A Gentleman in Charleston and the Manner of His Death

A Gentleman in Charleston and the Manner of His Death

A Gentleman in Charleston and the Manner of His Death

A Gentleman in Charleston and the Manner of His Death

Synopsis

A cautionary tale of lust, violence, and honor from the award-winning author of The Hard to Catch Mercy. Once deemed the most powerful man in the South, Charleston newspaper editor Frank Dawson met his violent death on March 12, 1889, at the hands of his neighbor, a disreputable doctor who was attempting to seduce the Dawson family governess. Drawn from events surrounding this infamous episode, the third novel from the Lillian Smith Award-winning William P. Baldwin pulls back the veil of a genteel society in a fabled southern city and exposes a dark visage of anger and secret pain that no amount of imposed manners could restrain, and only love might eventually heal. With a southern storyteller's passion for intricate emotional and physical details, Baldwin, through the fictional guise of Capt. David Lawton, chronicles editor Dawson's fated end. Having survived three years of bloody Civil War combat and the decade of violent Reconstruction that followed, the liberal-minded Lawton is now an embattled newspaperman whose national importance is on the wane. life moving amid a pantheon of proud and beautiful women - Sarah, his brilliant wife; Abbie, his sensual sister-in-law; Mary, the all-knowing prostitute; and Helene, the discontented Swiss governess - each contributing to an unfolding drama of history-haunted turmoil. Though Lawton loathes the South's cult of personal violence, by the customs of his era and place he is duty-bound to protect his household. Unable to act otherwise, Lawton meets his rival in a brutal physical contest, and in the aftermath, Sarah, Abbie, Mary, and Helene must make peace with their own turbulent pasts. War, earthquake, political guile, adultery, illegitimacy, lust, and murder - all the devices of gothic romance - play a role in this tale closely based on the lives of Charlestonians who lived these events over a century ago.

Excerpt

The Dawson murder trial that lies at this novel’s core was front-page news across the nation. Charleston newspaperman Frank Dawson had once been the most influential editor in the South, and in 1889 he was still expressing himself with a strong and surprisingly liberal voice. His senseless death at the hands of a neighbor was viewed with outrage, and his contribution to Southern journalism was roundly applauded. Dawson’s wife, Sarah, had also written for his paper, but the extent of her literary ability would be known only with the posthumous publication of her diaries. (Literary critic Edmund Wilson considered Sarah one of the best of the Civil War diarists.) There was much to draw on, and, like my fictional narrator, I have made extensive use of Frank and Sarah Dawson’s lives and the lives of their friends and of their enemies as well. And, except for shortening, the written record they left behind occasionally finds its way into A Gentleman in Charleston and the Manner of His Death almost unchanged.

It was difficult to improve on the drama of that turbulent age—on characters that lived so large—but like the narrator I, too, did not hesitate to draw on my own imagination, and at times this was an unreined imagination. For that reason I have changed the names of those involved. Do not let that detract from the fact that what follows is a true story. After all, isn’t that the best kind?

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