when they love a woman they may be with her, and all society will protect their possession of her.”

 

I loved the fact that the characters evolve as individuals before starting a life together, but I think Patience’s self counsciousness could have been more spicy.

I adored their declarations of love, their times together, kissing and embracing and their outspoken feelings for each other :

“Who can count the times the waves will take her unexpected, in the deep of a kiss and throw her teeth against my lip and nick it. But she will heal the nick with a touch of her tongue, always, and hug me down to give me the feel of the lovely waves she makes again and again for me, all my nights.

Where are we, high or deep? “”Heaven”, she says.

We’re high then. We stay here so long, like gulls that don’t have to move to stay up.”

rachel shelley

Also, both the characters have struggled so much, like most of the book, to convince their families to let them go, of the love of each other, and so little of the book is left to speak of their life together.

As a conclusion, “Patience and Sarah” is a remarkable book, of it’s generation, with an outstanding love story between two dignifying women, that overcome all odds for the sake of their love and their life together, another view upon the American dream, the pursuit of lesbian happiness.

 

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