Caroline Miller, 1903-1992

By Wright, Emily | Southern Quarterly, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Caroline Miller, 1903-1992


Wright, Emily, Southern Quarterly


THE HOUSEWIFE WHO WON A PULITZER PRIZE: Southern Writer Who Achieved Honor Calls Herself a Cinderella." So read the title of a 1934 Baltimore Sun article about Caroline Pafford Miller, who had just received the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Lamb in His Bosom. As Miller later explained, when she attended the Pulitzer banquet she exclaimed, "Look at my silver slippers. I'm Cinderella" (Bishop 56; 36).

Surely Miller did feel like a fairy-tale princess, given her sudden ascent from obscurity to fame. The wife of a high school principal and mother of three small children, she had only a high school education and hailed from the very heart of the "Sahara of the Bozart"-south Georgia. Except for a honeymoon in Tennessee and a couple of trips into nearby Florida, Miller had never left home before the day when she traveled to New York City for the award of the Pulitzer. And although she had received recognition for a play she had written with a friend, as well as for a short story,1 she never dreamed of writing a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Indeed, in the years before she produced Lamb in His Bosom, her domestic responsibilities prevented her from writing anything at all.

After graduating from high school, Caroline Pafford married her former English teacher, Will D. Miller. In 1927, she bore a son and then, just two years later, twin boys. By the time the twins were two years old, she later explained to Nell Bates Penland of The Atlanta Journal, "I thought I would break under the strain of trying to take care of them and do the hundreds of other little things any normal wife and mother is called upon to do." Surely one cause of Miller's distress was her inability to find time to write. Soon, however, she found both an outlet for her creative energies and inspiration for her maternal responsibilities in the writing of Lamb in His Bosom.

One day it occurred to me that I was not half so weighted down with duties as the pioneer women used to be. Even my mother and grandmother, who had such large families, seemed to get through with much less effort and energy than I was expending. I couldn't help wondering why. They had something, something very real, very tangible,yet almost indefinable, that anchored them and gave them faith and courage, and I needed that something so much. From that day I turned to the examples set by the pioneer women of Georgia, (qtd. in Bishop 48)

At this point Miller began to conduct research into the lives of these women with the intention of writing a novel. She gathered much of her material from her own family's stories and memories, which she supplemented by interviewing elderly people in the countryside around Baxley, Georgia. Loading her three small children into an old Model-T Ford, she roamed around the backwoods, stopping to talk to the oldest people in the oldest houses she could find. From the country folk she interviewed, Miller gathered information about social customs and material conditions on the Georgia frontier. She learned about the food that was eaten in that time period, the way it was prepared, the household tasks considered most essential, the tools used to accomplish them, and many other details of family and community life that she recorded in a series of notebooks, one for each phase of pioneer life. On the basis of her research, Miller eventually produced a narrative centering on the life of Cean (pronounced "see-ann") Carver, from her marriage to her first husband, Lonzo Smith, to her late middle age.

Moving into the raw log cabin Lonzo has built, Cean earnestly assumes her household responsibilities and soon finds herself pregnant with the first of many children. With Lonzo, Cean conceives fourteen children, twelve of whom she brings to live birth, and the narrative attends closely to her emotional responses to her offspring and to her own reproductive capacity. A few years after Lonzo dies of an ax wound, Cean enjoys a second, middle-aged love affair with Dermid O'Connor, a "New Light" preacher whom she marries and with whom she conceives her last child.

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