Shared Histories

Transatlantic Letters between Virginia Dickinson Reynolds and Her Daughter, Virginia Potter, 1929–1966

Title Details

Pages: 424

Illustrations: 26 b&w photos, 4 figures

Trim size: 6.120in x 9.250in



Pub Date: 06/25/2006

ISBN: 9-780-8203-2802-7

List Price: $34.95

Shared Histories

Transatlantic Letters between Virginia Dickinson Reynolds and Her Daughter, Virginia Potter, 1929–1966

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  • Description
  • Reviews

A mother writes to her faraway daughter: "I keep all your letters. Someday you might want to do something with them." Those words foretold Shared Histories, although neither woman would live to see the book. This is the first known published collection of letters to include correspondence between civilian family members on both sides of the Atlantic during World War II. Separated for most of their adult lives, Virginia Dickinson Reynolds and her daughter, Virginia Potter, wrote to each other for nearly forty years. This selection from their long exchange is filled with unguarded reflections on current events, fashion, food, travel, domestic life, leisure, and the upheaval of war. Readers will also encounter various prominent English people and members of the aristocracy, the American southern elite, and such familiar names as Martha Graham, Walt Disney, and Ellen Glasgow.

Both women were born in Richmond, Virginia, and raised in privileged circumstances. Virginia Dickinson Reynolds was the child of a Confederate Army officer and was also a distant cousin of poet Emily Dickinson. Virginia Potter traveled widely until she married an English Army officer and settled in his country. The women's intensely close bond shines through Shared Histories as, from time to time, do their class-conscious, Anglo-Saxon sensibilities. Sometimes poignant, sometimes bristling, always candid, these letters portray private worlds of tradition confronted with global change.

An intimate portrait—warts and all—of high society in London and Richmond before, during, and after the Second World War. Through the lens of an absorbing correspondence between mother and daughter, Angela Potter offers an unflinching look at the efforts of Anglo-American elites during this turbulent era to hold on to a world fast slipping between their fingers. Edited with loving care and scholarly rigor, these letters vividly recreate a transformative moment in North Atlantic history, one that has left an indelible imprint on our own time.

—Peter Bardaglio, author of Reconstructing the Household: Families, Sex, and the Law in the Nineteenth-Century South

A compelling correspondence with the magnetism and immediacy of an engaging historical novel. That Virginia D. Reynolds was a cousin-once-removed of the poet Emily Dickinson (her great-grandfather Samuel Fowler Dickinson was Emily's grandfather), adds zest to the correspondence, for Mrs. Reynolds possesses the notable frankness that characterized certain members of the Dickinson family. Some of her opinions and attitudes are sure to shock a modern reader. For those enticed by World War II, or by the literature of mother/daughter relationships, here is an engaging perspective you won't want to miss.

—Polly Longsworth, coauthor of The Dickinsons of Amherst

Shared Histories is rich with insights into American and British social and political life that will engage and inform both historians and general readers interested in the period. Textbooks and monographs rarely capture the experience of war on the home front in such an evocative and personal way as these letters do.

—Sandra G. Treadway, Deputy Director, The Library of Virginia

[T]he collection presents a vivid and coherent picture of their authors, their locales, and their tumultuous world.

Virginia Magazine

A vivid picture of two fascinating women who wrote candidly about their personal lives and the historical events swirling about them.

Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin

Their letters provide a rare example of correspondence between civilian family members on both sides of the Atlantic during the Second World War, as well as a record of a particular class at a time of great change (1929–1966). And they are entertaining . . . [an] excellently informative introduction . . . but such seeming contradictions are part of the pleasure of Shared Histories, which portrays another era so vividly, and raises questions along the way.

Times Literary Supplement

Provides correspondence at its best . . . Shared Histories holds value far beyond the usual family portraits, making it a top pick.

Library Bookwatch

About the Author/Editor

ANGELA POTTER, an independent scholar and librarian in Devon, England, is the daughter and granddaughter of the letter writers in Shared Histories.