The Composition Notebook

For my final project, I will use my research of the New Paltz Composition Book for the Collaborative History Project, along with additional research about New Paltz, surrounding areas, common fashion styles, local architecture, and the elementary school system during the 1900s, to create a realistic fictional narrative about Gertrude Dubois and her interactions with the composition book and her surrounding environment in 1904. Once I also learn about when Janie Hayden married and/or left the New Paltz area, I can also include her. Otherwise, the main characters are Gertrude Dubois, her mother Catherine Deyo Dubois, and her father Phillip D. Dubois (as he does not die until 1907).

The narrative will start with the day Gertrude finds the composition notebook. Already intrigued by the dress of the time, and perhaps drawing clothing designs in other books, she pours over clothing catalogues and fashion magazines while her mother gets ready for a local gathering. As Gertrude helps her mother fit into her corset and dress, Catherine encourages her daughter to focus on her studies rather than dress, convinced by the “young society women” that women will be the scholars of tomorrow. She uses Janie (Hayden) as an example of how Gertrude should be: educated and inclined to further academic study. With this in mind, she asks her daughter to start her essay, but she needs scrap paper to plan her essay before putting it into her class workbook, so Catherine finds one of Janie’s old notebooks from the 1890s. Gertrude starts working on her assignment in the back, but when her mother leaves to attend a society gathering, Gertrude stops her work and looks at the catalogues again. This time, she uses other empty pages in the book to draw women in similarly-styled clothing. Curious about what exactly is in the book, she flips through the composition book and decides to keep it, feeling a connection to her sister since they wrote in the same book.

Following scenes will describe her travels around town, and to Poughkeepsie via the local trolley, with her sister’s old composition book. Since her architectural drawings are elaborate and detailed for a fifth grader, I expect her architectural doodles are inspired by buildings around town, her picture of an igloo relevant to a recent reading about the exotic structure, and her clothing sketches a testament to her family life and social class. Since she descends from two New Paltz founding families (Deyo and Dubois), her mother would likely be a society woman, unconsciously inviting her daughter into the social scene. From the composition book, one could see Gertrude Dubois as a creative young girl, inspired by her world around her. By meshing research about her family and surrounding environment during the early 1900s with her contributions to the composition notebook, the realistic fiction short story reveals the intriguing relationship between Gertrude and her half-sister Janie.

I would showcase a sample of my work, but I write in a sporadic fashion and none of my pieces fit together in a coherent narrative. I am enthusiastic to receive feedback on the ideas presented in my summary.


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