March 8, 2012

One of those rare magnetic women

Nicknamed "the Pride of Mobile," Octavia Celeste Le Vert was the ranking celebrity in Alabama, though she published only one book. Anyone of consequence who visited the area, including the Maquis de Lafayette, made sure to stop at her home. Everyone knew her, including fellow Alabama writer (though born in Massachusetts) Caroline Lee Hentz (pictured). As Le Vert recorded in her journal for March 8, 1851, Hentz was "one of those rare magnetic women, who attracted my entire admiration at our first interview." Hentz, in turn, was equally impressed by Le Vert, writing to her two weeks later in praise of her talents, her beauty, and "sensibility that pleases the eye and charms the soul."

Also in the year 1851, Hentz published her novel Rena; or, The Snow Bird. Subtitled in some editions as "A Tale of Real Life," the book features two star-crossed lovers: the title character Rena and a man named Sherwood Lindsay. Rena's guardian, her aunt Debby, refuses to allow the relationship because, years early, she herself was spurned by Linday's father. One contemporary reviewer called the book "a triumph of no ordinary kind" for its ability "to elicits a thrill of deep and exquisite pleasure." As is typical for Hentz, the book also includes a brief affirmation of the plantation system in the South:

These children were not born in the land of the sunny South, where the negroes follow the steps of the white race as invariably as the shadow follows the sunshine.

The same year that Rena was published, a woman named Harriet Beecher Stowe began serializing a novel which came to be called Uncle Tom's Cabin. The two women had met while living in Cincinnati, though they apparently had differing ideas about enslaved people. Within a few years, Hentz published The Planter's Northern Bride, one of the most famous anti-Tom novels. Hentz did not survive to see the Civil War.

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