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Lilli de Jong: A Novel
by Janet Benton

Published: 2018-07-10T00:0
Paperback : 352 pages
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Library Journal Best Historical Fiction 2017

“A powerful, authentic voice for a generation of women whose struggles were erased from history—a heart-smashing debut that completely satisfies.” —Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and ...

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Introduction

Library Journal Best Historical Fiction 2017

“A powerful, authentic voice for a generation of women whose struggles were erased from history—a heart-smashing debut that completely satisfies.” —Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Philadelphia, 1883. Twenty-three-year-old Lilli de Jong is pregnant and alone—abandoned by her lover and banished from her Quaker home. She gives birth at a charity for wronged women, planning to give up the baby. But the power of their bond sets her on a completely unexpected path. Unwed mothers in 1883 face staggering prejudice, yet Lilli refuses to give up her baby girl. Instead, she braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep the two of them alive.

Lilli confides this story to her diary as it unfolds, taking readers from a charity for unwed mothers to a wealthy family’s home and onto the streets of a burgeoning American city. Her story offers a rare and harrowing view into a time when a mother’s milk is crucial for infant survival. Written with startling intimacy and compassion, this accomplished novel is both a rich historical depiction and a testament to the saving force of a woman’s love.

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Excerpt

1883. Third Month 16??Some moments set my heart on fire, and that’s when language seems the smallest. Yet precisely these bursts of feeling make me long to write. I sit now in a high-walled courtyard, amid the green smells and slanted light of early spring, with that familiar burning in my heart. I’ll need to destroy these pages before returning home, but no matter; for the first time since Mother’s death, words come to me.??I’ve lost more than I’ve gained since Mother died last year, when I was but twenty-two. Yet I wish to tell of some good things. This small courtyard with its carved stone bench, for instance, which fast becomes my refuge. For with spring upon us, there is such a wellness in the out of doors. Crocuses peer from the melting snow. Budding trees sweeten the air with their exhalations. If I were at home, I’d have turned the soil in our kitchen garden today, and planted radish and lettuce seeds besides. For supper, I’d have made a soup from the hardy kale and onions that survived the winter. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. How do you think Lilli’s story might be different or the same if it was set today?
2. What did you not know before about wet nursing, homes for unwed mothers in the 1800s, and/or early Quakers?
3. What did you think of Clementina? What might have motivated her behavior?
4. What other characters interested or touched you?
5. If you read the Author’s Note, were you surprised at how much of the story was true to its time and place?

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