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Mary Chesnut's Diary (Penguin Classics) Paperback – April 26, 2011

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (April 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143106066
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143106067
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #232,191 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Mary Boykin Chesnut (1823-1886) was the daughter of a prominent South Carolina politician and attended private schools in her youth. In 1840 she married James Chesnut, Jr., who would play an important role in the secession movement and the Confederacy. After her husband became an officer in the Confederate army, she accompanied him on his military missions and recorded her views and observations in her journal. Her Diary from Dixie, a perceptive view of Southern life during the American Civil War, was published in 1905.

Customer Reviews

In fact it's a good read for anyone.
R. Bono
She and her diary are well known to Civil War buffs.
Helen Harris
I wish Mary Chesnut could have met Jane Austen!
C. M Mills

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By C. M Mills on March 19, 2012
Format: Paperback
Mary Boykin Chesnut was born into a wealthy South Carolina family.She grew up on a plantation receiving a good education in Charleston. Mary married James Chesnut when she was seventeen years old. Her husband served as a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. The Chesnuts were childless. The American Civil War war destroyed their fortune. Mary's words will live forever in the hearts and minds of all who read her diary. Mrs.Chesnut was a friend of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his charming wife Varina. Chesnut comments on her relationships with the Davis family and a panoply of famous Southerners whose homes she often visited. Mary was a bookish woman who enjoyed the novels of Dickens, Trollope, Thackery and George Eliot among others. She enjoyed parties, eating out and dancing. She was a sociable woman who loved good food and gossip. She did not care for Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and was a strong Southern patriot. Mary had a good relationship with her slaves but considered them inferior to whites. In this attitude she mirrors the prejudices of her time. Her diary is a treasure trove of memorable quotes and observations about the Southern war effort and the people of the Confederacy. I include a smattering of her sage and witty remarks to give you the flavor of her diary entries:
"...Jackson whose regiment stood so stock still under fire that they were called a stone wall."-p. 78
"...Beauregard writes that is army is upon the verge of starvation..."-p. 85
"People avoid great talkers, men given to monologue, as they would avoid fire,famine or pestilence."-p. 105
"I like Disraeli because I find so many clever things in him. I like the sparkle and glitter."-p. 119
"Mr. Yancey says we have not one jot of hope.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By R. Bono on January 27, 2014
Format: Paperback
An insightful and articulate journal, from the point of view of a wealthy Charleston woman who knew or met...though her statesman, and later, military husband...many of the main players on the confederate side. She also travels though the south from Charleston as the war progresses. All I can say, for those true civil war buffs, it's well worth the read. I think it's essential. In fact it's a good read for anyone.

Chestnut personally knew Jefferson Davis for example, and reports not only his conversations but his state of mind and deeper moods. It was almost as if, he had a grip on the short odds the south faced, and while others were cheering initial victories, Davis maintained a more reserved and cautious tone...sometimes bordering on melancholy. This Chestnut reports with honesty and sensitivity.

With insight, intelligence and real nuance, she reports on important issues like rights of states, slavery, economics, as well as her ideas of honor, virtue, victory, defeat, and mercy. She speaks from a southern perspective, but never shirks from the hard veracity of Dixie's deteriorating prospects. Her commentary upon African slaves is quite powerful: "People talk before them as if they were chairs and tables. They make no sign. Are the stolidly stupid, or wiser than we are; silent and strong, biding their time?"

A great bonus, is that she's also quite readable, mixing the mundane with historic events. She's a good writer and holds one's attention. With the Penguin Edition, readers also get excellent footnotes, which elucidate a sometimes missing chronology. And not to be missed, is the Catherine Clinton Introduction, as it explains Chestnut's personal life, politics, and a writing process, which includes thoughts and insights on her later embellishments.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Irving Warner on September 18, 2014
Format: Paperback
This is a high profile historic diary brought into popular culture by excerpts included on Ken Burns’ documentary, The Civil War.
The Penguin edition introduced by Catherine Clinton would have benefited enormously if (1) the dozens of historical names were, in addition to foot-noted when they appeared, could have also been listed in alphabetical order in an appendix. And , (2)there must be an index!
The diary was edited years later, several times, and we will never know the extent of the post-insertions and deletions, save there were quite a few of them. These were done by Mary Chestnut herself, and a friend who inherited the unpublished mss.
For reasons I cannot explain, I think the entries smack of “being there, doing that” with a minimum of changes later. So, I view it as virtually all by Mary Chestnut at the time (1861-1865).
Mary Chestnut was a woman of her time and place, and in the four years of entries we see the death of her class and privilege and the abomination of slavery. .
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By paul hastings on December 5, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Excellent insight as to the inner circle of the Chesnut's as her husband was also aide to Jefferson Davis and a Brigadier General plus their relationship with Jefferson Davis, Mrs. Davis and other wives and officer's of the era. Her diaries also clarified the importance of cotton to the south and the error made in not shipping cotton over seas for safe keeping. It is a shame she apparently quit writing or keeping a journal for the remaing some twenty years of her life after the Civil War. I can see where that would ,even though sad, have been very interesting. Also interesting that both Mr and Mrs Chesnut didn't treat their slaves like "slaves" per se and their slaves actually liked and respected both of them and they were treated like family. I almost detected that, had it not been for them being from South Carolina and he in government, that they might have been on the other side.
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