“She carried the romance of sisterly affection too far”: Sibling Love and Violence in Caroline Lee Hentz’s Ernest Linwood

  • Emily E. VanDette


Beyond representing the capacity of sibling romance to respond allegorically to such national crises as sectionalism and the Nullification movement, William Gilmore Simms’s The Partisan demonstrates the merging of a courtship plot with the sibling romance tradition. The rich sentimental power of the brother-sister bond made ideal marriage mates of such pseudo-siblings as first cousins Katherine and Robert of The Partisans. A proxy sister like Katherine could come close to the sibling ideal, with its requisite mutuality and reciprocity, while not transgressing the incest taboo. Perhaps an even more tempting wife-choice than a sisterly first cousin was that stock sentimental figure, an adopted sister, who added to the coveted condition of sibling intimacy the benefit of a complete lack of blood relation. The adopted-sister romance made it possible for an author to combine the ultimate generic convention—romantic marriage, with the era’s most supreme model of familial attachment, brother-sister love. Indeed, if market success is any measure of the efficacy of that formula, Susan Warner’s phenomenally successful 1850 novel, The Wide, Wide World affirms the power of adopted-sister romance. When the novel’s romantic hero John Humphreys could find no satisfying companionship outside of his real sister Alice, complaint he repeatedly confides to his sister, he would mold the ideal mate in their adopted sister, the novel’s protagonist, Ellen Montgomery.


Sibling Relationship Romantic Love Lateral Attachment Title Character Sisterly Affection 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    For a good discussion of the domestic social agenda of Hentz’s literary works, see Elizabeth Moss, Domestic Novelists in the Old South: Defenders of Southern Culture (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    See Jamie Stanesa, “Caroline Lee Whiting Hentz” (Profile), Legacy 13.2 (1996): 130–139, 130–131.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    See Rhoda Coleman Ellison, “Caroline Lee Hentz’s Alabama Diary, 1836,” 254, n. 2, for this history. Also, the history of the novel’s posthumous publication and its immediate reception is recorded in Mary Eileen Kennedy, A Criticism of the Novels of Mrs. Caroline Lee Hentz (Dissertation, The Catholic University of America: 1923). According to Kennedy, Hentz’s publisher, John P. Jewett & Company, announced in the Boston Evening Transcript the author’s untimely death of pneumonia in Marianna, Florida, which they say they learned about on the day they commenced the publication of “her new and beautiful, and alas, little did we think it, her last literary effort”: “Ernest Linwood will be to us, and to the hundreds of thousands of admirers of this gifted and lamented authoress, as the ‘last notes of the dying swan.’ Her closing chapter, like the Requiem of Mozart, seems almost prophetic of her own speedy dissolution.” The Transcript reported that sales of the novel reached 5,000 in one week (15–16).Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    In an early recovery of the legacy of female contributors to the gothic, Kay Mussel suggests the overlapping conventions of women’s “gothic” and “romantic” novels, but she nevertheless reasserts the notion that the gothic plot is less interested in love and romance than in “vicarious danger,” and she contrasts that convention to the “more domestic” women’s fiction, such as popular romance novels. Kay Mussel, Women’s Gothic and Romantic Fiction: A Reference Guide (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981), xi, x;Google Scholar
  5. Leslie Fielder, in Love and Death in the American Novel (New York: Stein and Day, 1982), contended that the American version of the genre in the nineteenth century prioritized an inward focus on the human psyche, in contrast to the presumably more historically and socially engaged British tradition of gothic. Toni Morrison’s famous intervention in that conversation (Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992) insists upon the historically situated racializing implications of American gothic fiction.Google Scholar
  6. Also, Cathy Davidson, in Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), established the capacity for the early American gothic to expose and criticize individualism, and Teresa A. Goddu illuminates “the gothic’s intimate relation to the romance,” and the infiltration of the American literary canon by the “popular, the disturbing, and the haunting of history”;Google Scholar
  7. Teresa A. Goddu, Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 8. By suggesting the psychological significance of sibling love in Ernest Linwood in the context of historical narratives of crisis and nation, I want to acknowledge the historical and social relevance of Hentz’s experimentation with gothic gesturing in a novel of domestic love and violence.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Elizabeth Dill, “That Damned Mob of Scribbling Siblings: The American Romance as Anti-Novel in The Power of Sympathy and Pierre,” American Literature 80.4 (December 2008): 707–737.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 10.
    Caroline Lee Hentz, The Planter’s Northern Bride (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1970), 4.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    For a reading of The Planter’s Northern Bride as a nationalistic gesture that aligns with Stowe’s literary domesticity in idealizing American womanhood above sectional difference, see Carme Manuel Cuenca, “An Angel in the Plantation: The Economics of Slavery and the Politics of Literary Domesticity in Caroline Lee Hentz’s The Planter’s Northern Bride,” Mississippi Quarterly 51.1 (1997): 87–104. In a competing reading, Elizabeth Moss, situating the novel as a foundational text in the tradition of Southern domesticity, locates the publication of The Planter’s Northern Bride as a turning point in Hentz’s growing sectionalism; she argues that “Whereas in previous novels Hentz had portrayed Northerners with some degree of consistency, emphasizing the common humanity of residents above and below the Mason-Dixon Line, in The Planter’s Northern Bride she depicted Yankees as largely reprehensible” (110).Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    Jamie Stanesa, “Caroline Hentz’s Rereading of Southern Paternalism; Or, Pastoral Naturalism in The Planter’s Northern Bride,” Southern Studies 3.4 (1992): 221–252, 234. Also, in her Legacy Profile of Hentz, Stanesa observes more generally that, “Writing from within the ethic of paternalism rather than against it, Hentz often rejected bourgeois notions of individualism as selfish and immoral and upheld instead Southern notions of the pastoral garden of chattel, revising them to encompass a greater sense of the rights and responsibilities of women within it” (134).Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    Robert Hunt, “A Domesticated Slavery; Political Economy in Caroline Hentz’s Fiction,” The Southern Quarterly 34.4 (1996): 24–35, 26, 27.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    See Rhoda Coleman Ellison, “Mrs. Hentz and the Green-Eyed Monster,” American Literature 22 (1951): 345–350. Ellison makes a strong case for the validity of the autobiographical connections in Ernest Linwood. In an especially compelling example, the scene in the novel in which Gabriella receives a secret note from a strange man at the opera closely resembles an episode in Hentz’s own life, which provoked the real-life jealous rage of Hentz’s husband, according to their son’s memoirs.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    Charles A. Hentz, A Southern Practice: The Diary and Autobiography of Charles A. Hentz. M. D., edited by Steven M. Stowe (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000), 406.Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    See Dawn Keetley, “A Husband’s Jealousy: Antebellum Murder Trials and Caroline Lee Hentz’s Ernest Linwood,” Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers 19 (2002): 26–34. Keetley invokes the Freudian concept of melancholia to explain Ernest Linwood’s unfulfilled desire for masculine intimacy. In another exception to the dearth of contemporary critical attention to Ernest Linwood, Elizabeth Barnes focuses on the embedded narrative of Gabriella’s mother’s seduction story, showcasing how this novel contributes to an important tradition in literary history that Barnes calls “mother-texts.”CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. See Elizabeth Barnes, States of Sympathy: Seduction and Democracy in the American Novel (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 101–114.Google Scholar
  17. 18.
    Caroline Lee Hentz, Ernest Linwood (Boston: John P. Jewett & Co, 1856), 122.Google Scholar
  18. 19.
    Recent innovations in psychoanalysis support this possibility for lateral dynamics as a source of the repression of the self. In her revisionist treatment of hysteria, for instance, Juliet Mitchell traces the fear of annihilation to the occurrence of a sibling birth, which sets the stage for a formative trauma: “the realization that one is not unique, that some stands exactly in the place as oneself, and that though one has found a friend, this loss of uniqueness is, at least temporarily, equivalent to annihilation.” Juliet Mitchell, Siblings: Sex and Violence (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003), 43.Google Scholar
  19. 25.
    Caroline Lee Hentz, Marcus Warland; or, The Long Moss Spring, a Tale of the South (Philadelphia: A. Hart, Carey, & Hart, 1852), 7.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Emily E. VanDette 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emily E. VanDette

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations