Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Book Review #2: Children of Pride (A Look at Antebellum/Civil War Life)

In keeping with Monday’s blog on antebellum homes, today’s book review is a story of the Old South and its people, the Jones Family in particular. Children of Pride by Robert Manson Myers (Yale University Press, 1972) is available in a complete or an abridged volume. I have read both, but I recommend the abridged edition if one is just looking for information to include in a story rather that doing in-depth research.

The book(s) consist of the voluminous correspondence between members of the Charles Colcock Jones Family in George’s low country, beginning in 1860 and ending in 1868. No notes interrupt the text, but there is a nice epilogue which “ties up the ends” nicely.

Charles Colcock Jones, Sr. and his wife (also his first cousin) Mary Sharpe Jones are both strict Presbyterians and wealthy land-and-slave owners. With the advent of the Civil War, their family fortunes, as so many others, disintegrate. Their lasting legacy, these preserved letters, gives us a picture of the times—birth, marriages, illness, death, sorrow, joy, hope, and despair. Pervasive in the letters are the strict religious and social conventions of the writers—and of the times.

Particular poignant are the letters detailing the unchecked rampage through the house and and outbuildings by Union soldiers on the same day that the Jones daughter is upstairs in labor with her third child. Mary Sharpe Jones quotes much of the actual conversation between her and the soldiers as she begs them to leave enough food for the children and not to take personal possessions of little monetary but great sentimental value.

Any author writing in this time period will want a realistic look the daily activities of the family and their stoic acceptance of the inevitable. Scarlett, Ashley, Melanie, and Rhett-while perhaps more dashing and romantic—hardly typify this time as chronicled by a real family who survived it.

The author uses a Biblical quote from Job 41:34 which says, He beholdeth all things; he is a king over all the children of pride.

The Jones family was only one of many who grew up sure of their place in their narrow world. Though morally “good” people who tried to do the “right” thing for their families, friends, and their slaves, they could not envision a day when that world would crash down around them.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Judy,
This book sounds like a great resource for authors writing in that period. There's nothing better than reading about the real life of people who lived in the era. I'm sure the civil war wasn't all "Gone with the Wind"!


K9friend said...

I read a collection of Civil War era letters a few years ago. Don't remember the name of the book...wonder if this could be it?

nlindabrit said...

I think this type of research is essential, because we see so many cliched impressions of life in this era in films and on TV and the true mode of life was often very different.