The first publication of this lost romance of the Reconstruction era
Noted nineteenth-century South Carolina historian and novelist James Williams Rivers penned this lost tale of the Reconstruction era years before the Lost Cause romance became a genre all its own. Published here for the first time, Eunice combines the historical treasure trove of the author's eyewitness accounts of the Civil War and Reconstruction with his literary plot about a Southern woman choosing love over conventional expectations.
Eunice opens with the burning of Columbia on February 17, 1865, as drawn from Rivers's own firsthand experience of the event. Wade Hampton and his Red Shirts, the Ku Klux Klan, African Americans, and carpetbaggers (corrupt and honorable alike) inhabit Rivers's fictional world. The novel centers on Eunice DeLesline, a Southern belle impoverished by the war and faced with divergent visions of Southern masculinity. Competing for her hand are Willie Barton, a son of the Old South, and Colonel Loyle, a self-made Confederate captain. A carpetbagger's plot to kidnap Eunice drives the action and presents Rivers with ample opportunity to voice his opinions on race, gender, and power in this transitional period in American history. Eunice's dilemma of which suitor to wed serves as metaphor for debate over what kind of Southerner might best lead the region to renewed greatness. Eunice sides with her heart and invites a new era of prosperity.
In using historical episodes as a framework for his story, Rivers adopts the technique of another South Carolina novelist and historian, William Gilmore Simms. Like his fellow Reconstruction novelists John W. De Forest, Albion Tourgee, and Charles E. Craddock (Mary Murphree), Rivers uses fiction as a means to explore how the nation would or would not reunite following the war. However, he takes a more pointed approach than others in defining what kind of leadership would best serve the postbellum South.
Tara Courtney McKinney's introduction sets the story in its proper cultural context and provides valuable biographical information on an important, though overlooked, Southern writer.
William James Rivers (1822–1909) was one of South Carolina's first professional historians and a founder of the South Carolina Historical Society. Also noted novelist and poet, Rivers was a professor of classical languages at South Carolina College and the College of Charleston.
A native of Greenville, South Carolina, Tara Courtney McKinney holds a B.A. in history from the South Carolina Honors College at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
"Labeling Eunice by William James Rivers (1822–1908) a historical romance is like calling a hurricane a storm of inconvenient proportions—an accurate description too tame to do it justice, thus woefully misleading. Close calls, narrow escapes, fascinating characters, thought-provoking dialogue, evocative details, and a plot with enough unexpected twists to tilt the brain make this tale of Radical Reconstruction a true page turner. This first publication of Eunice proves that acquiring a hearty dose of southern history can be a vastly entertaining experience. Hurrah for Rivers! His good victory brings to mind a portion of the William Gilmore Simms quote Rivers begins his story with: 'And this is still to conquer though we perish.'"—David Aiken, author of Fire in the Cradle: Charleston's Literary Heritage and editor of A City Laid Waste: The Capture, Sack, and Destruction of the City of Columbia
"This first publication of William James Rivers' Eunice fills an important gap in our understanding of Reconstruction-era treatments of the Civil War in fiction and contrasts nicely with the widely read canonized accounts written later. The introduction by Tara Courtney McKinney provides a useful overview of Rivers' place in southern life and admirably links his biography with the major political and cultural events that inform the novel. This edition of Eunice makes for a welcome addition to reading lists for scholars and students of English, southern studies, and American studies."—Sarah Gardner, author of Blood and Irony: Southern White Women's Narratives of the Civil War, 1861–1937