Thou Shalt Not by Kathleen Stauffer
Typically, historical fiction is a made-up account of fictional characters interwoven with true historical events.
Thou Shalt Not is the exception. The characters were real people, the town of David, Iowa was real, and many of the incidents related in the book are authentic. Conversations are taken directly from court documents and newspaper accounts printed in the area’s 1898-99 newspapers.
The story is set in 1895. David, Iowa, is a busy, thriving community of about 75 residents. Local businesses included a wicker chair factory, shoe shop, harness repair, dentist, blacksmith, general store, postmaster, millinery and dressmaking shop, farmer’s State Bank, The David Church, and a hotel run by Mary and Henry Meier. The David school house was located about two miles from town–following the railroad tracks was the shortest route.
According to newspaper accounts during the trial, Mary Meier was the only woman present in the court room. The judge, the attorneys, the witnesses, the spectators were all men. Due to the social mores of the times and people’s belief about women’s roles, Mary didn’t have a chance to have a happy life.
During the trial, the defense attorney is quoted as saying: “ I don’t know why it is, but somehow in every man and in every normal woman the Master and Maker of us all has implanted in us all passions that ought to be the most sacred of anything on earth, but somehow in this day and world, somehow or other, these passions where they ought to be sacred so often are the means of downfall of men and women…”
A QUESTION OR TWO THE READER MIGHT WANT TO CONSIDER:
1. So much of what occurred in this story still occurs today. A different time, different places, different people, but the same passions. How do you relate?
2. Which character do you sympathize with most?
3. Was Mary guilty of anything?
4. What would you have done differently if you had been Mary?