Shirley Abbott’s foray into the world of southern women is an amazingly interesting combination of personal memoir, history and narratives of southern women themselves, past and present.
“The difference between a lady and a belle is that the former has a multitude of responsibilities and hence a more solid power base, while the belle thinks only of herself. Some women become ladies without ever having been belles; some remain belles all their lives, though not always successfully.”
As a northern woman, this world is completely foreign to me. I have had southern friends, of course, but reading this book has given me a completely new perspective. I loved the history and the stories Abbott presents in this work of non-fiction, and I was impressed at how much information was new to me. I had no idea that women used sun bonnets to keep their hair clean, rather than keep out the sun, for instance. I had no idea of the importance of liquor (ie, whiskey), for southern males – which of course, influenced southern women. I especially found interesting the examination of the different classes in the south and their effect on each other.
While Abbott’s comments do jump around a bit, she never lost me – in fact, I felt as if I was sitting in the parlor listening to a wise woman tell me about her family (and southern) history. I could have stayed listening to her all day.
4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1983