Loving Frank

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Though it takes place a century ago, this historical novel is like a Whack-A-Mole game of current topics: Should mothers devote themselves exclusively to their children? Do rich women exploit poor women by employing them as nannies? How does a woman preserve her own identity, particularly if she is involved with a brilliant, powerful man?

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan | Book Club Discussion Questions | kykolycafaho.ml

In , her husband, Edwin, commissioned the already-famous Wright to design a house for him and Mamah in Oak Park, Ill. By , Wright would leave his first wife, Catherine, and their six children to run off with Mamah pronounced May-mah.

She left behind her two children, plus her dead sister's daughter, whom she and Edwin were raising. Newspapers fell upon the scandal like wolves to fresh meat, sending reporters to Berlin and later to Wisconsin to hunt the lovers. I should point out that I actually wrote the book twice.

Book Summary

The first version, begun in , included four points of view and was not very good. There was limited material. I had learned from Wright bios that no correspondence remained of Mamah Borthwick Cheney. I visited the places Mamah visited and lived, and read the books she translated. I found an amazing memoir, written by a woman who grew up in the house next door to the Cheneys, in which the author reminisced about Mamah. Material on the Chicago School of Architecture proved captivating reading, as did books on the Modernism movement, which was happening in Europe at roughly the same time.

October 2007

Some primary research also turned up small details that illuminated her life, as well. In the absence of letters, I made educated guesses about why she chose to do something, and the emotional consequences of those decisions.

Her character began to come alive. You can imagine my joy when the library sent me copies of the letters. All along, I had been creating a character out of the pieces I could find to fit together, even composing letters she might have written. Suddenly, here was her actual voice, her actual handwriting. To my unending relief, I found her personality shining through in those letters. And while the content of her correspondence dealt largely with the business of translating, she included a number of paragraphs about her own life and mental outlook.

RHRC: It sounds as though the writing and research went on simultaneously. NH: Yes, I researched heavily at the beginning, but continued to do so as I wrote. New discoveries found their way into the book.

Loving Frank

Last year, for example, a rare book of photographs of Taliesin in was auctioned on eBay and was purchased by a group of Wright devotees in Wisconsin. When the book went on display at the state capitol, I traveled to Madison to see it. Soon after, the album was in my novel. While loving Frank Lloyd Wright was certainly the catalyst for Mamah to radically change her life, the novel shows that there was a lot more to her personal evolution than that.

Why did you choose to stress this particular aspect? NH: Mamah Cheney undoubtedly would have continued to evolve in interesting ways, but it was the condition of loving Frank that launched her on a path she could never have foreseen. While the novel explores ideas about gender roles and marriage at the turn of the twentieth century, it is fundamentally a very human story about loving someone, and having that experience change your life.

NH: Ellen Key was a Swedish feminist philosopher whose teachings on free love, the rights of the individual and of children, the social value of motherhood, whether in or outside of marriage, and the need for divorce reform were highly influential in Europe at the turn of the twentieth century.

In your writings we have met close together, closer than I have been to almost anyone in the world. But what of the reciprocal influence that Mamah exerted on him? She took a leap of faith with him that changed both of their lives forever. She introduced him to Ellen Key, whose dedication to educating young people may have inspired Wright to devote himself to creating his own school for aspiring architects.

And I think it can be argued that Mamah was the love of his life. What kind of work did you do previously, and what was your path to publication? NH: I came to writing through journalism. We plan dinner parties and make flowers out of crepe paper. Too many of us make small lives for ourselves. Why does seeing a performance of the opera Mefistofele affect Mamah so strongly? Ellen Key, the Swedish feminist whose work so profoundly influences Mamah, states at one point, "The very legitimate right of a free love can never be acceptable if it is enjoyed at the expense of maternal love.

Do you think an idea like this could ever catch on in America? Why or why not? Is there anything that Frank and Mamah could have done differently after their return to America that would have ameliorated the harsh welcome they received from the press? Have things changed very much in that regard today? Were his actions the product of pure insanity, or was he goaded into violence? Loving Frank by Nancy Horan.