HOW GRAND A FLAME: A Chronicle of a Planatation Family 1813-1947 by Clyde Bresee

HOW GRAND A FLAME: A Chronicle of a Planatation Family 1813-1947

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A flat, meandering account of the changing fortunes of a South Carolina plantation family, from Bresee, who earlier wrote of his childhood as son of the plantation's dairy manager in Sea Island Yankee, 1986. Using the Lawtons, proprietors of a James Island plantation directly across from Charleston's historic Battery, to illustrate the upheavals experienced by the southern planter class, Bresee traces the family history from the consolidation of cotton-farming lands, through harrowing wartime dislocation, to an eventual switch to dairy production prior to the land's yield to suburban sprawl. The heart of the book, recounted with considerable sympathy for proud and bewildered people ""trapped in a system not of their own making,"" is the Civil War, as family-head Wallace feverishly moves his entire operation first to Beaufort, then to Georgia, then back, rebuilding and torturously readjusting with each wrenching step. Along the way he acquires a rather reluctant 16-year-old bride in his distant cousin Cecilia, and somehow retains the loyalty and devoted service of former slave Peter Brown. Relying largely on two potentially rich sources, Cecilia's diary, and the recollections of Peter Brown as told to the author's father, Bresee creates a drab, anecdotal narrative--filled with ill-timed digressions to his own youth and little outside historical perspective--that reads more like an introduction to a book than a finished product. Nevertheless, the Civil War material, particularly Cecilia's vivid accounts of such horrors as putrefying corpses by the roadside (""everywhere the loathsome buzzard circled slowly above or perched gloatingly on his unresisting prey""), is often riveting, and the picture of people bravely coping with the dissolution of their way of life undeniably poignant. Possibly of some local interest, with the diaries likely worthy of further study.

Pub Date: Jan. 26th, 1992
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Algonquin