“Social Life in Old Virginia before the War,” written by Thomas Nelson Page, is a well-written memoir of sorts of life in antebellum Virginia. This book was first published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1897 and is an assemblage of Page’s recollections on the arrangements of the economic and social hierarchies in antebellum Virginia.
In this book, Page shows the fallacies of Southern antebellum culture and presents his objective view of Southern life in those days before The Rebellion (1861-65). Even in those days – both in the era in which he lived and in the years prior and after – Southerners were described as shiftless, lazy, base, ignorant, brutal, and prejudiced people.
Page judiciously shows that the South wasn’t at all like that. He describes everyone’s vital role in maintaining and running the plantations, and that each person, from planter to field worker to servant to planter’s wife had important roles that kept operations running and productive.
I found this book to be very well-written and educational. Though there are some clichés (women’s complexions described as “peach-blossom,” for example), one can overlook that in favor of the actual facts and elements of many aspects of Old Virginia: How the English judged the Virginian accent and word pronunciation as being “near perfect;” the myriad and critical roles of the planters’ wives in running the farms; the maintenance of orchards; planting fields with various crops (wheat being one of them); the depictions of the harvests; the social hierarchy of the servants; the education of both planter and servant; et al.
Though most depictions of antebellum Southerners have them as leading an idyllic, mostly unproductive life complete with mint juleps and vapid conversations, Page’s book begins to dispel those views. Life in the Old South was anything but idyllic and unproductive. Those planters who could afford vast home libraries filled with the classics and books in languages other than English (Latin, Greek, and French, for example) were, indeed, filling their libraries with books they actually read. Those library were not just for show.
Indeed, “Social Life in Old Virginia before the War” clearly shows life in old Virginia and leads the reader towards a better understanding of the Southern mind today.
Thomas Nelson Page (1853-1922) was an American lawyer, writer, and ambassador to Italy. He was born in Hanover County, Virginia. He attended the University of Virginia and Washington College and practiced law in Richmond, Virginia between 1876 and 1893. He wrote many books and papers about the South and the antebellum years.
Readers can find “Social Life in Old Virginia before the War,” on Kindle through Amazon. I highly recommend this book as a continuing education for anyone who wants to have an honest and well-rounded primary source view of the antebellum years and to gain a better understanding of American political economic, and social history. It is a good compendium to other contemporary works.
©Susan Marie Molloy and all works within.