A Southerner's subtle defiance and artistic achievement in nineteenth-century Rome
Caroline Petigru Carson (1820–1892), the elder daughter of Charleston intellectual James Louis Petigru and sister of the novelist Susan Petigru King, seemed destined from birth for life as a southern plantation mistress. Yet, like her sister, Carson challenged the conventions of nineteenth-century Charleston and defied traditional expectations by living apart from her husband and later as a very merry widow. Like her father unwilling to support secession, Carson, a staunch Unionist, left her native South Carolina at the onset of the Civil War. She settled first in New York and then, a decade later, in Rome among the prestigious social circles for which her background and bearing fitted her. In both locales she created for herself the life of an artist and southern expatriate.
From Italy, Carson wrote hundreds of discursive letters to her younger son in America. Gathered in this collection, these narratives offer intimate insights into the emotional life of a mature woman, the accomplishments of an artist determined both to perfect her craft and sell her work, and the intellectual and social pursuits of a well-educated, vivacious American living abroad.
With painterly eye and incisive pen, Carson vividly portrays both the life she observed and the life she led in Rome. Her letters reverberate with street scenes, riots and demonstrations, secular celebrations of a newly united Italy and traditional religious pageantry, an intense friendship with a Roman duke, and the scandalous lives of her fellow Americans. Interspersed are snatches of conversations with artists, writers, and famous visitors to the Eternal City, many of whom she lured to her weekly salon. Letters written in the summer from Italian, Swiss, and German resorts depict not only the contrasting styles of wealthy American tourists and vacationing European aristocrats but the coastal and mountain scenery that is also pictured in the Carson paintings that are included in this volume.
William H. Pease and Jane H. Pease are professors emeriti at the University of Maine and associates in history at the College of Charleston. They are the authors or editors of ten books, including The Web of Progress: Private Values and Public Styles in Boston and Charleston, 1823–1843, which won the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic's Outstanding Book Award and the New England Historical Association Book Prize. They also published Ladies, Women, and Wenches: Choice and Constraint in Antebellum Charleston and Boston; James Louis Petigru: Southern Conservative, Southern Dissenter; and A Family of Women: The Carolina Petigrus in Peace and War, which won the Julia Cherry Spruill Publication Prize of the Southern Association for Women Historians. The Peases divide their time between Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Harborside, Maine.
"The book is beautifully edited, the letters flowing with a continuity that provides readers a seamless historical travelogue in the company of one of the most charming and unusual women to come out of the antebellum South."—The Advocate
"Put simply, The Roman Years of a South Carolina Artist is a reader's absolute delight. Handsomely edited by William H. and Jane H. Pease, this collection of letters provides a rare Henry-Jamesian perspective on the social and artistic scene of late nineteenth-century Italy by an American outsider. A Charlestonian of impeccable lineage, Caroline Carson cannot help but reveal her shortcomings, ones arising from her near penury and yet her ambition to sustain the high life, come what may. Yet, her sensitive eye for telling detail and her psychological perceptiveness give the book its charming individuality. Carson brilliantly illuminates the idiosyncrasies of the rich and aristocratic, the vulgar and the snobbish in her fascinating circle. This work should enjoy lasting and enthusiastic acclaim."—Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Department of History, University of Florida