South Carolina ETV

Walter Edgar's Journal

Mary Chestnut’s Civil War Epic


Friday - August 05, 2011


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About This Show

(Originally broadcast 04/30/10) - A genteel southern intellectual, saloniste, and wife to a prominent colonel in Jefferson Davis's inner circle, Mary Chesnut today is remembered best for her penetrating Civil War diary. Composed between 1861 and 1865 and revised thoroughly from the late 1870s until Chesnut's death in 1886, the diary was published first in 1905, again in 1949, and later, to great acclaim, in 1981. This complicated literary history and the questions that attend it—which edition represents the real Chesnut? To what genre does this text belong?—may explain why the document largely has, until now, been overlooked in literary studies.

Dr. Julia A. Stern joins Dr. Edgar to discuss the life and writings of Mary Chestnut. In her book Mary Chesnut's Civil War Epic Stern's critical analysis returns Chesnut to her rightful place among American writers. By restoring Chesnut's 1880s revision to its complex, multi-decade cultural context, Stern argues both for Chesnut's reinsertion into the pantheon of nineteenth-century American letters and for her centrality to the literary history of women's writing as it evolved from sentimental to tragic to realist forms.


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