Chapter

Introduction

Julia A. Stern

in Mary Chesnut's Civil War Epic

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print January 2010 | ISBN: 9780226773285
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226773315 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226773315.003.0001
Introduction

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This book argues that Mary Boykin Chesnut composed one of the greatest epics in American letters, a work never read in its own century. Having drafted observations in diary form between 1861 and 1865, Chesnut reviewed the manuscript in 1866 and put it away until the late 1870s, when she began to transcribe the jottings of the bellum period into full sentences and complete thoughts. Departing at times from her original wartime musings and working imaginative elements into the story, the 1880s Chesnut came to reenvision the smoothed-over Civil War fragments with an eye toward creating a more ambitious account. In a final burst of creative energy between 1880 and 1883, the diarist of the 1860s fashioned herself into a literary writer, giving expression to the devastation of an entire society. Scholars have speculated about just how “unfinished” her manuscript was. Had Chesnut lived another decade or more, she might have continued her revisionary efforts as long as such labor remained possible.

Keywords: Mary Boykin Chesnut; epic; bellum period; wartime musings; Civil War; American literature

Chapter.  11885 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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