Balancing literary aspiration with gender limitations in the nineteenth-century South; Mary Bayard Clarke (1827-1886) grew up in a North Carolina planter family that revered southern traditions, but she was not a woman to be stymied by conventional expectations. A writer of ambition and ability, she published poetry and prose, traveled widely, corresponded with prominent men and women of her day, and repeatedly challenged stereotypes of nineteenth-century women. Her writings, letters, and family papers reveal a fiercely independent, creative, and adaptable individual - a woman who seemingly lived several lives in one lifetime and who shattered traditional images of the "southern lady" along the way. Gathered in this volume, Clarke's papers offer a wealth of revisionist insights as they tell the life story of a remarkable woman. The value of these writings lies in the broad range of themes and locales they cover. Clarke traveled to Cuba, New York, and Chicago; spent five arduous years on the frontier in San Antonio; and in 1861, against her husband's wishes, returned to North Carolina, where she lived for the rest of her life.
Her writings reflect her wit, love of adventure, and keen powers of observation. They also portray her independence as she shouldered economic hardships, household responsibilities, ill health, and extended separations from her husband. Clarke's reaction to the Civil War and its aftermath provides particularly interesting reading. During the war Clarke wrote in support of the Southern cause and sold poetry and newspaper articles to augment the family income. After Appomattox, she published scathing indictments of Radical Reconstruction. When Clarke's husband joined the Republican Party in 1868, her family, and probably Clarke herself, was shocked. Letters from family members reveal the depth of their anger, and Clarke's own words illustrate the difficulties of living as the spouse of a Scalawag in the Reconstruction South.