Mary Edwards Bryan: Her Early Life and Works

By Smith, Karen Manners | The Journal of Southern History, November 2016 | Go to article overview

Mary Edwards Bryan: Her Early Life and Works


Smith, Karen Manners, The Journal of Southern History


Mary Edwards Bryan: Her Early Life and Works. By Canter Brown Jr. and Larry Eugene Rivers. (Gainesville and other cities: University Press of Florida, 2015. Pp. xvi, 351. $74.95, ISBN 978-0-8130-6114-6.)

Canter Brown Jr. and Larry Eugene Rivers have written extensively on the history of Florida. With this literary biography they join a group of scholars who are rediscovering the popular periodical literature of the nineteenth-century South, a body of materials once considered so trivial as to merit no interest. However, that literature, much of it written by women, was abundant, widely read, and influential. Rivers and Brown are among those determined that the work should not continue to be "lost." Mary Edwards Bryan: Her Early Life and Works recovers one woman's story, interspersing selections of Bryan's writing with her biography and the history of Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana between the 1830s and the 1880s. These years represent only a portion of Bryan's life, the period when she wrote for and edited southern periodicals but before she became a popular novelist with a northern publisher. Brown and Rivers write about Bryan during the years of upheaval in her own life and in her native South, judging her later life and novels to be of less interest.

Born in 1839, during the Second Seminole War, Mary Edwards Bryan spent her childhood in frontier towns in the Florida panhandle and southern Georgia. At the age of fourteen, already a published writer, she eloped with Iredell Edward Wyche Bryan, the ne'er-do-well son of a Louisiana planter. Almost immediately, she regretted her choice, but her father and husband conspired to prevent her from getting a divorce. She published an essay about being trapped in a loveless marriage, and subsequent pieces focused on accepting one's fate. …

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