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Rachel Carson-- Breaking the Silence

Rachel Carson-- Breaking the Silence

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Published by carolyn6302
An essay about Rachel Carson and her lesbian history by Carolyn Gage
An essay about Rachel Carson and her lesbian history by Carolyn Gage

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Published by: carolyn6302 on Jul 21, 2011
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10/17/2013

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Copyright 1997 Carolyn GageOriginally published in
Sappho’s Isle.
Rachel Carson: Breaking the Silence
What would cause a conservative fifty-year old woman to jeopardize her reputation as a best-selling and beloved nature writer in order to write apolitically controversial book attacking corporate interests in this country—abook inviting the kind of hostile scrutiny of her private life that could destroyher and those she loved the most?What would cause a middle-class woman at mid-life to question all of thevalues with which she has been raised, all of the values of Western history aswell as the values of a spiritual tradition that credits a male deity with thepower to create and preserve life?In other words, whatever possessed Rachel Carson to write
Silent Spring 
, thebook about pesticides that first brought environmental issues to the public’sawareness?In recent years, many facts about Rachel Carson’s personal life have come tolight, including her closeted relationship with another woman during the lastdecade of her life.In 1952, at the age of forty-five, Rachel met the great love of her life, DorothyFreeman. Dorothy was fifty-five, very married, and a grandmother. They meton an island in Maine where their families had vacation cottages, and withinmonths their friendship developed into a passionate intimacy. AlthoughDorothy’s husband accepted their relationship, Rachel and Dorothy kept their love a secret to the outside world. For the next ten years, until Rachel’sdeath, the two women shared their summers on the island, spending the restof the year five hundred miles apart --- Rachel with her mother in Maryland,
 
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and Dorothy with her husband in Massachusetts. Fortunately, Dorothy, indefiance of Rachel’s instructions, did not destroy the letters they wrote duringthese months of separation, and this considerable correspondence has beenpublished in
 Always, Rachel [etc.].
 At the time when the women met, Rachel’s book
The Sea Around Us
had justbecome an international best-seller, and she was hard at work another biography of the ocean,
The
 
Edge of the Sea
. After this book also topped thebest-selling charts, Rachel began casting about for another project. InNovember 1956, she became obsessed with what she and Dorothy referred toas “The Dream.”“The Dream” was a plan to purchase a section coastal property on the islandthat Dorothy had named “The Enchanted Wood,” in honor of the private hoursthey had spent there. Rachel intended to create a wildlife preserve to bemanaged by a three-person board of directors. She and Dorothy would be thecontrolling members of the board. “The Dream” was a way for Rachel tocreate something with the woman she loved in which they could both publiclyparticipate. It was a way to both celebrate and commemorate a relationshipthat had no name, no status, and no institution in a homophobic society. Itwas Rachel’s plan to finance the purchase with the income from her nextbook, a book whose subject was to be nothing less than the origin of all life onearth.“The Dream” was never realized, because of the owners’ reluctance to sell theproperty, and also because of a personal situation that arose in Rachel’sfamily.Rachel’s relationship with Dorothy was not her only family secret. About thetime of the publication of her first book, Rachel’s niece had become pregnantout of wedlock, a situation considered a disgrace and a scandal to the middle-class family of the 1950’s. In January 1957, the niece, whom Rachel had
 
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been supporting financially, died suddenly leaving her five-year old sonwithout a home. Rachel, feeling it was her duty, took him in and legallyadopted him.At the time of the adoption, Rachel was entering her prime years as a writer,and she bitterly resented this disruption of her life. Since 1935, she had beensupporting and living with her mother. With the recent death of her mother,Rachel had been looking forward to the first real freedom in her life. Now, atfifty-two, she was facing at least fifteen more years of caregiving and financialresponsibility. In addition, her compulsive work habits and her extreme moodswings made it difficult to adjust to the needs of a small and traumatized child.Although she had not yet been diagnosed with cancer, Rachel had begun toexperience difficulties with her health.It was during this period of intense inner conflict that Rachel wrote some of her most poignant and vulnerable letters to Dorothy:“Now I think I may try to call you tonight, instead of the Sunday call I’dhad in mind. I’ve wanted to
every 
night for days, and it’s getting hard towait. And this is, after all, An Anniversary! How very long ago and far away it seems --- part of another era, a lost time that will never quitehave its counterpart. For I grow more conscious with each passingweek that my life will never again be the same, and that when it mightotherwise be possible to do the things I had thought to do, the sands willhave run too low. But no more in that depressing vein --- I was onlyrecalling that while I may have thought myself “encumbered” during our lovely 1956 Spring-time, I didn’t know ‘from nothin’!”“Sometimes I think I
can’t 
go on; at other times it seems possible. Butalways I know I must. Life is such a queer business—great visions,great opportunities opened up, and then a door slammed. I don’tunderstand it; I never will...”

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