A fascinating, scholarly glimpse into what it meant to be a Southern belle.




This collection of historical correspondence illuminates a North Carolina belle’s upbringing, courtships, marriage, and death at age 22 following childbirth.

“On the carpet,” in the parlance of 1830s America, meant to be under consideration; applied to young women, it meant being on the marriage market—and in constant danger of being replaced by fresher stock. Such concerns underlie many of the letters here written by and to Penelope Skinner (1818-1841); the chief correspondents are her brother Tristrim Lowther Skinner (1820-1862); her father, Joseph Blount Skinner (1781-1851); and the husband she married in 1840, Dr. Thomas Davis Warren (1817-1878). (The originals are among the Skinner Family Papers, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Southern Historical Collection.) In this scholarly, thoroughly researched account, Maillard (The Belles of Williamsburg, 2015, etc.), a Skinner descendant, has assembled a valuable collection of primary sources and provided illuminating notes, comments, illustrations, and an extensive bibliography and index. The letters begin in 1832 with a joint missive from the Skinner children to their father expressing concern over a cholera epidemic and end in 1841 with a condolence note to Penelope’s father after her death—indicative of the 19th century’s many dangers. Readers learn about Penelope’s schooling, homesickness, her close relationship with her brother, and episodes of depression. Many letters ask after family servants, such as “Aunt Barbara,” the child’s African-American nanny. The Southern belle is an archetype, but it’s established in most readers’ minds by popular conceptions like Gone With the Wind. This volume gives direct insight into the complicated, chancy world of matchmaking. Letters are filled with Penelope’s worries about being “on the carpet,” and competitive, catty remarks about other girls: “I should be pleased also to hear from Mary Mosely is she as large as ever,” she writes in 1839. Though considered thin-faced and sallow, Penelope had 30 offers and three failed public engagements; suitors were perhaps put off by her father’s “queer ways.” It’s poignant that achieving her main goals, marriage and childbirth, brought about her early death.

A fascinating, scholarly glimpse into what it meant to be a Southern belle.

Pub Date: June 20, 2014


Page Count: 335

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2015

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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