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The Diary of a Southern Lady: Georgina Francis Barrett Devlin, 1852-1912 Paperback – October 17, 2011
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About the Author
Katharine M. Jones, the editor of "The Diary of a Southern Lady," was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi, and now lives in Winchester, Virginia. She is a direct descendant of Georgina B. Devlin, the author of the diary. When still in high school, she became interested in her great, great-grandmother's diary when she was given a volume of it by her grandmother. Katharine graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1961, majoring in English and French. She continues to have a fascination with genealogy and through it with American history and culture. Of special interest is how family history can demonstrate the westward settlement of the country. She is married to Bill Jones - a history major. Their children have inherited their parents' interest in history and the lives of their ancestors. Their daughter, Kathy Jones, has a master’s degree in history from the University of Virginia, lives in Washington, D.C., and served as consulting editor for this book. Their son Davis and his wife Charo live in Virginia with their daughter Julia, who at 17 is an aspiring writer as well. Her great grandfather and Confederate soldier, Capt. William V. Davis, also kept a diary in Mrs. Jones’ possession. Capt. Davis’ diary was previously published under the title of "Oh, For Dixie!", edited by Joe and Lavonne Ashley.
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Had I not read Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's A MIDWIFE'S TALE: THE LIFE OF MARTHA BALLARD, BASED ON HER DIARY, 1785-1812, it is probable that I would have dismissed as unimportant THE DIARY OF A SOUTHERN LADY edited by Katherine M.Jones. The Thatcher book, which won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for history, changed forever the way historians approach diaries which focus
on the apparently insignificant and ordinary things of life.
This diary, the work of Georgina Francis Barrett Devlin, covered the years 1852-1912, but entries for the diary from September 6, 1891, to October 12, 1895, are missing. The editor (Devlin's great, great, great grand daughter) provides a brief preface, which explains how she came into possession of the diary, and a short introduction which describes the John Michael Barrett family in 1836 leaving London, England, for New York, Canada and finally Mississippi in 1837. In order to set the context, the editor provides brief introductions to each volume. These help the reader to keep in mind the incredible sectional and national and international changes the diarist witnessed during her long life.
Although not a trained historian, editor Jones has produced a handsome volume with numerous helpful footnotes which testify to her research. Footnote four on page 155, for example, clarifies the complicated 19th century meaning of the word anodyne. Or, again, on page 292 when the diarist mentions Elie Metchnibroff explains that he was a Russian scientist who coined the term gerontology and who won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1908.
While the diarist makes some interesting entries regarding the Civil War when it reached her home, the trauma of losing her brother to war, and comments which reflect her understanding of race relations, the brilliance of the diary is its ordinariness. Devlin's diary reveals a competent woman who deeply loved her family and who, upon her husband's death in 1878, conducted her own affairs carefully. She managed her rental property, took care of her taxes, and all other obligations. The reader now knows a great deal about how a woman of Devlin's class filled her days and lived her life in Mississippi during this sixty some-odd year period of history.
Devlin's beloved brothers, Michael and Robert, settled in Canada and lived productive lives there. Jones informs us that Michael was trained in both law and medicine and was instrumental in founding both the Toronto School of Medicine and the Ontario Medical College for Women. Robert practiced law in Hamilton and Toronto. While there are entries for times when Devlin went to Canada to visit her brothers, the reader gets no sense of what they may have thought about the momentous events taking place in America. Were they, for example, strongly opposed to slavery? Did slavery matter to them at all? Was Michael a 19th century feminist? For answers to questions like these, we await the Devlin counterpart to Ballard's Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. But perhaps it is enough simply to know what Devlin's life was like in Yazoo City, Winona, and Greenwood, Mississippi during these years. I recommend this volume to anyone, scholar or lay person, with an interest in southern history.