Book Reviews -- Margaret Junkin Preston: A Biography by Mary Price Coulling

Article excerpt

Mary Price Coulling's life of Margaret Junkin Preston is both a sensitive portrait of a memorable woman and a study of the forces that enabled its subject, known during her lifetime as the "Poetess of the South," to pursue her passion for writing while managing a busy household. Drawing on private as well as published materials, Coulling has used a graceful and deceptively simple style to suggest that Preston's remarkable accomplishments were the products not only of her lively intelligence but also of her ability to secure and maintain supportive relationships, particularly with the men she admired, throughout her long and active life.

Included in the number of those Coulling identifies with Preston's scholarly and practical interests were her father (a Presbyterian cleric, educator, and president of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, during the 1850s), her brother-in-law Stonewall Jackson, and Colonel John Preston (the wealthy landowner, scholar, and teacher she wed in 1857). Less significant but supportive, nonetheless, were Charles McCay, a tutor in Preston's youth, and Paul Hamilton Hayne, the poet with whom she corresponded during her most productive years of writing and publishing.

Of all these friends and admirers, George Junkin apparently exerted the strongest influence on his daughter's character, a phenomenon that justifies the space Coulling grants him in early chapters. Junkin, whose Calvinism spurred the rigorous demands that characterized his teaching and administration, was both a fearless defender of his principles and a crusader in the cause of education, particularly the education of Maggie, his first and specially favored child. …