Places: Patience and Sarah

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1969, as A Place for Us

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Love

Time of work: Early 1880’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedConnecticut farmhouses

Connecticut Patience and Sarahfarmhouses. Differences between the farmhouses in which Patience and Sarah grow up reveal the differences between the two women. Patience owns half of the family home and has her own kitchen, parlor, and bedroom, willed to her by her father. With her own fireplace and high feather bed, she can entertain Sarah cozily. She also owns two cows, and she and her brother jointly possess a fine barn. In contrast to Patience’s affluent surroundings, Sarah’s home is small and unpainted, dark inside, without such luxuries as a mirror. She must climb a ladder to sleep in the loft on a corn husk pallet with her sisters. The land which she helps her father farm is rocky and hilly–as Patience describes the state of Connecticut–“stingy country.” These farmhouses, though different, are both dominated by men, and they symbolize the restrictive life which the two young women dream of escaping.

Patience and Sarah’s home

Patience and Sarah’s home. House in New York’s Greene County, near the Hudson River, that Patience and Sarah buy for $640. The house fulfills their dreams, although it is merely an old and small log cabin with sagging roof and collapsing chimney. After taking ownership, the women begin work immediately to make it liveable. On her way there, Patience notices mountains “like lady giants lying together, vast hips and breasts,” as well as flowering fruit trees. Patience and Sarah are such fertile giants. The fact that they sleep and make love outside while they are rebuilding their cabin shows that they have escaped their restricted life in Connecticut.

*Genesee

*Genesee. Frontier town in far western New York where Sarah initially dreams of settling because of cheap land. Though willing to travel there with Sarah, Patience fears both its hardships and public opinion. When Patience breaks her promise, Sarah walks across Connecticut but, even though disguised as a boy, soon realizes what problems unescorted women face. When Sarah returns, willing to settle for stolen moments instead of an uninterrupted life together, Patience insists on leaving for Genesee. The women’s eventual decision to settle instead in Greene County symbolizes their acceptance of life’s reality and their determination and ability to realize their dream as completely as possible.

Parson Dan Peel’s van

Parson Dan Peel’s van. Vehicle in which Sarah’s education about the larger world begins. By traveling across Massachusetts with Dan in his snug, tidy home on wheels, Sarah (Sam) learns to read and write, skills Patience acquired when her father sent her away to school. Sarah spends much of her travel time inside the van learning new concepts from Dan, one of the few times a man liberates rather than restrains her.

Coastal trader

Coastal trader. Sailboat that carries Patience and Sarah from Stratford, Connecticut, to New York City. Sarah’s one venture outside of the Ladies’ Cabin ends when a flirtatious man accosts her. When Patience rescues her, Sarah realizes that she has much to learn from her mate. The two women use the restrictive protection of the small, shabby Ladies’ Cabin to improve Sarah’s social skills, which helps make the women more equal.

Boardinghouses

Boardinghouses. Lodgings in New York City and Kaatskill in which Patience and Sarah stay. The house in New York City belongs to the captain of the coastal trader, who has been commissioned by Patience’s brother to look after the women. The house in Kaatskill, though safe in many ways, restricts them because the other women overhear Sarah’s groans during their lovemaking. These boardinghouses provide transitions between the restrictions of the farmhouses in Connecticut and the freedoms of their new home in Greene County.

Steamboat

Steamboat. Frightening means of transportation up the Hudson River to Greene County. Sarah is especially scared of the steamboat’s loud noise and rumored tendency to explode. The rapid boat trip on “the ancient sea” by means of “new wheels” symbolizes to Patience their brand-new life which they must “invent” for themselves “on a razor’s edge.”

BibliographyJuhasz, Suzanne. Reading from the Heart: Women, Literature, and the Search for True Love. New York: Viking, 1994. After examining twentieth century women authors’ writings and the theme of the search for love, Juhasz examines works by Isabel Miller and Louisa May Alcott in case studies.“Routsong, Alma.” In Contemporary Authors: A Bio-Bibliographical Guide to Current Authors and Their Works, edited by Clare D. Kinsman. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1975. The article contains an introduction to the author and a list of her early works.“Routsong, Alma.” In Gay and Lesbian Literature, edited by Sharon Malinowski. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. The article provides a biography of Routsong and a list of critical sources and reviews of works, exploring ways particular works such as Patience and Sarah reflect Routsong’s personal growth and change.Wavle, Elizabeth M. “Isabel Miller, pseud. (1924-).” In Contemporary Lesbian Writers of the U.S.: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, edited by Sandra Pollack and Denise D. Knight. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993. In addition to a biography, major works, including Patience and Sarah, and their themes are discussed. Most helpful is the section on the critical reception of Miller’s works.Zimmerman, Bonnie. The Safe Sea of Women: Lesbian Fiction 1969-1989. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990. While Zimmerman does not provide in-depth analysis of Patience and Sarah, she uses the novel to illustrate general trends in lesbian fiction: pastoralism, the longing for home, and the lack of religious definitions of homosexuality as sin in lesbian fiction.
Categories: Places