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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Caroline Lee Hentz

As Rhoda Ellison has pointed out, the life of Caroline Hentz bears remarkable similarities to that of her fellow domestic novelist and primary antagonist in the writing of The Planter’s Northern Bride, Harriet Beecher Stowe. Both came from Massachusetts, married “scholarly, unprosperous” men, and taught with their husbands; they even moved to the same town, Cincinnati, in the same year (1832), and probably belonged to the same literary society there. Both became major national figures in the flourishing of women’s fiction; Hentz wrote her publisher in 1851, “I am compelled to turn my brains to gold and to sell them to the highest bidder” (Mary Kelley, Private Woman, Public Stage 164). But after Cincinnati, their geographical—and to some extent thematic—paths diverged: Stowe moved back to New England, and Hentz went south, to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Covington, Kentucky, Florence, Alabama, and other points south. She died in Marianna, Florida, two years after publishing her most interesting fictional defense of slavery, The Planter’s Northern Bride.

Hentz used her experience in the South as the basis for her claim that she, far better than Stowe, knew slavery intimately. “Slavery, as [Stowe] describes it, is an entirely new institution to us,” she wrote (Kelley, 168). Yet the demands of rhetoric clearly (and of course inevitably) dictated the shape of her defense. Unlike many other novels of the plantation romance, Hentz’s novel is more like Stowe’s in its set of characters. There is a kindly planter, a northern bride, a black preacher, and loyal, lighter-skinned “servants” (the term southern slaveholders preferred to “slave”). The major implied opposition, as Ellison points out, is that between the bad guys: Stowe’s slave-driver versus Hentz’s abolitionist. But Hentz’s effort to discredit abolitionism by exposing the personal motives of its spokespersons does not stop with one villain: she offers “two other types: the good man who rides a hobby and the busybody who is determined to free the slaves against their will” (Ellison, Introduction to The Planter’s Northern Bride, xiii). As Stowe had southerners criticize slavery, so Hentz had northerners defend it.

And unlike many other proslavery apologias, Hentz’s—perhaps, ironically, more effectively for her purposes—eschews sectionalism and attacks on the North, using instead a moderate tone to mediate the fierce oppositions by then in force. Her two themes, typical of the proslavery arguments more generally, had to do with slavery’s humaneness to all concerned and its economic benefits to the entire nation. The first chapter of The Planter’s Northern Bride shows Moreland’s (slavery’s) humanity by contrasting, as so many apologists did, the “personal” and “intimate” bond constructed within plantation households with the cold cash nexus relation constructed by capitalism. While Albert and his master treat one another with courtesy and concern, notwithstanding their clearly defined and obviously very different roles, the white northern woman worker has been abandoned by her community in the interests of industrial capitalism. The economic benefits are less dramatically rendered, in “long speeches by the planter and in occasional auctorial outbursts” (Ellison, xvi).

Hentz came to the explicit defense of slavery in The Planter’s Northern Bride after establishing a solid reputation as a domestic novelist of the “scribbling mob” that so famously irritated Nathaniel Hawthorne. Her first big hit had come in 1850 with Linda, or, The Young Pilot of the Belle Creole. By 1854 her numerous publications included Lovell’s Folly (1833), De Lara, or, The Moorish Bride (1843), Aunt Patty’s Scrap-bag (1846), Rena, or, The Snow Bird (1851), Eoline (1852), Ugly Effie, or, the Neglected One and the Pet Beauty (1852), and Marcus Warland (1852). There is little mention of slavery, or even African Americans, in the earlier works, consistent with the patterns of national domestic fiction. Another more ardent pro-South writer, August Evans (Wilson), whose Macaria (1863) defended the Confederacy in the midst of the war, barely mentions race or slavery in her best known Beulah (1859) or even her immediately post-war bestseller St. Elmo (1866). After The Planter’s Northern Bride and even before the Civil War, Hentz, too, returned to the list of concerns of the domestic novel, on which race and slavery took low priority, and before her death in 1856 wrote The Banished Son (1856), Courtship and Marriage (1856), Ernest Linwood (1856), and The Lost Daughter (1857).

The field is open for scholarship on Hentz; though she is included in various studies of domestic or women’s fiction, there is more to be said about how she negotiated regional concerns with gender and racial identity. She said, interestingly, that she could not “conceive how a woman could write such a work” as Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, aligning gender with southern apologetics. Yet her career suggests that she finally disconnected gender from other issues. Her works that do address race and slavery, then, might be looked at with an eye to the relation between gender and race/slavery as a white woman read it. Given the narrow and inferior place allotted to white women in most male apologias for the system, one might expect some interesting problematics as white women defended a system that confined both themselves and blacks and slaves to positions of little authority.
Anne G. Jones
University of Florida

In the Heath Anthology
from The Planter's Northern Bride (1854)

Other Works
Linda; or, The Young Pilot of the Belle Creole (1850)

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The Planter's Northern Bride
Frontmatter scans and illustrations from Hentz's book.

A Digitized Library of Southern Literature: Beginning to 1920; Caroline Lee Hentz
The complete text of Hentz's A Planter's Northern Bride.

Secondary Sources

Rhoda Coleman Ellison, "Introduction," Caroline Lee Hentz, The Planter's Northern Bride, 1970

Mary Kelley, Private Woman, Public Stage, New York, 1984

Iman Labadidi, "The Life and Literary Works of C.L. Hentz," Dissertation Abstracts International 1991, Mar., vol. 51 (9), 3073A

Miriam J. Shillingsburg, "The Ascent of Woman, Southern Style: Hentz, King, Chopin," in Southern Literature in Transition, ed. Philip Castille, et al., 1983