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Subverting her own Subversions

Drew Gilpin Faust writes that in Macaria Augusta Jane Evans had “significantly undermined the restrictiveness and transformed the meaning of the female sphere by excusing women from exclusive domesticity and providing them a critical role in the public life.”   Augusta’s decision to abandon her plan for a history of the Confederacy in deference to Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens “exemplifies the fate of female ambition in the South,” writes Faust. “--its transformation into co-existing docility and assertiveness, compliance and repressed rage.”

Some feminists have objected that virtually all of Augusta’s heroines abandon their careers and become happily married.   Victorian scholar Susan Reynolds believes Augusta, after the freedom and independence of her early years, wanted marriage as an ending for herself as well.    Faust points out that Augusta had been criticized for the unmarried, outspoken heroines of Macaria, and may have stepped back a bit.

Nina Baym sees marriage as a natural ending for these books, since they take place only after the heroine has achieved success on her own.   Though the books are steeped in notions of Victorian sentimentality and obeisance to the husband, Baym sees an underlying equality in Augusta’s marriages that undercuts these notions.   In her own marriage Augusta was the chief earner but also filled the role of Angel in the House, running her husband’s large household, tending her gardens, hosting visitors -- and writing books.