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Fair and Tender Ladies

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  7,077 ratings  ·  691 reviews
From Ivy Rowe's birth on Blue Star Mountain, her life is full of passion and longing as she writes letters to family and friends. Ivy's talent as a budding writer is recognized early on, but just as she is about to realize her dream of going north to school, she is betrayed by her passionate nature. Facing an unwed pregnancy and publicly admonished for her sins, Ivy marrie ...more
Paperback, 316 pages
Published June 17th 1993 by Ballantine Books (first published 1988)
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Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all) It's from a song, "Come all you fair and tender ladies, take warning how how you court your men..." The song is about not letting your passions run aw…moreIt's from a song, "Come all you fair and tender ladies, take warning how how you court your men..." The song is about not letting your passions run away with you, and particularly not believing the lines men spin to get women to have sex with them. "They're like a star on a summer morning, they first appear and then they're gone." (less)

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Average rating 4.17  · 
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Angela M
Feb 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If only I could give more than 5 stars !
A life in letters from a wise and wonderful character named Ivy Rowe. Through her eyes we come to know her life, more than her life alone, but anyone who was a part of it . It’s a family saga, a story of a place, a history of events. The letters are not written to us, the readers, but to friends and family and even to her father after he died. Yet, I felt like a confidant, a friend who one can bare their heart and soul to because Ivy gives of her heart and
"It’s funny how a person can be so busy living that they forget this is it. This is my life."

In the words of Ivy Rowe, one of the most spirited, wisest, and most memorable literary characters EVER, I am ‘ruint’ after reading this incredible novel! Seriously, I cannot get this book out of my head and out of my heart. It seems everything else will pale in comparison for quite some time. I had never heard of this book or the very talented author, Lee Smith, until now. I have surely been remiss, but
Elyse  Walters
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“From where we stood, we could see for miles. I thought I could see Sugar Fork but I couldn’t be sure, there were lots and lots of hollers, and I saw them all, valley after valley, ridge after ridge, Bethel Mountain beyond — but now for the first time I could see over the top of Bethel Mountain to another mountain, blue, purple, then mountain after mountain, rolling like the sea. It was so beautiful. A single twisted pine grew bravely up out of the rocks before us. Mile after mile of empty air s ...more
Feb 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I want to thank all of you who have written amazing reviews for this book that led me to read it!
Ivy Rowe had my heart, believe you me!
Ivy was a mountain girl who grew up in Sugar Fork, Virginia in a poor, big family.. one of eight children. From early on she loved writing! At the suggestion of her schoolteacher she begins to write letters.
So, this book is a series of letters written by Ivy to various recipients..from childhood till her death... from the early 1900’s through 1970’s.. through th
Diane Barnes
Mar 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, re-reads
I just re-acquainted myself with Ivy Rowe, after an absence of 30 years, and she is still the same wonderful woman I knew then. I have been in her heart and in her head for the last few days, and am now emerging with an inspired sense of just how wonderful life can be when you face it with awe and courage.

Ivy was not a paragon of virtue by society's standards. She followed her heart and her passions, never doing the sensible thing, though she was as smart as they came. She loved indiscriminately
This is a fabulous book with an unforgettable heroine named Ivy Rowe. It is great--believe you me! Set out in letters that begin with a twelve year old Ivy and take us through an entire lifetime, Ivy’s soul is put onto paper, sprinkled with all her hopes, dreams and disappointments. I defy anyone to get past the first letter without loving Ivy unreservedly. She surely made me laugh, cry, rejoice and lament, and she made me remember something of a life that I once had a glimpse of that is now gon ...more
”Baby when I get down I turn to you
And you make sense of what I do
I know it isn't hard to say
But baby just when this world seems mean and cold
Our love comes shining red and gold
And all the rest is by the way

“Why worry, there should be laughter after pain
There should be sunshine after rain
These things have always been the same
So why worry now”

-- Why Worry, Emmylou Harris, Mark Knopfler, Songwriters: Mark Knopfler

”Oh Ivy, sing ivory, rosebud and thorn…”

An epistolary novel, this story is told thro
Cathrine ☯️
Jul 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
4.5 ★
Take me home country roads . I had a friend, recently deceased, who was raised in the Ozark mountains and I could hear her accent and unique phrases like “down to a gnat’s eyelash” as told through Ivy Rowe’s letters recounting her life on Blue Star Mountain as she describes passing through a field of "lighning bugs like walking among the stars in the sky." I was unfamiliar with the author until I heard her comments about Harper Lee and To Kill A Mockingbird as part of a recent documentary o
I had not heard of this author nor of this book before I saw it was a pick this month of the GR group On the Southern Literary Trail. It’s a favorite group that has introduced me to many great authors and stories, so I dived right in. Boy, am I glad I did! This book will certainly have a place in my top ten books ever. Yes, it was that good.

Ivy Rowe is a woman born into a dirt-poor family on a farm beside Sugar Fork creek on a mountain in southwest Virginia coal country, an often-cruel circumst
Fair and Tender Ladies: A Life Well Lived

My sincere thanks to Diane Barnes, my reading friend and a Co-Moderator of On the Southern Literary Trail, who selected Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith, as her Moderator's Choice for March, 2018.

3 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to bui
Lee Smiths beautiful prose in this story told through the letters of Ivy Rowe made my heart and mind sing with nostalgia. This story follows the stubborn and very wise Ivy from a young girl at the end of the 18th century to a very old woman in the mid 1900's. Though poor and poorly educated she had a thirst for knowledge and a zest for life. She never lost that ability of the young to look around and see the beauty of your surroundings as well as be grateful for the simplest things in life. Ivy ...more
May 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ivy Rowe’s voice has been living in my mind since I started this book. When I wake at night, I hear her talking with her Virginia twang. She is certainly a memorable character.

Ivy loves to write letters- we learn about Ivy, her family,her loves and her life on the mountains. The letters are Ivy’s connection to the outside world. It made me yearn for the lost art of letter writing.

Ivy had a unique personality- high spirited, head strong, impetuous, caring, loving but also irresponsible. I am glad
Feb 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book is special. The cover may give you the impression that this is fluff. It is not!

It is set in the Appalachians of Virginia. It covers the 1900s through to the 70s. Both wars and the Depression. Yet history is not the focus even if it of course plays a role in shaping events. The focus is a family, the family of Ivy Rowe. She has six siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents, friends and her own five kids. They get married, and they have kids. Each one of these becomes a person you know.
So here we have Ivy Rowe, daughter of Maude Castle Rowe and John Arthur Rowe. Her siblings were Silvaney, Ethel, Beulah, Garnie, Johnny, and Victor. Pardon me if I left one out. Sugar Fork farm was their homestead up in the Smokie Appalachians of South Carolina. Dirt-poor and dire spelled out their destiny. Oakley Fox was Ivy's eventual husband.

Her autodidactive life came out in different letters to a world full of characters. The one more sinful, adventurous or colorful than the next.

Oakley w
Joy D
Ivy Rowe, a poor undereducated girl growing up in Sugar Fork, Virginia, writes a series of letters to teachers, relatives, and friends. Through these letters, dating from the early 1900’s to the 1970’s, she tells her life story as well as the history of the southern Appalachian region. She paints a picture in words of her pastoral life, love of stories, family triumphs and tragedies, relationships, and personal decisions that shape her life.

The author evokes a strong sense of place, describing
Julie  Durnell
Mar 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: southern
A totally 5-star book! This is an exceptional epic story of Appalachia in the 20th century written entirely as letters to people in Ivy's life. I was so unexpectedly taken with this life story. The vernacular put me off just a bit at first but then I settled in to sit a spell with Ivy and her family and neighbors. It is just an incredible slice of the Virginia Appalachia life back then. It tells it like was but does not wallow in the poverty or anything that offshoots from that. Ivy loved learni ...more
JG (Introverted Reader)
I'm an Appalachian mountain girl. I felt like I knew Ivy from the first sentence. She truly seemed to come to life on the pages. I came along a few generations after her time, but I felt like she could be one of my grandmothers. She talked the way I probably still talk :-) Education was important to her, and she was very smart, but she never really got a chance. I guess, really, I felt like I could have been reading family history. That says a lot about a novel.

Re-read June 28, 2009

There's not a
Lyn Cosby
Apr 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I think that maybe I love Ivy Rowe more than any character I've read. The reader meets Ivy as a child and grows old with her. She's a natural-born writer, so the story is told in epistolary style through the letters Ivy is forever writing to her friends and family. Ivy believes she yearns to see the world, but as her life progresses and she has opportunities to escape the poverty of her Appalachian upbringing, she discovers that the pull of home and family are stronger than that of travel and ad ...more
Sharon Metcalf
Jun 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, owned, audiobook
My goodness I loved this book of epistolary fiction. Ivy Rowe, the central character, was an avid letter writer her whole life and this majestic story was told entirely via letters from Ivy to various others. It's difficult to say why I found Fair and Tender Ladies so moving - and I really did find it moving - more than once I swallowed down the lump in my throat, chin quivering as I reached for the tissues. I simply loved Ivy, she's one of those memorable characters I'm sure I'll long remember. ...more
Book Concierge
Ivy Rowe is born around the beginning of the 20th century in the mountain cabin where her parents have settled. She is in the middle of a pack of eight children and we learn about her life through the letters she writes, beginning at age 12 to a pen pal in Holland, or to her teacher, and continuing through her long life as she writes to her friends and family over the decades.

What a marvelous character! Ivy is curious and adventurous, intelligent if lacking education, forthright, determined, an
Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A delightful and thought provoking novel about the life and times of feisty Ivy Rowe as told in personal letters written from her early childhood to old age. Hailing from Sugarfork Farm in the mountains of Virginia she imparts a lot of life lessons from having lived as a strong, sometimes unconventional, woman who followed a life path predominately dictated by her own conscience. A book republished 3 times since it's first printing in 1988, and one that really needs to be rediscovered !!
Read for
Tom Mathews
Jul 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lee Smith’s Fair and Tender Ladies portrays better than any other book I have ever read, the hopes and joys, and trials and tribulations of a life spent in the hills and hollows of Appalachia. Told in epistolary style using letters written to friends and family of Ivy Rowe, a girl born at the dawn of the 20th century up Sugar Fork on Blue Star Mountain in Western Virginia. Hers is a story rich in the vibrant history of the Scots Irish settlers who carved out a tenuous foothold in the wilderness ...more
Dec 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Really 4.5 stars.

A couple years ago I fell in love with Lee Smith’s Appalachian storytelling in Oral History. I have finally returned to her with “Fair and Tender Ladies”. The book is penned by Ivy Rowe in letters to various friends and relatives, beginning with her preteen years during the WWI era. She loves to read but has not yet developed her spelling skills, so the first 70 pages or so took a bit longer to read as I ciphered out her words and many colloquialisms. But from the get go Ivy is
Sep 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of Southern Literature
I borrowed this book from the library of the mountain town where Lee Smith grew up--my first library book in quite a while. There I was, on my first trip to the library, wandering aisles and I ran across sectioned-off areas with Lee Smith's works. But of course. And I finished this book in one sitting.

Oh, Ivy Rowe--what a fascinating character. She is raised in the hollers of the mountains by a father who is too sick to work, and a mother who gave up a comfortable life to raise a family. At the
L.K. Simonds
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Ivy Rowe is one of the great characters in American literature. She's smart, ambitious, and beautiful. She's feisty as all get out and liable to do anything, not to mention she's ruint. Ivy is a Virginia mountain girl through and through. We discover her story and the stories of those she loves and those she doesn't through the letters Ivy writes to family and friends over much of her life.

The New York Times called "Fair and Tender Ladies" Lee Smith's most fully realized novel to date (1988), an
This is a book of letters. The main character and letter writer, Ivy Rowe, was a poor Appalachian girl who began writing letters to her teacher about her life and family. Ivy had very little schooling, like most of the people in her community, but she possessed a fierce desire to learn. Through her letters to family and friends, we watch Ivy grow. We experience her hardships. Feel her grief. Learn of her mistakes and her triumphs. Especially in Ivy’s letters to her sister Silvany where Ivy bared ...more
Aug 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This novel is one of my favorite books of all time. Polly Hollar gave it to me in college with two lines from the book inscribed in the cover: "Slow down, slow down, this is the taste of spring" and "I have walked in my body like a queen." It's an epistolary book that appears as a compilation of all the letters written by a poor Appalachian woman named Ivy Rowe throughout her lifetime. Some letters are to herself, a pen pal, or to individuals who will never receive them. Some letters are to othe ...more
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2 Three stars rounded up to Three 1/2. A wonderful foray into 1930’s, 1940’s, 1950’s straight up to 1974 Appalachian life as seen through the eyes of Ivy, a mountain woman, a would be writer never to go beyond high school and an avid writer of letters. It is through her letters that we learn about Ivy, her sisters and brothers, her parents, her mentors, her lovers, her husband, her in-laws,her children and all the other family and community members that make up the rich life of Ivy Ro ...more
Oct 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
Well, my winning streak is over. I thought I would really like this because of what I thought it would be about and because it got good reviews overall, which really mystifies me. This novel starts out in the 30s in the Appalachian Mountains. I expected that I would read about a heartwarming community of mountain people who had it rough but helped each other through the tough times. I have to admit that I only got a third of the way through this. I never connected to the main character like I ha ...more
Jan 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-group, 2009
Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith is an enchanting epistolary (told through letters) novel about a life. There is not one specific antagonist or event that this novel is centered on, instead it is centered on the heroine, Ivy Rowe, and the events of her life as they unfold through letters she writes to family and friends. The story begins a few years into the 1900's when Ivy is 12 years old writing about her life to a hoped for pen-pal, and continures into the 1970's as Ivy writes to friends ...more
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Growing up in the Appalachian mountains of southwestern Virginia, nine-year-old Lee Smith was already writing--and selling, for a nickel apiece--stories about her neighbors in the coal boomtown of Grundy and the nearby isolated "hollers." Since 1968, she has published eleven novels, as well as three collections of short stories, and has received many writing awards.

The sense of place infusing her

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