Tag Archives: diaries

The American South, a History

As an English literature major and history minor, I was introduced to the American South’s turbulent history as well as its great fiction writers (such as William Faulkner, Kate Chopin, and Flannery O’Connor). With this post, the fourth in my ongoing series of recommended historical non-fiction, I highlight five intriguing books that evoke the South’s values, rich cultural history, and distinctly unique take on things.

 Scandal at Bizarre: Rumor and  Reputation in Jefferson’s America by Cynthia Kierner. In 1792 rural Virginia, a small party of young adults traveled to a plantation for an extended visit. Once there, one of the women, Nancy Randolph, suffered what appeared, at first, to be a miscarriage. The “scandal” was that Nancy was unmarried and the suspected father was her brother-in-law, Richard Randolph (her sister’s husband). Was the infant murdered? Did Nancy and Richard have an affair? Richard was charged with the crime but the stigma of the “fallen woman” status clung to Nancy for the rest of her life. The book reads like fiction but it’s a true story. The Randolph family was distantly related to Thomas Jefferson, his mother’s surname was Randolph.

Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz.  And now for some humor. Journalist Horwitz travels to the deep South to collect stories and views from a people still deeply entrenched with the ghosts of “the War of Northern Aggression.” Along the way he meets “super hardcore” Civil War re-enactors, a black woman selling baskets in a market stall abutting another selling Confederate flags and trinkets, and attends boisterous Klan rallies. It’s a wild ride in a whole ‘nother country.

 Thomas Jefferson & Sally Hemings: An American Controversy by Annette Gordon-Reed. In this highly readable and revealing book, historian, professor, and legal scholar Gordon-Reed proceeds to cut down every argument and conclusion that has been made about Jefferson and his sexual relationship with his slave throughout its long and controversial history. She takes apart every single argument and debunks each with solid research, revealing blind acceptance in the historical study of Jefferson scholarship. This book ties in nicely with

  The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed.  The winner of numerous book awards (including the Pulitzer for history), this is a thorough and exhaustive account of the Hemings family which has achieved notoriety due to the acknowledged relationship between slave Sally Hemings and slaveholder Thomas Jefferson. She brings alive a family, a woman, and a legacy amid the backdrop of the slave South. Impeccably researched and written, this book is just one of the reasons why I love history.

 A Year in the South: Four Lives in 1865 by Stephen Ash. Finally, this selection is a poignant and diverse collection revealing the private diaries and lives of four southerners in a single year: a war widow, a newly-freed slave, a former Confederate soldier, and a lost young man trying to find himself in a changed country. Ash is a history professor and each personal story draws you in; it’s a wonderful snapshot in time.



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George Orwell’s Blog


“What I have most wanted to do . . . is to make political writing into an art.” George Orwell

George Orwell was a passionate observer, thinker, and writer. The Orwell Prize, Britain’s pre-eminent prize for political writing, observes that Orwell’s novels and essays “still resonate around the world as peerless examples of courageous independence of mind, steely analysis and beautiful writing.”

Most widely known today as the author of Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), during the 1930s and 1940s Orwell published insightful and scrupulously honest essays in left-wing intellectual periodicals. From August 1938 until October 1942 he also kept a diary, with subjects ranging from how many eggs his chickens were laying to the weather to World War II.  

Seventy years to the day, The Orwell Prize is publishing George Orwell’s diaries as a blog. The “domestic” diaries began on August 9th, 1938/2008. The “political” diaries will begin on September 7th, 1938/2008. The diaries are word for word as Orwell wrote them, including original spelling errors, “indicated by a ° following the offending word.”

In addition to Orwell’s exact words, the blog includes footnotes written by Peter Davison, who edited The Complete Works of George Orwell and the text of newspaper clippings Orwell pasted into his diary. As you’d expect from a blog, the entries include many links. Here’s an example:

August 21

21 August, 2008 by orwelldiaries

Yesterday fine & fairly warm. Went in afternoon and saw Kit’s Coty,¹ a druidical altar or something of the kind. It consists of four stones arranged more or less thus:

The whole about 8’ high & the stone on top approximately 8’ square by something over a foot thick. This makes about 70 cubic feet of stone. A cubic yard (27 cubic feet) of coal is supposed to weigh 27 cwt., so the top stone if of coal would weigh about 3 1/2 tons. Probably more if I have estimated the dimensions rightly. The stones are on top of a high hill & it appears they belong to quite another part of the country.

¹Kit’s Coty House is the chamber of a long barrow (an ancient grave mound) not far to the north of Aylesford. Peter Davison

*You can view an image of this entry here. The Orwell Prize



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