A Family Secret
Drawing on her own experiences as a southern aristocrat during wartime, A Family Secret is writer and social critic Eliza Frances Andrews's fictionalized retelling of the end of her long-cherished way of life. A best seller in both the North and South upon its original publication in 1876, the novel focuses on the plight of upper-class southern women unprepared for the challenges of post-Civil War life, women Andrews described in her own diary as girls "educated only for show."At its core a love story, A Family Secret revolves around the adventures of Virginia-born Audley Malvern, descendent of one of the "first families" of the Old Dominion, and Ruth Harfleur, long-lost heir to a plantation fortune. Though Andrews pointedly claimed that the novel was not an attempt to "doctor public morals," her characters both lament the passing of a treasured way of life and decry the brutality of war that smothered the traits of decency and kindness.The novel draws significantly on Andrews's wartime memories. The scene of a visit to the prisoner-of-war camp at Andersonville was based on stories she had heard from visiting soldiers. The wartime railroad train and the interaction between Confederate officers and the backwoods farmer-soldiers--on whose shoulders the burden of war squarely rested--have their origins in observations recorded in Andrews's journals. A valuable portrait of the attitudes of class and racial division in the Civil War South, A Family Secret depicts the myths on which antebellum social structure rested and hints at the changes to come in the region's racial and gender roles and expectations.