Monday, February 04, 2008

Scarlett's Sisters: An Intriguing Book on What It Meant to Be Female in the Old South

Scarlett's Sisters: Young Women in the Old South, Anya Jabour, University of North Carolina Press, 374 pp., illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. 2007, $39.95,

Reviewed for H-SAWH by Candace Bailey, Department of Music, North Carolina Central University

A Culture of Resistance

Teasing out an accurate description of young, elite southern women of
the Old South has proved a challenge for scholars of women's history.
Not the least problematic is how to label this part of society, for all
of the usual titles carry considerable historical baggage. With
Scarlett's Sisters, Anya Jabour has chosen a title that boldly
replaces traditional terminology as part of her novel approach to
southern women's history. Jabour examines elite white females between
the ages of fifteen and twenty-five, and she chooses not to adopt the
more traditional, stereotypical labels of "belle" and "lady." With the
term "Scarlett's sisters," Jabour defines these women specifically as
individuals engaged in the process of "coming-of-age" (p. 5).

As she sets forth in her introduction, Jabour divides these women's life
experiences into seven stages: adolescence, school, single life,
courtship, engagement, marriage, and motherhood. Her final chapter,
"Rebel Ladies: War," deals with the Civil War and its effects on the
issues outlined in earlier chapters. An epilogue, aptly entitled
"Tomorrow Is Another Day: New Women in the New South," rounds out the
book. Through each phase, Jabour builds her case toward a type of female
resistance that is most obviously seen in the stages of courtship and
engagement, when a young woman had more choices than at any other time
in her life.

Jabour demonstrates that there is more going on here than what might be
a typical teenager's avoidance of responsibility in favor of fun and
frivolity. The final chapter on "rebel ladies" clearly proves that
resistance existed among this group of women.

Scarlett's Sisters provides a wealth of new information on southern
women's history, and Jabour successfully provides a better understanding
of the transitions that characterized these women's lives. Her term
"Scarlett's sisters" adequately reflects her purpose. While it is
unlikely that the more traditional "belle" will be dropped in favor of
Jabour=E2=80=99s approach, future historians will have to contend with the
issues she raises and appreciate the subtletiAssociation for Women Historians es of her argument against
the continued use of the term.

Text: Above is only a portion of the H-Net SAWH (Southern Association for Women Historians)

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