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The Fabulous Five: Academic and Author Donna Harrington-Lueker


Newporters might  know Dr. Donna Harrington-Lueker best as a beloved professor in the Department of English and Communications at Salve Regina University, where she’s taught for 22 years. (Her first semester teaching there, Harrington-Lueker says she spent nearly every morning before her 8 a.m. class in McAuley Hall marveling at the sun rise over Cliff Walk!). But her recent release of  Books for Idle Hours: Nineteenth-Century Publishing and the Rise of Summer, best described as “a summer read about summer readsby The Public’s Radio, has captivated a nationwide audience, with enviable coverage in The New Yorker and beyond. A former magazine writer and editor (that’s familiar territory), and expert in both 19th century print culture and feminist media studies, Harrington-Lueker talked about her new book and it’s easy to see why an English major, history buff and book nerd like myself hung on every word. Here’s five fabulous questions with Donna Harrington-Lueker:

1 – What inspired you to write this book?

I have always been a book nerd. I was the 13-year-old who took Moby Dick along on summer vacations at the lake. As an adult, I looked forward every year to carefully “curating” the selection of books that went along with me for those few days on Cape Cod or in Bar Harbor. (Mystery novels always had a place in my canvas tote bag.) Then, when we reached Vacationland, I’d head off to local bookstores to see what they might offer just in case I ran out of books.

One June, I was returning from a book history conference in Canada, and I came across this large, glossy brochure promoting the “Best Summer Reads” in the airport bookstore. And I started thinking about my own summer reading rituals and the way the publishing industry may have shaped and sustained them. That lead me back to the 19th century and its embrace of summer leisure.

2 – Tell me a little bit about how the rise of the middle class played a role in the emergence of the summer reading phenomenon…

Summer reading clearly coincides with the dramatic rise of travel, tourism, and summer leisure in Victorian America and the Gilded Age. Before the Revolutionary War, Newport had already earned a reputation as a place of summer leisure, attracting planters from the southern states and the West Indies with promise of more temperate summer weather. By the late 1700s, Saratoga Springs, Niagara Falls, the Hudson River and the Catskills had all become sites of travel and tourism. By the 1830s, Etha Allen Crawford had begun guiding travelers up Mount Washington on horseback. Wealthy Bostonians had adopted the community of Nahant just north of the city as a place to escape the oppressive summer heat. And by the 1850s, Maine’s Mount Desert Island and Bar Harbor had begun to draw artists and rusticators to its shores.

Initially, summer leisure was the province a wealthy elite. But the new wealth of the post-Civil War period broadened that customer base, and railroads effectively drove the leisure industry.

Enter the middle class—small business owners, department store clerks, federal government workers, teachers and others re-shape ideas of work and social class. And Donna Harrington-Luekerthis new class often embraces summer leisure as a marker of social distinction. Books and magazine articles of the period—including novels set a summer resorts—helped school this rising middle class in the ways in which leisure could be performed.

3 – How were women typically portrayed in these summer novels? 

Women figured prominently in what I call the American summer novel—that is, in the novel set at the summer resort and whose plot relies substantially on the activities available at the various resorts. One of the most prominent literary men of the period—William Dean Howells—captured the role well when he wrote to his friend, the novelist Henry James, from his own summer home on the Maine coast, that “loverless maidens superabound in the hotels and the row boats . . .  in such numbers as would furnish all the novelists with heroines indefinitely.” [Editor’s note: if I ever start a metal band, I’m naming it “Loverless Maidens.”] Many—if not most—summer involved a marriage plot with a young couple falling in love over the course of their summer stay. That’s all very traditional, of course, but the young women in the summer novels also experience new freedoms at summer resorts—the freedom to bathe in mixed company, to go to breakfast in a Mother Hubbard dress, to climb mountains and play banjos in the bows of boats.

4 – Can you speak a little about the print culture of the period?

The period’s print culture was dynamic—but not without its challenges. Elite taste-making magazines like Harper’s Monthly, the Atlantic, and The Century took root in this period, and by the 1890s, large-circulation, advertising-driven magazines like Ladies’ Home Journal dominated the market.  Some of the most storied names in book publishing like Harper and Brothers and Charles Scribner’s Sons attain their status as national taste-makers in this period. At the same time, cheap paperback publishers—the so-called literary pirates or disruptors of the age—challenge the traditional publishing world with cheap, often 10-cent editions, of everything from popular British and continental novels to “sensation fiction” and working girl stories.

 5 – You mentioned in your NPR interview [listen here] that Newport doesn’t always come off well in novels of era, especially in comparison to other destinations, including Narragansett. Can you expand on that?

Newport takes its hits in the summer novels of the period, in part, I think, because a rising middle class may have wanted to embrace summer leisure but didn’t want to give up its values of hard work and sobriety. Several novels set in Newport, for example, hold Newport society up as frivolous and flawed. In Harriet Beacher Stowe’s society novel Pink and White Tyranny, Stowe’s female protagonist exhibits her most objectionable behavior in fashionable Newport. The plot of George Parson Lathrop’s Newport: A Novel turns on a world of gossip, social pretension, and a fraudulent stock scheme. Another society novel of the period explores the experience of a woman suffragist who has been ostracized from Newport society and whose daughter makes a more-than-unfortunate marriage at the summer resort. Narragansett Pier comes across as a happier—a more festive space—with women in bright bathing caps and quiet walks along the rocky shoreline with one’s lover.      

Books for Idle Hours: Nineteenth-Century Publishing and the Rise of Summer, can be purchased at Island Books in Middletown and online at University of Massachusetts Press here and Barnes & Noble here. (Amazon sold out of the first lot and is restocking next week!)

While at first glance the painting featured on the cover could very easily pass for an artistic interpretation of Sachuest Beach or Third Beach, it is actually a painting of the Long Island coast by William Merritt Chase entitled Idle Hours, ca. 1894.

Also, if you’re curious what DHL has in her canvas reading tote this summer, click here (and yes, Where the Crawdads Sing is in there!).


July 8, 2019 at 9:19 pm Leave a comment

Rhode Trip: Kennebunkport for

For a decently well-traveled person, it came as a shock to friends when they learned I hadn’t set foot in the State of Maine until I was a full-fledged adult. “Like, ever?” they’d ask, deeply puzzled. “Ever,” I’d say, with a nonchalant shoulder shrug (look, I grew up living between NYC and DC and missed the boat on “summering” in Maine). It wasn’t until I was on a press trip many years ago that I experienced my first Maine getaway, a trip that set the bar rather high. With a stay at Kennebunkport’s White Barn Inn, a luxury boutique hotel, I visited when when longtime chef Jonathan Cartwright was at the helm (who steered the restaurant to a coveted Forbes 5-Star rating). Newporters might remember his name as he oversaw the menu at the former Muse restaurant at The Vanderbilt (then  Vanderbilt Grace). He left after 20 years of service, and today, the White Barn Inn thrives under the tenets of its Auberge Resorts Collection ownership. 

More recently, I included the hotel in a round up of lodging options in this travel piece for Artisans List, a new site launched under the director of longtime Better Homes & Gardens editor (and Aquidneck Island resident), Cindy Bogart. Here’s a teaser (for full story, click here.)


With its captivating coastline and quintessential New England charm, Kennebunkport in southern Maine has long been a summertime playground for travelers far and wide. Quaint buildings dating back to the late 18th and early 19th century add to the town’s Rockwellian charm, most especially in the Kennebunkport Historic District nestled in the village center. Visitors with an appreciation for rich history combined with an eye for authentic early American architecture will especially be drawn to this unique coastal community. 

Though Kennebunkport was first incorporated as Cape Porpoise (or Cape Porpus) in 1653, the land was first home to Native Americans. Due to hostility between the native population and the settlers over the next 25 years, the area was considered “depopulated,” then repopulated, by Europeans in early 1700s with fishing, farming and shipbuilding rising as dominating trades. The town was renamed “Kennebunkport” in 1821 (to the Abenaki Indians, “Kennebunk” meant “the long cut bank,” which historians conclude refers to the bank behind Kennebunk Beach.) The town emerged into a popular summer colony as early as the 1870s, with hotels and recreational accoutrements luring city dwellers to bask in the refreshing Maine seawater. 

Today, Kennebunkport maintains its late 19th century charm as the authentic coastal village continues to invite visitors year-round, though most especially in the warm summer months. 

See full story in Travel for History Buffs here

June 23, 2019 at 10:31 am Leave a comment

The Case For Judging a Book by Its Cover

The Guest Book_Sarah Blake_newport.jpg

I was checking out at the bookstore last month when I nearly let out an audible gasp. As soon as I laid eyes on The Guest List by Sarah Blake, I knew I had to read it, as the cover was a very familiar scene — it’s a gray-scale image of a girl wearing a knee-length sleeveless white shift running down Newport’s own Reject’s Beach, with Seaweed, the mansion with the iconic enclosed porch, prominently featured. Seaweed was originally built in 1860-61, then sold to and modified by famed architect George Champlain Mason, who designed many homes in Newport in addition to being the editor of the Newport Mercury for some time and a founder of the Newport Historical Society. It’s had The Guest Book_Sarah Blake_3a number of owners through its time including the Dolan family of Philadelphia, who  summered there for generations. They had architect Horace Trumbaur modify the home (he also designed The Elms). Seaweed has been featured multiple times on Martha Stewart’s blog as she has stayed there when visiting Newport.

The Guest Book revolves around the past and present of the Milton family, a prominent American family of great wealth who summered on their privately owned Crockett’s Island in Maine for nearly a century (the fictional place the Newport cover image is to evoke).  But when the present-day Miltons must consider selling the island (as the trusts funds are running dry), they discover family secrets that force them to ask: at whose expense have they been living their dream and life of privilege?

I’m more than half-way through the book and haven’t been able to put it down at night (much to the demise of The Guest Book_Sarah Blake_1my laundry which sits nearby, with echoes of Marie Kondo begging me to fold and put away). I actually tried reading it through a dental appointment this week which didn’t go well, so I opted to listen to season two of Serial…a great distraction when someone is going to town on your gums. In sum,  The Guest Book beautifully portrays a sweeping family story among what Jessica Shattack (author of the NYT bestseller The Women in the Castle) says highlights the “subterranean currents of race, class and power that have shaped America.” Disclaimer: I read a lot of books, both non-fiction and historical dramas, that take place during the WWII era, so for me it hits the sweet spot. Also, much of it takes place in New York City where my parents were born and raised during the same period, but “after the war,” as they’d always distinguish.)

I’ll refrain from any spoilers but I will highly recommend adding this to your summer reading list, especially if you’ve read Sarah Blake’s other bestseller, The Postmistress. Also, The Guest Book is a current Barnes & Noble Book Club selection and the Middletown store will be hosting a discussion on June 11 at 7 p.m. (click here to listen to the B&N podcast featuring Sarah Blake). Happy reading!


June 8, 2019 at 5:33 am Leave a comment

Camelot vs. the Counterculture: Fashion and Society in the 1960s

Jacqueline Kennedy

Jacqueline Kennedy in Oleg Cassini, 1962

The 1960s are considered to be one of this country’s most transformative decades, with sweeping cultural and political shifts that clearly influenced American fashion.  I’ve always found this period fascinating interesting, studying it in college at length. The early part of the decade saw the election of President John F. Kennedy and his vision for a “New Frontier” domestic agenda, with his wife Jacqueline quickly becoming a fashion icon. By the middle of the decade, the conflict in Southeast Asia escalated into the Vietnam War, all the while the civil rights movement unfolded at home.

It was a time of political and social revolution which was clearly reflected in the radical fashion frenzy seen throughout those 10 dynamic and uncertain years.

Newport Restoration Foundation

Next month, the Newport Restoration Foundation will present the lecture: Camelot vs. the Counterculture: Fashion and Society in the 1960s. 

 Jackie Kennedy in the White House and Grace Slick at Woodstock represent the tug-of-war in the 1960s between fashion’s old guard, whose fashionable woman wore couture from the Paris runways, and the youthquake that championed an eclectic exoticism. This illustrated talk explores the tangled web of fashion, culture, and society in the 1960s.

The lecture will be presented by Madelyn Shaw, Curator of Textiles at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution. From pillbox hats and pastel shift dresses to Mod looks and miniskirts, this is an era fashion won’t soon forget.

For information and tickets, visit:


July 21, 2018 at 3:43 pm Leave a comment

“King of Vintage” Cameron Silver Headed to Newport

Decades Cameron Silver_b

If you’ve ever lived in Southern California and had a penchant for vintage clothing, you knew Decades. The Melrose Avenue boutique, a treasure trove of designer duds, was founded in 1997 by Cameron Silver, whose bio barely scrapes the surface of his influence the fashion industry. (More on that later.)

Silver will be in the City by the Sea the last weekend of July for The Newport Show (previously the Newport Antiques Show). He’s carefully selected everything from dresses and handbags to belts and jewelry for Newport and (much to my delight!), will be delivering a lecture on the history of fashion from 1900-2000 with a book signing to follow. The Newport Historical DecadesSociety is currently selling Silver’s book Decades: A Century of Fashion in the Museum of Newport History & Shop.

Silver was an influencer long before the word became inextricably linked to social media darlings. The famed celebrity stylist (he’s dressed Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lopez, Chloe Sevigny, Julia Roberts Gwyneth Paltrow, Rihanna and Lady Gaga, was introduced to a wider audience when he starred in the Bravo TV docu-series Duke of Melrose, with Decades co-founder Christos Garkinos. Silver has also been a familiar face on E!, the Style Network and “Fashion File,” and is a regular face at the Met Gala. He’s served as an official ambassador and fashion consultant for well known lines and houses including Pringle, Boucheron, Azzaro and Hermès and today, serves as design director for H by Halston and H Halston. Silver curated the MOCA exhibition, The Total Look: The Creative Collaboration between Rudi Gernreich, Peggy Moffitt, and William Claxton and was named one of the “25 Most Influential Names and Faces in Fashion” by Time magazine in 2002. He’s also a familiar byline in fashion pubs, having penned pieces for Harpers Bazaar, Departures, and others.

Meet and shop with Cameron Silver at The Newport Show on Saturday, July 28 from 10am-6pm and Sunday, July 29 10am-4pm at St. George’s School in Middletown. Purchase tickets at




July 16, 2018 at 6:39 am Leave a comment

Sea Bags Come to Newport

Sea bags 1

Sea Bags have long been commonplace in Newport with their nautically inspired styles all made from upcycled from recycled sails. Handcrafted on the working

Sea bags 9

waterfront in Portland, Maine, the Sea Bags line has expanded considerably since first launching and now includes multiple collections. This video basically gives you the whole story in a nutshell. One of my favorites is the custom bag you can have made with a wedding date for guests to sign inside (awesome shower gift and so Newport!). Located on Bowen’s Wharf, check out all the totes, accessories, wristlets, wine bags and more!


Sea bags 2


June 25, 2018 at 6:23 pm Leave a comment

Hello, Summer Dresses! Live from The Rhode Show

Summer officially kicks off this week and so comes the season of weddings, showers, cocktail parties and fabulous fêtes. Though there are countless reasons to toast throughout the year, summer celebrations have a special je ne sais quoi. From this weekend’s Newport Flower Show opening night party to Newport Polo to even your weekly Sunday Funday shenanigans, I brought some of my favorite dresses for sum-sum-summertime to The Rhode Show.

From Wrentham Village Premium Outlets


Karl Lagerfeld floral maxi

Bloom rose bodcon dress by Carlisle Collection

Bell sleeve lace trim dress by Few Moda from Off Saks

Floral maxi dress by Karl Lagerfeld (at right)

Medallion print stretch belted dress by Nautica

Love these looks and other pieces by retailers like Kate Spade, Tory Burch,  Theory, Lululemon, Nike and more? Mark your calendar for the upcoming July 4th Super Sale + Sidewalk Sale, Wed., July 4 – Sun., July 8. Also, the center will offer the Parking Made Easy Program to increase accessibility during the holiday weekend, which

Eliza J cobalt

Eliza J. lace midi dress

means more time for shopping, less time for parking! And don’t forget to join the VIP Shopper Club for special deals and exclusive offers!  

From Eliza J. available at Nordstrom

Gathered lace midi dress in cobalt (at left)

One shoulder sheath dress in hot pink with dramatic detail (FYI: this is an OMG dress on – total showstopper!)


From J. McLaughlin in Newport

Julep Dress

J. McLaughlin Julep Gate dress

Swing Cap Sleeve silk dress in Julep Gate

From Groove Newport

Tassel dress in turquoise for mom and in yellow for the little lady. Both by Masala Baby.

Groove Newport, the tween and adult partner boutique to The Groovy Gator, is located at 474 Thames Street in Newport.  

Groove Newport dress Masala Baby

Groove Newport dress


by Few Moda from Off Saks at Wrentham


Medallion print dress by Nautica at Wrentham


June 19, 2018 at 9:49 pm Leave a comment

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