Scarlett's Sisters explores the meaning of nineteenth-century southern womanhood from the vantage point of the celebrated fictional character's flesh-and-blood counterparts: young, elite, white women. Anya Jabour demonstrates that southern girls and young women faced a major turning point when the Civil War forced them to assume new roles and responsibilities as independent women. By tracing the lives of young white women in a society in flux, Jabour reveals how the South's old social order was maintained and a new one created as southern girls and young women learned, questioned, and ultimately changed what it meant to be a southern lady. ... Read more
Customer Reviews (2)
Excellent addition to Southern history
Anya Jabour's Scarlet's Sisters is a monographic corrective to popular conceptions of Southern womanhood; it subverts "Americans' ideas about the South[,] particularly about Southern women" that continue to be shaped by Gone with the Wind (1). Adding to the "classic triumvirate of race, class, and gender", Jabour uses age as her unit of analysis in exploring the history of young white women in the antebellum South (2). Divided into eight parts, Scarlet's Sisters tracks the collective experience of over three-hundred women as they pass through shared cultural experiences of maturation and coming-of-age; adolescence, schooling, single life, courtship, engagement, marriage and motherhood are discussed in a chronological order which illuminates women's identities in flux.
Carving out a separate Southern identity from the oft-covered Victorian era, Jabour's "sensitivity to regional variations" gives southern women agency (3). Forms of resistance to the demands of Southern patriarchy were not generated by the influence of a didactic, urban-based feminism from the contemporaneous American North. Instead, Jabour asserts it is Southern women themselves who developed unique forms of resistance based on Southern cultural paradigms. Young women in the nineteenth-century South created communities in exclusively female spaces; academies, church groups, and sustained virtual communities in letter writing all served to give women a safe space to explore identities. Complicating the construction of belles as "giddy girls, fickle flirts, and husband-seeking hussies", Jabour introduces us to a world of young women who "prioritized intellectual development" in a community of their own (2, 126). "I describe... a culture of resistance" adds Jabour, a "subculture" that Southern women created to resist the imperatives of patriarchy (10, 12).
Jabour draws on archival documents, magazines, published letters, diaries and memoirs, as well as a number of monographs and secondary sources to produce an incredibly vibrant account of Southern women's lives. The book's organization gives a good sense of what it was like to grow up as young, white, and well to do in the Old South. Jabour seamlessly integrates sociological analytic tools, such as the discussion of homosocial behavior and the deconstruction of cultural conceptions of sexuality. In her chapter on schoolgirls, Jabour finesses the complexity of women's relationships. Romantic friendships often blurred the lines of the platonic and erotic; intense attachments to young female teachers, or to other peers, manifested themselves in girls' diaries. In the time before Freud, these socially-sanctioned relationships gave schoolgirls a "glimpse of an alternative to their seemingly predestined future as wives and mothers" (71). It was not at all uncommon for girls to have close physical contact with peers. Dormitory-style living "encouraged young women to form relationships with their fellow students" (64). While political lesbian separatism is still a century and a half away, this all-female academic environment was a socially-sanctioned, albeit temporary place where schoolgirls could "secure [their hearts] from becoming the slave" of any man (129). Southern women formed bonds at seminaries and academies that lasted their entire lifetime. Echoing these early experiences in school, Southern women persisted in forming all-female environments later in their lives. The "meaninglessness and melancholy" that plagued young women after graduation sharpened their fond memories of happier times spent with female friends in school (106). Left by men who joined the confederate army, some during the Civil War attempted to recreate these havens where refugee women "pooled their resources and created shared homes", much to the "delight" of all involved (265). Others worked in all-female aid societies. In any case, it was clear that the bonds formed in girlhood were a compass for guiding women to form all-female environments and communities where women were able to gain efficacy.
Overall, Scarlet's Sisters is an original, informative, and enjoyable read. It does justice to second- and third-wave feminist interpretations of gender, sexuality, and womanhood. In content and approach, this book includes a nice treatment of menstruation, a topic sparsely covered, and still stigmatized, in contemporary histories. "[F]or all of historians' efforts over the last three decades to dispel the myth of the southern lady," Jabour laments, few have gone farther than "exploding the moonlight-and-magnolias mythology" of Southern women (1, 2). With this volume, Jabour not only nuances history, but she certainly succeeds in complicating modern popular ideas of gender identity.
The Index is Worthless.
I bought this book because mentions particular people that I was interested in. I knew that it talked about them because Amazon allows us to search the book. These people were not even in the index although there are people in the index. I had to go back to Amazon to find the references. If I had seen the book in a bookstore or the library I would not have known that they were mentioned. This type of book needs a good index.
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