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FW: ANB - Bio of the Day: Caroline Lee Hentz [author]

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  • A.J. Wright
    Hentz lived in Alabama between 1834 and 1848..aj wright // ajwright@uab.edu ... From: biod-request@www.anb.org [mailto:biod-request@www.anb.org] Sent:
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 24, 2003
      Hentz lived in Alabama between 1834 and 1848..aj wright // ajwright@...

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      From: biod-request@... [mailto:biod-request@...]
      Sent: Saturday, November 22, 2003 1:50 AM
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      Subject: ANB - Bio of the Day

      American National Biography Online

      Hentz, Caroline Lee Whiting (1 June 1800-11 Feb. 1856), sketch
      writer and novelist, was born in Lancaster, Massachusetts, the
      daughter of John Whiting, a bookseller, and Orpah Danforth. Her
      father served in the revolutionary war, and several of her brothers
      followed military careers. Very little is known about Caroline's
      early life and schooling, except that she was a precocious reader
      and writer who evidently cultivated her literary skills in her
      father's bookshop. The family reported that Caroline composed
      poetry and drama before age twelve and wrote a novel when a teenager.

      In 1824 Caroline Whiting married Nicholas Marcellus Hentz, a
      French-born entomologist, engraver, and miniature painter who
      spoke several languages and studied medicine in Paris and at
      Harvard. He was also the author of several school texts, a treatise
      on alligators, and a novel, Tadeuskund, the Last King of the
      Lenape (1825), a fictionalized account of the Paxton massacres
      on the Pennsylvania frontier. His posthumous Spiders of the United
      States (1875), a collection of scholarly papers on the subject,
      long remained a standard in the field. Once married, Caroline
      Hentz embarked on a life of raising children and assisting her
      husband as he moved through the South and Midwest from teaching
      position to teaching position. When the couple married, Nicholas
      Hentz was a French instructor at the Round Hill School in Northampton,
      Massachusetts, under the direction of historian George Bancroft.
      In 1826 the family moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where
      he had accepted a professorship in modern languages and belles
      lettres. Four years later the Hentzes moved to Covington, Kentucky,
      where Nicholas conducted a female academy for two years. He found
      similar employment in Cincinnati, Ohio, 1832-1834; Florence,
      Alabama, 1834-1843; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1843-1845; Tuskeegee,
      Alabama, 1845-1848; and Columbus, Georgia, 1848-1849. During
      these years Caroline Hentz gave birth to five children, four
      of whom grew to maturity, and performed various functions connected
      to her husband's teaching career: assisting in the performance
      of classroom duties, running a household for numerous boarding
      students, and performing the farm chores required of frontier
      homesteads. She also helped her husband collect insect specimens.
      Such duties left little leisure for literature.

      Nevertheless, Hentz began writing a verse drama, De Lara; or,
      The Moorish Bride, while living in North Carolina. Entering the
      play in a contest sponsored by the actor-manager William Pelby,
      Hentz won the first prize of $500 and saw her play produced to
      favorable reviews in Boston and Philadelphia in 1831. In Chapel
      Hill Hentz also came into contact with poet George Moses Horton,
      a slave and the first professional African American of letters.
      Hentz edited and helped promote his work by sending two of Horton's
      poems to her hometown newspaper, the Lancaster Gazette, which
      published them with her cover letter on 8 April 1828. In gratitude
      Horton praised Hentz effusively and composed a poem in her honor
      in the preface to his Poetical Works (1845). While living in
      Kentucky, Hentz wrote two other dramas, Constance of Werdenberg;
      or, The Heroes of Switzerland, which was produced in New York
      in 1832, and Lamorah; or, The Western Wilds, produced in Cincinnati
      in 1832 and New Orleans in 1833. She also wrote a number of sketches
      in James Hall's Western Monthly Magazine. In Cincinnati, Hentz
      published her first novel, Lovell's Folly (1833), which her family
      attempted to suppress as too personal, and belonged to the Semi-Colon
      Club, a literary society that included Harriet Beecher (Harriet
      Beecher Stowe). Nicholas Hentz's violent display of jealousy
      may help account for the family's departure from Cincinnati and
      the prevalence of the theme of uncontrolled passion in Caroline
      Hentz's mature work.

      Life in rural Alabama in the 1840s provided even less opportunity
      for writing, and Hentz produced only occasional poems and prose
      pieces in magazines. First published serially in 1844 in the
      Philadelphia Saturday Courier, Hentz's sketches of the Worth
      family were collected in 1846 as Aunt Patty's Scrap-Bag, which
      appeared in five editions before 1873. Additional sketches were
      collected in The Mob Cap (1848), which appeared in three editions
      before 1852. Hentz turned her attention to literature full time
      only after her husband retired from teaching in 1849 because
      of poor health, leaving Hentz to support the couple with her
      income from writing. Fortunately for her family, Hentz was a
      facile writer, producing eight novels and seven story collections
      in the seven years before her death.

      The earliest and most popular of Hentz's novels of the 1850s
      was Linda; or, The Young Pilot of the Belle Creole (1850), a
      tale of domestic travail and improbable adventure that saw thirteen
      editions in two years. Hentz explored its theme of the misery
      caused by undisciplined emotion in later novels as well. The
      plot of Robert Graham: A Sequel to Linda (1855), in which the
      heroine marries a previously rejected suitor after her first
      husband dies, suggests that males are worthy of female admiration
      and devotion only after they fully master their emotions. The
      plight of Mittie in Helen and Arthur; or, Miss Thusa's Spinning-Wheel
      (1853) intimates that unfettered passion is as self-destructive
      in females as it is in males. Rena; or, The Snow Bird (1851),
      which is set in New England, and Eoline; or, Magnolia Vale (1852),
      while developing earlier themes, are notable for their positive
      portrayals of independent and strong-willed older women, Aunt
      Debby and Miss Manly, respectively. Hentz is best known, however,
      for her favorable depictions of plantation culture in Marcus
      Warland; or, The Long Moss Spring (1852), the only novel by Hentz
      with a male protagonist, and The Planter's Northern Bride (2
      vols., 1854), which was written in response to Harriet Beecher
      Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1851-1852). Ernest Linwood (1856),
      Hentz's most autobiographical novel, examines not only the destructiveness
      of jealousy but also the potential conflict between domestic
      duty and literary creativity and productivity. Although the heroine-narrator
      Gabriella admits that she "once thought it a glorious thing to
      be an author," she subsumes her career goal to "the measured
      duty, the chained down spirit, the girdled heart" of domestic
      life, much as Hentz appears to have subordinated her early literary
      ambitions to married life. Although in The Banished Son, and
      Other Stories of the Heart (1856) Hentz criticized the notion
      of female intellectual inferiority, she nevertheless insisted
      that men and women were intended for different life work, despite
      her own commercial success as an author. "Were woman to leave
      her own, for man's more sun-like sphere," asked Hentz, "what
      account can she render to her own neglected duties, to her own
      deserted orbit?"

      Hentz lived her last years in Marianna and St. Andrews, Florida,
      with her ailing husband and grown children. She died in Marianna
      of pneumonia. An immensely popular writer of her own day, Hentz
      remains of interest for her role in the development of domestic
      fiction, the professionalization of authorship, and the study
      of nineteenth-century southern culture.


      Unpublished documents relating to Caroline Hentz, including
      her 1836 diary, family letters, her husband's notebooks, and
      an autobiography by her physician son Charles are contained in
      the Hentz Family Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University
      of North Carolina. Other collections of essays and sketches by
      Hentz include Ugly Efie; or, The Neglected One and the Pet Beauty,
      and Other Tales (1850?); Wild Jack; or, The Stolen Child: and
      Other Stories (1852); The Victim of Excitement. The Bosom Serpent,
      etc., etc., etc. (1853); Courtship and Marriage; or, The Joys
      and Sorrows of an American Life (1856); The Lost Daughter, and
      Other Stories of the Heart (1857); and Love after Marriage; and
      Other Stories of the Heart (1857). The Planter's Northern Bride
      and Eoline were reprinted by Arno Press in the 1970s. The fullest
      accounts of Hentz's life and works are contained in Helen Waite
      Papashvily, All the Happy Endings (1956); Nina Baym, Woman's
      Fiction (1978); and Mary Kelley, Private Woman, Public Stage
      (1984). See Arthur Hobson Quinn, A History of the American Drama
      from the Beginning to the Civil War (1923), for an account of
      Hentz's plays, and Rhoda C. Ellison, "Mrs. Hentz and the Green-Eyed
      Monster," American Literature 22 (Nov. 1950): 345-50, for a discussion
      of jealousy in Hentz's life and fiction. An obituary is in the
      Columbus (Ga.) Times and Sentinel, 20 Feb. 1856.

      Jeanne M. Malloy

      Online Resources

      Caroline Lee Hentz, The Planter's Northern Bride, 1854
      From the Documenting the American South Collection, University
      of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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      Jeanne M. Malloy. "Hentz, Caroline Lee Whiting";
      American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
      Access Date:
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