13 August 2010

Elizabeth Boatwright Coker: India Allan (1953), and a Few Digressions

India Allen, by Elizabeth Boatwright Coker (1909–93), is interesting in itself: the novel begins in antebellum South Carolina among the aristocracy, continues through the crisis of the Civil War (1861–65), and concludes during Reconstruction, when the Southern aristocracy is attempting to cope with its loss of wealth, Northern carpetbaggers, and the new status of the slaves upon whom they once depended for that wealth. This forms an important backcloth to the love story between India and Max Allen, who marry quite early in the novel. This is a love which endures, despite terrible injuries the war inflicts on Max, and in spite of his subsequent amnesia which partly causes their eight-year separation, when Max escapes to the Appalachians to trade with the mountain women.

But of additional interest to me, and I know to others, are the minor characters representing Lucy Holcombe Pickens (1832–99) and her husband Francis Wilkinson Pickens (1807–69). Lucy was well known for her beauty, and is remembered now as the only woman to appear on a CSA (Confederate States of America) banknote.

India meets Max in White Sulphur Springs (the marriage mart), Virginia, where Lucy met Francis, although most of India Allan is set in Edgefield, South Carolina, where the Pickens lived in a house with an interesting history. Bought by Francis – who had been married twice before – in 1829 and called Edgewood, the house remained in Lucy's possession until her death.*

And then in 1929, by which time Edgewood was in a state of some disrepair, Eulalie Chafee Salley (1883–1975) and her husband bought the house. Eulalie was a feminist and one of the first female real estate agents; she lived in Kalmia Hill, Aiken, and had the house moved there. In 1989, The Pickens-Salley House was moved to the University of South Carolina campus, Aiken, where it remains. This is a professionally produced, nine-minute video history of The Pickens-Salley House.

*Lucy Holcombe Pickens published the novel The Free Flag of Cuba in 1855, but that's another story.

My related post below is also worth a visit:

Lucy Holcombe Pickens and the Pickens-Salley House

1 comment:

Mimi from French Kitchen said...

I found this book in my parents' library when I was about 12 or 13 and read it over and over, charmed by the descriptions of the Low Country. I read it not long after I'd read GWTW, and loved that it seemed less stereotypical in its depiction of the relationship between Max and India.

Funny, because I see GWTW as a layered, feminist story. But this was something more. Very much a story ahead of its time.