An Evening when Alone: Four Journals of Single Women in the South, 1827-67

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Michael O'Brien
Southern Texts Society, 1993 - Social Science - 460 pages
An Evening When Alone will greatly enhance awareness of the situation of single women in the nineteenth-century South. "It has been natural that the study of antebellum Southern women has concentrated upon the married," writes Michael O'Brien in his substantive and moving introduction. "In this, Southern scholarship has not distinguished itself from the main currents of women's history. At the center of our understanding has grown to be the plantation mistress. We have been offered varying versions of her - as victim, as heroine, as exploiter, as quasi-abolitionist, as proslavery ideologue - but her centrality has been assumed. Yet the unmarried woman was not a rare phenomenon." Single women, with widows and young unmarried women, made up almost half of the adult female population. By looking at single women, An Evening When Alone restores some balance and brings to light single women's private journals, to which they habitually devoted much time and care.
This first volume to come from the Southern Texts Society presents the journals of four very different women who, although their lives were worlds apart, lived and wrote in the South during the years 1827-67. The first is Elizabeth Ruffin of Evergreen plantation in Virginia, whose two short journals convey a sharp, ironic sensibility reminiscent of Jane Austen. Then there is a governess (whose identity is a matter of interesting dispute) in her early thirties, beginning an independent career and living in some discomfort on a Mississippi plantation near Natchez between 1835 and 1837. The third, Janet Caroline North of South Carolina, shows in her 1851-52 journals the high-society belle on alert and gossipy patrol at the Virginia and New York springs. Finally, there is Ann Lewis Hardeman, growing old in the midst of an extended family near Jackson, Mississippi, struggling to bring up her dead sister's children and endure the Civil War and illness with bleak fortitude and religious intensity.
These journals will appeal to anyone who takes pleasure in the diarists' human resonance, their explication and observation of ordinary joys and travails; courtship, disappointed love, illness, the gratifications and pain of female friendship, the ambivalences of family life, the grief caused by the Civil War, the troubles occasioned by men, and the difficulty and consolation of religion.

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About the author (1993)

Michael O'Brien is Phillip R. Shriver Professor of History at Miami University and Senior Mellon Scholar in American History at the University of Cambridge. His publications include Rethinking the South: Essays in Intellectual History; The Idea of the American South, 1920-1941; and A Character of Hugh Legare.

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