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Posted February 3, 2010

Book: Miss Betsey: A Memoir of Marriage
Author: Eugene D. Geneovese
Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Wilmington, Delaware. 2009.

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

"For thirty-seven years I awoke every morning to the smile that captivated me in Cambridge, when I handed her roses in the doorway of her walk-up. Betsey was the love of my life, and I have had no prouder yet more humbling sense of fulfillment than the knowledge that I was the love of hers."

In 2003, standing in the Oval Office, Elizabeth (Betsey) Fox-Genovese received the prestigious National Humanities Medal, which recognized the historian and teacher as "a defender of reason and servant of faith." Betsey’s story would be remarkable for her career achievements alone, which included groundbreaking works on the American South and women’s history. But as her widowed husband, Eugene Genovese, recounts in this deeply moving memoir of their life together, Betsey was a fascinating, charmingly idiosyncratic person who displayed uncommon strength of character in the face of professional and personal crises, including her life long struggles with illness.

In Miss Betsey, Gene, an accomplished historian in his own right, chronicles their frequent professional and political collaborations as well as their extraordinary evolutions. Long a Marxist and nonbeliever, Betsey converted to Catholicism in 1994 and Gene returned to the church soon thereafter. A onetime feminist who founded the Women’s Studies Program at Emory University, Betsey became an exceptionally strong voice for the culture of life and the rights of the unborn. While her writings won her an appreciative national audience, they also subjected her to bitter and increasingly vicious hostility. The controversies that shaped Betsey and Gene’s lives — involving communism, religion, feminism, and partisan politics — were those that shaped late-twentieth-century intellectual life in general.

More than anything, Miss Betsey is a love story. Suffering from multiple sclerosis, and crippled by constant pain and other afflictions, Betsey passed away in 2007, and this poignant memoir is written from the perspective of a grateful but still grieving widower. Gene Geneovese confesses that "time does not heal all things," but he also affirms that it was on the day of his "improbable blind date" with Elisabeth Fox that "the Holy Ghost pronounced my sinful soul worth saving."

An Excerpt from the Book:

We tried to adjust to each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and circumstances. When I carried heavy and emotionally draining responsibilities as chairman of the University of Rochester’s Department of History, Betsey did everything she could to take pressure off me at home. When her turn came as director of Women’s Studies at Emory University, I did everything I could to take pressure off her. I do not recall that we ever discussed relative responsibilities. Neither do I recall a single tense exchange over such matters. Primarily, we each gtried to lighten the other’s load. Still, in retrospect I fear that for many years I let her take on much more than she should have. For one thing, I had every disingenuous husband’s excuse: She was so much more competent than I in just about everything. She thought so, too, and often preferred to do a job herself than have me do it poorly. With me in mind, she liked to paraphrase Frances Butler Leigh, who ran a plantation in Georgia during post-slavery Reconstruction: "If you want a husband to do something, first tell him what to do, then show him how to do it, and finally, do it yourself." I think I improved a lot over the years. She said so emphatically, and I pray that she spoke truly.

We had the advantage of being able to spend more time together than most husbands and wives. What did we talk about? History? Politics? Literature" Religion? One subject towered over all: Baseball. We were fanatical fans, poring over the scores and standings every day, and spending much of the off-season following the "Hot Stove League" — the baseball rumor and gossip mill and the record of off-season player trades and other personnel changes.

Table of Contents:

1. Blind date

2. A souffle

3. Nature and grace

4. Academia and the public square

5. Pain

6. Time does not heal all things