Wednesday, February 5, 2020

More About Mary/Cassandra

Mary Boykin Miller Chesnut (1823-1886)
Ambrotype from her photograph album.

Mary Chesnut is the source for our historical information in this
year's applique block of the month Cassandra's Circle.
"The government of South Carolina is that of an aristocracy. When a Colony, many families arose in the Low Country who became very rich and were highly educated. They were real noblemen and ruled the Colony and the State."
Governor James Henry Hammond's opinion of his home state, 1850
Wedding photo of Mary Miller and James Chesnut

Mary Boykin Miller, a child of Charleston and a governor's daughter, married into that nobility, spending much of her Civil War at her husband's family's Mulberry plantation where she was miserable.
"I take this somnolent life coolly....These people have grown accustomed to dullness. They were born and bred in it. They like it as well as anything else."
Mulberry's plantation house, about 1900, near Camden. Photograph from
the South Caroliniana Collection at the University of South Carolina.

Mary was not like them. She was not like many women (or men) of her era, one reason her writing continues to touch us a century and a half later. She kept a journal recording her views on slavery, the Confederacy, the neighbors and the future of the cause. Friend Isabella thought her pessimistic naming her Cassandra after the prophet ignored in Greek myth.

Cassandra's curse was to see the future but
never be believed
"My journal, a quire of Confederate paper, lies wide open on my desk in the corner of my drawing-room. Everybody reads it who chooses....Isabella still calls me Cassandra, and puts her hands to her ears when I begin to wail. Well, Cassandra only records what she hears; she does not vouch for it. For really, one nowadays never feels certain of anything."
Mary's manuscripts in the the South Caroliniana Collection

Mary also spent time in Richmond, the Confederacy's capitol and Columbia, South Carolina's, either  of which she preferred to plantation life. As an aristocrat she moved through influential Confederate circles. Our applique BOM this year records her views on the people in power during the Civil War and you will get to know her too.

You may want to read more about Mary Chesnut's Civil War.

For a perspective on South Carolinians see Gaillard Hunt's 1920 introduction to the Life, Letters and Speeches of James Louis Petigru.

The Published Diaries

Mary wrote a journal and years later rewrote it, a memoir disguised as a journal. It was published in edited form in 1906. Then in 1981 it was published as she wrote the memoir. Five years later the original diary manuscript was published. She also kept a photograph album.

Going backward in time by publication date, which might be the best way to read them if you want a thorough picture.

2011. Mary Chesnut's Illustrated Diary: Mulberry Edition (2 Volume Set) edited by Martha M. Daniels and Barbara E. McCarthy.
You could have bought this album at auction:

1984. The Private Mary Chesnut: The Unpublished Civil War Diaries edited by C. Vann Woodward & Elisabeth Muhlenfeld, Oxford University Press.

1981. Mary Chesnut's Civil War, edited by C. Vann Woodward, Yale University Press. The complete memoir.

Recent reprint

1905. A Diary From Dixie edited by Isabella D Martin and Myrta Lockett Avery. The first edition of the memoir.

Reprinted in 2011 as Mary Chesnut's Diary by Penguin Books

Biographies of Mary Boykin Chesnut

1996 Mary Boykin Chesnut: A Confederate Woman's Life by Mary A. DeCredico. Rowman & Littlefield.

1992 Mary Boykin Chesnut: A Biography by Elisabeth S. Muhlenfeld. Louisiana State University Press.


Wendy Caton Reed said...

I was told there would be no homework. Now I can't stop reading. My first block may now be late!

Barbara Brackman said...

Wendy you were misinformed. This is not a pud course as we used to say.

Sue in Marion said...

I have the 1981 version around here somewhere...need to find and re-read it and check out the other ones.

Oh, and we had pud courses at Purdue, too, though I don’t remember taking any. I was a speech/language pathology major and we were required to take statistics. They put a bunch of us undergrad women in a class with graduate engineers! That didn’t last long! I took statistics in a summer class at IU where they had the sense to offer a class for humanities majors!

Kerry said...

Oh dear, there goes another book purchase! LOL! Just nobody quiz me on the contents - I like having a slightly lacking memory - means I can read things time and again. Thank you.

QuiltGranma said...