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112Southern Cultures Chesnut and Neblett, however, change soon proved to be too threatening to their gendered notions of who they were. Chesnut, a planter's wife, abandoned wartime nursing as work fit only for a man. Neblett, saddled with the responsibility of managing the farm slaves when her husband went off to war, soon concluded that her sex rendered her unfit to exercise the male prerogative of violence essential to disciplining the slaves. Only Evans, albeit in the fictionalized form of a best-selling wartime novel, Macaria, dared to offer southern women a new vision of who they could be. The novel's main characters, Irene and Electra, are self-consciously independent and ambitious. They find fulfillment not in the circle of domesticity but in their tireless public work for the holy cause of Confederate nationalism. Devotion to God, not dependence upon men, gives order and meaning to their lives. Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South. By Victoria E. Bynum. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992. 234 pp. Cloth, $34.95; paper, $12.95. Reviewed by Suzanne Lebsock, Professor ofHistory at the University ofNorth Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her recentpublications include The Free Women of Petersburg: Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784-1860, and Virginia Women, 1600-1945: "A Share of Honour." When Jefferson Davis published his hefty history of the Confederate government in 1881, he dedicated it to the "WOMEN OF THE CONFEDERACY," praising their services as nurses, their "domestic labors," their "faith," their "fortitude," and their "patriotism." Such tributes were legion in southern letters, having first appeared about ten minutes after the firing on Fort Sumter and later gaining wide circulation as a fixture in the veneration of the Lost Cause. Like its companion image, that of the faithful old-time servant, the image of the Confederate angel provided assurances that the southern people had been united in battle and noble in purpose. Unlike the image of the faithful servant, however, the Confederate angel was absorbed into modern scholarship and is still with us. It is an image ripe for revisionism. With the publication of Unruly Women, Victoria Bynum has populated the southern landscape with three groups of nonconforming women, most of whom we could scarcely see before. One group "defied the authority of the Confederate state." A second group "publicly complained about misbehaving husbands or other male household members whom they accused of abusing male prerogatives of power." Still others "defied the rules of society by engaging in forbidden social and sexual behavior." To locate these upstarts Bynum used the painstaking techniques of local social history, culling manuscript census schedules, newspapers, and several decades' worth of court records from three counties in the North Carolina Piedmont. What she consequently sacrificed in terms of wide regional coverage she makes up in the depth of specific social context. Although the three counties (Granville, Orange, and Montgomery) were not far apart geographically, they all had different economic and demographic profiles, and Bynum does her best to ground particular varieties of female unruliness in the distinctive properties of each locale. Granville, for example, had the highest number of women who petitioned for divorce, a product, Bynum surmises, of that county's greater Reviews113 wealth. In Montgomery, which was relatively isolated and a stronghold of yeoman farmers , female unruliness was characteristically aimed at sabotaging the Confederacy, taking the forms of food riots and hiding deserters from the army. While Bynum's methods are those of good old-fashioned social history, her questions are those of state-of-the-art women's history. Three approaches stand out here: first, the attempt to understand the simultaneous workings of gender, race, and class; second, the exploration of sexuality as a central area of confrontation between women and the forces of the established order; and third, the effort to see how ordinary people were both acting and acted upon, how they could exercise some autonomy within an oppressive social order. In the antebellum period, the forces of order typically had the upper hand, or perhaps "whip hand" is the better term. As Bynum sees it, what all women in antebellum North Carolina had in common...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 112-114
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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