Diary From Dixie

Diary from DixieChestnut, Mary Boykin. A Diary from Dixie. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949.

From the moment I started reading Mrs. Chestnut’s diary I felt I was in for gossip, gossip, gossip. While this is a great first hand account of life during the Civil War, I couldn’t get over how much of a name-dropping, political hob-nobbing, party-going Southerner she was! Another thing I noticed  was how humorous Mrs. Chestnut was! Here are a few of her more comical entries:

“There Mrs. Hunter told us a joke that made me sorry I had come” (p 8). But, she never does explain the joke was! Too bad!
“At camp meeting he got religion, handed round the hat, took the offering to the Lord down into the swamp to pray over it, untied his horse and fled with it, hat, contribution and all” (p 13).
“I think this journal will be disadvantageous for me, for I spend my time now like a spider, spinning my own entrails, instead of reading as my habit in all my spare moments” (p 22). See, gossip, gossip!
“Every woman in the house is ready to rush into the Florence Nightingale business” (p 70). Good ole fashion jealousy, perhaps?

I think the only quote to get to me showed the attitudes of the time, “Women need maternity to bring out their best and true loveliness” (p 86). We’ve been here before.

All in all, Mary Chestnut’s diary was a delight to read. I fell in love with some of the language: flinders, rataplan, brickbat, and best of all, envenom. Love that word! Witty and humorous, it didn’t read like a history textbook. Instead, it gave texture to the sounds and sights and warmth to the personalities from the Civil War. More importantly, it gave a sense of what it was like to be a woman during that time.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust and the chapter called “Civil War Nonfiction” (p 58).

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