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A Confederate Lady Comes of Age: The Journal of Pauline DeCaradeuc Heyward, 1863-1888.

Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1992. xxiv, 160 pp. $24.95; A

THE IMAGE OF A SOUTHERN BELLE THAT typically first comes to the minds of the vast majority of the reading public is most probably that of Scarlett O'Hara, running down the pathway to the entrance of Tara, with her hair tied up in bows and her seventeen-inch waist tightly strapped into a white chiffon gown. Or of Blanche DuBois, the sex-starved ghost of a woman who hungers for the touch of her sister's husband. Or of the women on the covers of Erskine Caldwell's dime-store novels: Southern beauties with bodices ripped to expose ample breasts. These visual images created by advertising agents and movie directors may merely accentuate the problem, but the Southern belle, and, indeed, the white Southern female, in general, continues to be a largely stereotyped figure. She is, in effect, what Catherine Clinton says specifically of the plantation mistress: she is "a prisoner of myth."(1) Clinton tells the story of a visitor to an antebellum plantation who was very much impressed by the hospitable, genteel manner of his hostess. She was the ideal of the "Southern lady": a beautiful, charming, well-bred woman, who he supposed lived the life of leisure appropriate to her station. One day, as he strolled the grounds (with the permission of his host, of course), he came upon the planter's wife with her arms deep inside a salting barrel. Her hoop had been removed and she appeared quite dishevelled. The visitor at first moved toward her to greet her, but then realized the serious breech that he would cause by doing so. He had caught his hostess "behind the scenes." So instead, he walked by without saying a word to her (pp. 16-17). Clinton's story suggests the power of myth-making, a myth-making that has done much to perpetuate stereotypes of white women in the South, first in the nineteenth century as virginal belles and God-fearing matrons and then in the twentieth century as sexually depraved women or sex objects.

In the antebellum and postbellum eras, the myth of Southern womanhood was at the heart of the South's regional identity. In general, historians agree that placing the Southern white woman on her pedestal was a way to call attention away from the atrocities of slavery, to retain the status quo in male-female relations, to preserve the hierarchy of Southern patriarchal society. But with that pedestal also came a gag of sorts. Anne Goodwyn Jones explains it as a "mask" and suggests that "much that went on behind the mask remained unuttered--unuttered, that is, in the larger world."(2) In effect, women's voices generally either perpetuated the Southern myth or were stifled. Those who did speak out, such as the Grimke sisters on slavery and Kate Chopin on women's sexuality, were ostracized by "polite" society.

Understandably then, the Southern white woman has only recently been recognized as the complicated figure that she is. And this recognition of a female version of Southern history has added further complexities to discussions of the Southern past. These complexities have, in some instances, resulted in our misunderstanding of relationships between Southern women and men, and among women themselves. For example, many literary scholars and historians point to the suffering of the white female and the black female under the chauvinism of white males; frequently, those same scholars and historians, in their desire to suggest the shared feminist goals of these women, mistakenly overlook the racial tensions and conflicts between black and white females. For although many white mistresses might have been motherly figures who cared for the physical well-being of their black slaves, many were still intent on holding on to their own place in the slave system. Certainly maternalism was as detrimental as paternalism is said to have been in the Southern slave system. In a similar vein, studies of the Civil War have not fully explored the significance of the role of the home front, notably the role that white Southern women played in keeping the Civil War going longer than the men on the front lines wished to fight. One woman, whose fiance was slow at enlisting, was said to have sent him a petticoat with a message telling him either to join the Confederate Army or to wear the petticoat. A more far-ranging look at the place of women in Southern history also prompts more questions about our traditional ways of evaluating literature by Southerners: Why were Southern women far outpublishing men writers in the antebellum South? Why do anthologies of Southern literature not reflect the wealth of publications by women? Why are many of our best Southern women writers relegated to the post-Renaissance period rather than identified as Renaissance writers?

Certainly it is the need to explore questions such as these that has prompted the publication and republication in recent years of an increasing number of diaries and historical accounts by Southern white women. The books for review here suggest just a measure of that interest: A Confederate Lady Comes of Age: The Journal of Pauline DeCaradeuc Heyward, 1863-1888; A Blockaded Family: Life in Southern Alabama During the Civil War, a memoir by Parthenia Antoinette Hague; and A Woman Rice Planter, by Elizabeth Allston Pringle. Heyward recorded her journal without any intentions of publication; this South Carolina text is the first publication of that journal. Hague and Pringle, however, saw their books published soon after writing them, Hague's in 1888 and Pringle's first in the New York Sun as a series of newspaper columns and then as A Woman Rice Planter in 1913.

All three books tell us much about the lives of three women who were born into the antebellum South and lived their early adult years during the Civil War and Reconstruction. A Confederate Lady Comes of Age and A Blockaded Family are both accounts of life in the Civil War South. Pauline Heyward was born into a wealthy Catholic plantation family in South Carolina. In her journal, she records news from the front of Southern progress and defeats, but her interests revolve more and more around possible male suitors, then her marriage, and finally the lives of her children. Hague, a Georgian, focused her "backward glance" on the years she spent during the war as a teacher in Alabama; she wrote her account years after the war ended, most probably in the 1880s. Although she does not indicate how many slaves her father owned, she seems to have been very much a part of planter society. Her account is a unique one because she spends so much time recording the household activities, such as cloth-making, that privileged white women undertook during the war years. A Woman Rice Planter tells of Elizabeth Allston Pringle's struggle to run two South Carolina plantations by growing rice and cotton crops, and raising chickens in the first decade of the twentieth century. Although Pringle's account may at first seem misplaced here because it is set in the twentieth century, A Woman Rice Planter does share with the other texts a historical perspective very much shaped by the fall of the Old South and by the white Southern rationalization of the antebellum plantation system. All three women were born before the Civil War, were products of the antebellum South, and saw the destruction of war and its aftermath of poverty. They each write of the changes they witnessed in their Southern worlds.

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese's critical introduction to A Blockaded Family and Charles Joyner's critical introduction to A Woman Rice Planter each provide helpful discussions of the lives of two Southern women born into the antebellum South and of their attitudes toward race relations, regional identity, and gender identity. Although Mary D. Robertson's prologue to A Confederate Lady lacks much of the intellectual sophistication of the discussions by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Charles Joyner, this inadequacy may, to a certain degree, be explained by the material of the journal itself. Heyward, as Robertson explains in her epilogue, was very much shaped by "the limited role into which her gender had cast her" (p. 145). But that "limited role" does, in fact, seem an important topic for introducing the journal. Robertson's prologue provides many details of Heyward's family background (details that are certainly quite appropriate and necessary), but she includes little interpretation and critical evaluation of specific entries or of the journal as a whole.

Each woman's decisions as to her purpose for writing and her audience also tell us much about the differences between women's private and public lives during the war and in the postbellum and turn-of-the-century Souths. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese explains in her introduction to A Blockaded Family that before the war Southern white women typically kept journals as a record of their lives and "frequently their souls"; journals often served as instructive pieces for daughters and other relations. After the war, women often kept journals or wrote accounts of the war to justify themselves or the plantation system and to make money to support their families. Thus a far greater number of these postwar journals were published by their writers than those journals recorded before the war (p. x). The three accounts of Southern life reviewed here certainly fit into these categories.

Heyward, as Mary D. Robertson suggests, followed her father's example by recording the events of her life. In many passages her youth and enthusiasm seem taken from her by the war raging around her as she vacillates between being a source of strength for her family and being a self-conscious young adult. In 1865, at twenty-one years of age, she exclaims, "I feel lonely in company, I'm so slow, I can't flirt or affect, or be witty or amusing, or in fact, anything like anybody else, but I'm too quiet, dull and stupid for anything. . . . [M]y face is a story for it looks interesting, whereas I am, I suppose, just about as uninteresting and unattractive a person in society as can be found" (p. 71). Her early entries suggest that she used her journal as a sort of "comforter" through the years of war. She craved privacy in a house crowded with visitors who had found retreat in the DeCaradeuc household, and her journal was at least an escape into her own private thoughts: "My inner life is entirely and essentially different from my outer. My heart most usually bleeds inwardly, and this journal is the only thing in this world that ever gets a peep into it, it's a comfort for me to write here sometimes; my desk is so private, so entirely my own" (p. 50).

Despite the Civil War setting of her journal, Heyward rarely mentions blacks or slaves, except to speak of the faithfulness of the DeCaradeuc family slave Solomon. Her only other references to blacks describe them as "demons" who have joined the Northern cause. (Surely this is an important subject to pursue in the prologue to the text, but one that isn't addressed.) As the war closes, Pauline expresses her distress, stating "Our chivalry is dead," and her desire to flee the South (p. 78). But she remains and marries and raises a family. Rather than recording her own day-to-day activities, her journal instead becomes a sort of chronicle of the lives of those around her. The last section of the journal, dated and separated from the earlier sections by a space of eight years, focuses on her children's early lives: from short anecdotes of their likes and dislikes to records of their illnesses and, in some cases, even their deaths.

Hague, on the other hand, writes in a private form--the memoir--with a very public purpose in mind: to shape her readers' attitudes toward the South and the antebellum plantation system. She writes in defense of her region by emphasizing that Southerners "have built and planted anew amid the ruins" and have returned to the Union with a strong and pure" "reverence for the stars and stripes" (p. 176). Perhaps in an attempt to calm readers' tortured memories of sons or fathers killed or imprisoned in the war, Hague states that even in the most impoverished years of war, Northern prisoners were still fed and cared for as well as any Southern soldier. She recounts stories of happy slaves and generous, kind masters to generate in A Blockaded Family what Fox-Genovese ;describes as "a complex combination of antebellum proslavery thought and postbellum racism" (p. xxii).

Hague looks back to the antebellum Southern past with nostalgia laced with a racism typical of the period. Within the first pages of her journal, she tells of being waylaid by a storm at a friend's house. Forced to take cover for several days at her friend Winnie's home. Hague was returning to Alabama from a visit in Georgia, where she had helped her family see two brothers off to war. She describes "one pleasing episode of that visit [that] yet clings to memory": a slave girl's wedding in the hall of Winnie's father's house. The slave girl "having been raised in the house almost from her cradle, her marriage taking place in one of the cabins was not to be thought of" (p. 8). The "girl" was dressed and inspected by the household in Winnie's room and then adorned with Winnie's watch and bracelets. The mistress of the house even directed the supper on the grounds that followed the ceremony, and Hague proclaims that the meal was "pleasing to the taste of an epicure." Hague explains that "perhaps no happier beings existed that night. It was like a vision of fairy-land" (p. 9). This story prompts her to recall Uncle Sol Mitchell, "an old and honored negro," who was allowed to preach in church before a white audience, without "even a shadow of an objection" (p. 10). Hague remembers her father singing as loudly as he could "just because Uncle Sol was going to preach," and she herself was "sure [she] never knelt with more humble devotion and reverence than on that Sabbath morning" (p. 11). Fox-Genovese describes these recollections as "designed to justify blatant racism and oppression" (p. xxiii). Close to the end of her account, Hague describes what she sees as the declining state of black-populated areas in the postwar South. Like Pringle, she claims that, without the controls of slavery, crime is on the increase.

Like Heyward, Pringle began her journal-writing as an exercise encouraged by one of her parents. But as Charles Joyner explains in his introduction, Pringle's mother "could not have been unaware that the act of writing in itself might very well promote contradictory feelings" within her daughter (p. xvi). Southern ladies were to accept the word of the patriarchy as absolute; they were not to think on their own. But Pringle had unique models. She was intrigued by the Swedish traveler Frederika Bremer, who visited South Carolina and wrote of her journeys in the United States. And once when the young Pringle was discouraged, her father, who was at that time on his deathbed, attempted to encourage her by saying, "Don't ever say that, my daughter. God has given it to you that whenever you put your whole self to accomplish anything you will succeed. When you fail it will be because you have not tried hard enough" (p. xx).

Pringle's attitude toward blacks was a common one among postbellum whites: she saw slavery as primarily destructive to the slaveholder. With each additional letter, as Pringle seemingly becomes more and more frustrated with the performance of the workers on her plantation (workers both black and white), she uses increasingly more and more derogatory terms in reference to blacks. She certainly did not understand or see the value, as Joyner suggests, in describing the Gullah culture that the blacks of her region shared with their ancestors who had created that culture. Like Hague, Pringle looks back on the Southern past in slavery with nostalgia, explaining, for example, that her devoted servant Chloe "is what an old time, before the war darky is, one whose devotion makes them enter into one's tastes and feelings so thoroughly" (p. 166). Pringle's primary reason in writing might have been her desire for additional income, but a secondary reason was certainly at work in her account. Pringle, like Hague, suggests that the quality of life for blacks has declined with the fall of slavery. She notes that "the negroes did not steal things then as they do now" (p. 332).

As I read Pringle's account, her determination to run her two plantations seemed sometimes to bring her to the verge of paranoia. She frequently tells of being cheated by her workers and by businessmen in the area, and she often tells of the high quality of the work she herself can accomplish, a quality of work far above what she can expect from those she employs. She recalls one instance when she had to do the milking because Gibbie, one of her servants, did not attend to her duties. Pringle was quite pleased to report that she "got more milk from Winnie than either Gibbie or Dab [had] been getting" (p. 312). Joyner reads Pringle's account as an attempt by a woman born into a patriarchy to create a persona that "disrupts patriarchal structures and subverts models of narration based upon literary hierarchy." According to Joyner, Pringle portrays herself as "the indestructible woman' succeeding in man's world, imposing control over men and events" as she establishes for herself "a new order of financial security and personal happiness." Instead of assuming the traditional passive role and passive voice of woman, she "subverts conventional literary discourse by creating a female active voice," says Joyner (p. xlv). Thus, most importantly, as Joyner suggests, although A Woman Rice Planter is written in diary form, Pringle has, in effect, created a "literary achievement" (p. xl).

Certainly this can be said of all three of these recollections of the Southern past. Not only are they historical documents of their time, but each also reflects the individual author's struggle to bring herself into being and to use her voice. Each woman also seems to possess a strong desire to define herself through gender, race, and regional identity. Most importantly, in searching for her individual voice, in evaluating her own life, each woman cultivates a certain degree of power. All three women struggle to know self, but they also share what Fox-Genovese describes as Hague's desire "to establish a specific version of the southern past as the common legacy of all" (p. xxiv). The white woman herself thus appears to have been a powerful creator and perpetuator of the myths that Clinton suggests imprisoned her: the myths of the Southern lady and the Edenic Southern plantation. Yet these three books each offer invaluable insight into the world of women "behind the mask," a mask that must be lifted in order for us to fully know the South, its history and its literature. (1) Catherine Clinton, 7he Plantation Mistress: Woman's World in the Old South (New York: Pantheon, 1982), p. 230. (2) Anne Goodwyn Jones, Tomorrow Is Another Day: The Woman Writer in the South, 1859-1936 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981), p. 37.
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Author:Weaks, Mary Lousie
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
Words:3199
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