Patience and Sarah Essay - Critical Essays

Alma Routsong

Critical Evaluation

In 1969, when Patience and Sarah was first published as A Place for Us, few works of fiction had appeared that dealt positively with love between women. Isabel Miller wrote this work and three others—The Love of Good Women (1986), Side by Side (1990), and A Dooryard Full of Flowers, and Other Short Pieces (1993)—because she felt the world did not understand lesbianism. She made it her purpose to help educate the world, hoping to make being a lesbian easier for others. She set Patience and Sarah in the early 1880’s (at a time before the word “lesbian” was used) to show that love between women was not new; it had a history. While the novel was originally designed to appeal to a broad audience (some suggest a younger audience), it has been a classic with all ages in the gay sector of the women’s movement since its publication, partly because its publication coincided with the beginning of the gay liberation movement.

The story draws on the life of Mary Ann Willson, a painter, and Miss Brundidge, her companion; the couple lived on a farm in Greene County, New York, in the early nineteenth century. The voices telling the story alternate between Sarah’s and Patience’s; both have equal time, representing the equality of the relationship, and each speaks in the first person, drawing the reader into each woman’s view of the relationship and the conflicts she experiences as she feels her way in this new world. Miller also uses this device to illustrate differences between the women, particularly in their styles of upbringing and their social classes. Patience’s grammar and vocabulary follow a generally standardized dialect of English, peppered with biblical references. Sarah’s word choices are associated more with working-class individuals or with those living in rural communities.

As Regina Minudri observed in an article for Library Journal, compared with other works available at the time the novel was published, Patience...

(The entire section is 827 words.)