Rewriting Domesticity, War, and Confederate Defeat: Julia LeGrand, Sensibility, and Literary Culture in the Nineteenth-Century South

by Brackett, Katherine, M.A., WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY, 2012, 109 pages; 1520668


This thesis explores Julia LeGrand’s diary-keeping, readings of texts such as newspapers, novels and religious texts, and her postwar attempts at fiction writing to reveal the ways in which the sensibilities LeGrand acquired through reading and writing provided her with multiple cultural narratives to respond to the challenges posed by her tumultuous antebellum courtship, the military occupation of her adopted city during the Civil War, and her frustration with men and patriarchy during Reconstruction. This study examines the ways in which LeGrand’s relationship with reading material and her own writing changed over time due to circumstances in her life, especially the long-term effects of domestic instability and financial hardship, living in an occupied city in times of war, and Confederate military defeat. In using texts to critique and comprehend the deceit that surrounded her, Julia both invoked and rejected ideas of fictional truth commonly claimed by nineteenth-century writers. Throughout her life, LeGrand turned to reading and writing to deal with disappointment, much of which stemmed from economic struggles. Over time, LeGrand modified the ways in which she interacted with, comprehended, and implemented the texts that she read.

This study focuses on three time periods in Julia LeGrand’s life and her distinct sensibilities that correspond with them: first, the late antebellum period and her ill-fated engagement to Charles Harlan; second, the Civil War as experienced in occupied New Orleans; and lastly, the postwar period in Texas. Nineteenth-century Americans turned to familiar stories and tropes within their culture and in their fiction reading and writing when trying to understand their world. My study of Julia LeGrand shows, moreover, that sensibilities could be developed through the literary practices of reading and writing in ways that encouraged readers to think beyond their region and nation, even to the point of challenging the prevailing cultural narratives that shaped their time and place. LeGrand’s efforts to use new, extralocal narratives to navigate her world often proved disappointing, since she found herself stuck within the confines of a culture that privileged existing narratives of white patriarchy that limited peers’ acceptance of extralocal ideas and forms of creative expression.

Although my focus on one southern woman prevents me from making general claims about how these broader literary sensibilities functioned collectively, LeGrand’s case suggest that sensibilities were not based solely within regions and nations and that southern literary culture was at once expansive and insular, offering readers a multitude of cultural narratives and opportunities to engage with literary sensibilities beyond the region’s boundaries even as many writers and readers in the region continued to support the social and cultural status quo.

AdviserBrian Luskey
Source TypeThesis
SubjectsAmerican history; American literature
Publication Number1520668

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