E.D.E.N. Southworth and the "Hidden Hand"

Northern Light

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JPK Huson 1863 started a thread( https://civilwartalk.com/threads/be...ething-we-never-heard-of.154571/#post-1989881) the other day which send me on a search (big surprize there, HAH) for the source of the poster.

This search lead me to a remarkable woman who supported herself and her children with her writing. Her stories are not of the typical bodice rippers of the day, but portray a woman in a way that was unique for her time. In her novels, of which the most popular was The Hidden Hand (1859), her heroines often challenge modern perceptions of Victorian feminine domesticity by showing virtue as naturally allied to wit, adventure, and rebellion to remedy any unfortunate situation

Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth (December 26, 1819 – June 30, 1899) was raised in Washington, D.C. According the blog, The Streets of Washington, " Southworth was a consummate Washingtonian, having been born in the one of the twin townhouses that George Washington built as a speculative development on North Capitol Street. (The site is now part of the vast open space known as Union Square between the Capitol and Union Station.) Her father, Captain Charles LeCompte Nevitte, had been a successful Alexandria merchant until his ships were lost during the cold war with France in the early years of the 19th century. The dashing Captain Nevitte led a company of troops during the War of 1812 and was wounded in the chest for his troubles, an ailment that led to his death in 1824, when little Emma was only five years old. Supposedly it was on his deathbed that Captain Nevitte persuaded a local priest to rechristen little Emma with two additional names so that here initials would spell out E.D.E.N., a melodramatic gesture particularly well-suited to the novelist-to-be.

Emma would later recall that after her father's death, her early life was filled with suffering and privation. "At the age of six, I was a little, thin, dark, wild-eyed elf," she wrote, "shy, awkward and unattractive, and in consequence was very much—let alone. I spent much time in solitude, reverie, or mischief..." Her widowed mother remarried, and Emma's new stepfather, a schoolmaster, was apparently harsh and unsympathetic. Upon graduating from his school at age 16, Emma became a teacher in the nascent D.C. public school system."

In 1840 she married inventor Frederick H. Southworth, of Utica, New York. She moved to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, then a western frontier town. She returned to Washington, D.C. 1844 without Frederick but with two very young children, Richmond and Charlotte. She wrote that, ""I found myself broken in spirit, health, and purse—a widow in fate but not in fact—with my babes looking up to me for a support I could not give them. It was in these darkest days of my woman's life, that my author's life commenced."

Upon returning to Washington, Southworth had resumed teaching in the DC public schools, specifically at Primary School #10 at 13th and C Streets SW, where she lived at the time. Her annual salary of $250 represented a very meager family income. Galvanized by her distress, Southworth began writing to distract herself from her woes. She turned in a short story at a local book store she frequented, asking that it be submitted somewhere for publication. Her first story, "The Irish Refugee", was published in the Baltimore Saturday Visitor. Some of her earliest works appeared in The National Era the newspaper which had printed Uncle Tom's Cabin. The bulk of her work appeared as a serial in Robert Bonner's New York Ledger, and in 1857 Southworth signed a contract to write exclusively for this publication.

The exclusive contract Southworth signed with Bonner in 1856 and royalties from her published novels earned her about $10,000 a year, making her one of the country's best-paid writers.

Like her friend Harriet Beecher Stowe, she was a supporter of social change and women's rights, but she was not nearly as active on these issues. Her first novel, Retribution, a serial for the National Era, published in book form in 1846, was so well received that she gave up teaching and became a regular contributor to various periodicals, especially the New York Ledger. She lived in Georgetown, D.C., until 1876, then in Yonkers, New York, and again in Georgetown, D.C., where she died.

Her best known work was The Hidden Hand, to which we were introduced by JPK, in her thread. It first appeared in serial form in the New York Ledger in 1859, and was serialized twice more (1868–69, 1883) before first appearing in book form in 1888. Robert Bonner, publisher and editor of the New York Ledger, evidently used the appeal of the novel to "give an occasional boost to his weekly's already massive circulation." It features Capitola Black, a tomboyish antagonist that finds herself in a myriad of adventures. Southworth stated that nearly every adventure of her heroine came from real life. Most of Southworth's novels deal with the Southern United States during the post-American Civil War era. She wrote over sixty; some of them were translated into German, French, Chinese, Icelandic and Spanish; in 1872 an edition of thirty-five volumes was published in Philadelphia.

Southworth is buried in Washington's Oak Hill Cemetery. She was the most popular American novelist of her day.
Wikipedia
The Streets of Washington /www.streetsofwashington.com

Southworth c. 1860

View attachment 292706
Wikipedia

In older age
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Wikipedia

Here is her home in Georgetown, which was demolished in 1940.

1550348324482.png

www.streetsofwashington.com


You can read parts of The Hidden Hand here:

https://books.google.ca/books/about...p_read_button&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

1550347870437.png
 

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Northern Light

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From The Streets of Washington:

Southworth's best-known novel today is The Hidden Hand, first published in 1859. It's the story of the winsome and high-spirited (but awkwardly named) Capitola Le Noir, who was kidnapped as a child and grew up in a New York City slum. She's found and brought back to her ancestral Virginia home by a grumpy old uncle who intends to civilize her, but the buoyant imp will not be suppressed. Early in the novel she is overwhelmed by her plush new surroundings and questions whether it's all really happening:

Can this be I, Capitola, the little outcast of the city, changed into Miss Black, the young lady, perhaps the heiress to a fine old country seat! calling a fine old military officer, uncle! having a handsome income of pocket-money settled upon me! having carriages, and horses, and servants to attend me! No! it can't be! it's just impossible! No, I see how it is! I'm crazy! that's what I am! crazy!...
I wonder how long they'll keep me here? For ever I hope! Until I get cured I'm sure! I hope they won't cure me! I vow I won't be cured! It's a great deal too pleasant to be mad, and I'll stay so! I'll keep calling myself Miss Black, and this mad-house my country seat, and the head doctor my uncle, and the keepers servants until the end of time—so I will! Catch me coming to my senses when it's so delightful to be mad! I'm too sharp for that! I didn't grow up in Rag Alley, New York, for nothing!
Plucky Cap Black proceeds to have many adventures, at every turn flouting Victorian mores concerning the role of women and enjoying every minute of it. In one particularly outrageous incident, she fights a duel with a man who has slandered her and shoots the unfortunate gentleman full of dried peas. She gleefully foils the evil Black Donald, who is on a mission to kidnap her, all the while managing to consume a prodigious quantity of tarts. She secretly takes the place of an unwilling bride at a wedding ceremony and at the critical Do-you-take-this-man-to-be-your-lawful-wedded-husband moment gleefully raises her veil and cries out "No—not if he were the last man and I the last woman on earth and the human race were to become extinct—and not if the Angel Gabriel came down and asked me to do this—most certainly—No!" Readers ate it up.
www.streetsofwashington.com

As you can see, Southworth's heroine was not drooping around waiting for some man to rescue her. This girl was feisty!
 



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