By Julia A. Stern
A genteel southern highbrow, saloniste, and spouse to a widespread colonel in Jefferson Davis’s internal circle, Mary Chesnut this present day is remembered most sensible for her penetrating Civil struggle diary. Composed among 1861 and 1865 and revised completely from the past due 1870s until eventually Chesnut’s demise in 1886, the diary was once released first in 1905, back in 1949, and later, to nice acclaim, in 1981. This advanced literary background and the questions that attend it—which version represents the true Chesnut? To what style does this article belong?—may clarify why the rfile principally has, formerly, been neglected in literary studies.Julia A. Stern’s serious research returns Chesnut to her rightful position between American writers. In Mary Chesnut’s Civil conflict Epic, Stern argues that the revised diary deals the main trenchant literary account of race and slavery until eventually the paintings of Faulkner and that, together with his Yoknapatawpha novels, it constitutes one of many nice Civil conflict epics of the yankee canon. by means of restoring Chesnut’s Eighties revision to its complicated, multidecade cultural context, Stern argues either for Chesnut’s reinsertion into the pantheon of nineteenth-century American letters and for her centrality to the literary heritage of women’s writing because it advanced from sentimental to tragic to realist kinds.
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Extra info for Mary Chesnut's Civil War Epic
A truism of the neoclassicism that swept the Anglo-American world after the founding of the United States was that the eighteenth century harkened back to Roman models (Washington as Cincinnatus, the nation as a republic), whereas the nineteenth century was known for its interest in reprising Greek cultural themes (Daniel Webster as Demosthenes; and in his war against American civilization, Thoreau carrying the Iliad to Walden Pond). Thus, one inspiration for an artistic rendering of nineteenth-century women grieving over a city at war could be cognate scenes from Homer’s Iliad, the classical tradition’s proof text for this subject.
Only weeks after Confederate surrender, in an 1880s entry for April 23, 1865, James Jr. remarks: “Your sentence is pronounced—Camden for life” (796). Under Chesnut’s razor-edged gaze, South Carolina relations and neighbors, as well as Richmond’s political luminaries and military leaders, spring to life as both idiosyncratic, realistic characters and paradoxically powerful symbolic representations of ideas and dynamics at work in a nation riven by war. Chesnut’s Literary Critics The literariness of Mary Chesnut’s Civil War has yet to be fully appreciated or explored.
Accordingly, as Chesnut had discovered during her wartime diary-keeping amid the flurry of the daily events enumerated above, the most expeditious strategy for constructing her ambitious 1880s book was to iterate large numbers of miniature pieces; over time, the many parts would accrue into an impressive totality. In this way, she transformed the nineteenth-century scrapbook collection of thoughts and clippings into a design that feels almost, if not quite, modern. 24 While extremely suggestive, none of these descriptions has quite accounted for the sui generis way in which Chesnut’s literary miniatures function.