Caroline Lee Hentz
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Caroline Lee Whiting Hentz (June 1, 1800, Lancaster, Massachusetts – February 11, 1856, Marianna, Florida) was an American novelist and author, most noted for her opposition to the abolitionist movement and her widely-read rebuttal to the popular anti-slavery book, Uncle Tom's Cabin. She was a major literary figure in her day, and helped advance women's fiction.
Caroline Hentz was born Caroline Lee Whiting to Colonel John and Oprah Whiting on June 1, 1800 in Lancaster, Massachusetts. The youngest of eight children, Caroline was raised in a very patriotic family. Her father was a soldier in the Revolutionary War and three of her brothers fought in the War of 1812. As a child, she attended a private school run by Jared Sparks. By the time she was twelve, she had already composed a fantasy about the Far East as well as a play. At seventeen she was teaching at a local Lancaster school. On September 30, 1824, Caroline married Nicholas Marcellus Hentz. Shortly after, the couple moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina with their first child. She is described as being “a northerner who traveled and worked throughout the South for nearly thirty years.” She lived in seven different states in her lifetime, bore her husband five children, and managed to support her family financially with her writing.
Being the youngest of eight, Caroline watched as “three of her brothers became officers and served in the War of 1812.” Their letters home and “tales of patriotic adventure” were great inspiration to Caroline. As a young girl, Caroline was “popular with her companions, playing games, taking woodland walks, and studying nature.”
On September 30, 1824, Caroline married Nicholas Marcellus Hentz, “a political refugee from Metz [and] son of a member of the French National Convention.” The couple originally lived near Round Hill School in Northampton, Massachusetts, where Nicholas was an instructor. In 1826, the couple moved to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where Nicholas became the chair of modern languages. The couple left shortly after for Covington, Kentucky, where Nicholas later found a girls’ school in 1830. From their new home in Covington, Caroline wrote the prize-winning tragedy De Lara; or, The Moorish Bride for William Pelby. Although he offered her a $500 prize, he was unable to pay and gave Hentz back the copyright. In 1832, the couple opened a girls’ school in Cincinnati. While there, Caroline joined the Semi-Colon Club which is probably where her acquaintance with Harriet Beecher Stowe began.
During their time in Cincinnati, Nicholas displayed an irrational jealousy that later fueled Caroline’s Byronic heroes. “According to their son, Dr. Charles A. Hentz, Colonel King of the Semi-Colon Club sent an improper note to the dignified and accomplished Mrs. Hentz.” When she attempted to respond to the note, her suspicious husband discovered the correspondence. After threatening to duel Colonel King, Nicholas swiftly closed down the school and the couple moved to Florence, Alabama, where they opened another school.
The couple had a total of five children, though their oldest son died when he was only two years old. While in Florence, Caroline spent most of her time caring for the couples’ four children. Her writing began to diminish over this period of time, though she managed to write some poetry and kept a diary that inspired the “letters, deathbed confession, and other lamentations that are hallmarks of her novels.” After living in Florence for nine years, the family found another school in Tuscaloosa in the year 1843. In 1845, the family opened yet another school in Tuskegee, which was then nothing more than a village. This began a lapse in her publishing career as she prepared her children for the adult world and married off one of her daughters (Perry and Weaks 83). In 1848, the couple opened a school in Columbus, Georgia. One year later, in 1849, Nicholas became an invalid and Caroline was left to support her family, despite the fact that she herself was not well. Two of the Hentz’s children settled down in Marianna, Florida and the couple moved to join them there in 1852. “During her husband’s illness, Caroline wrote at his bedside, dividing her attention among his care, the demands of the literary public, and the occasional visitors who would disturb her routine. In 1853, she returned to New England for a brief visit before making her way back to Florida.
After nearly five years of supporting her family financially and nursing her husband, Caroline Lee Whiting Hentz died of pneumonia on February 11, 1856. Nicholas Hentz died a few months later. The couple is buried under one stone in the Episcopal Cemetery in Marianne.
Although she was primarily a teacher from the beginning, Hentz still managed to write and produce several small pieces and distribute them to local publications. In 1831, Hentz wrote De Lara; or, The Moorish Bride for Boston actor William Pelby. The tragedy won Hentz recognition in 1842 when it was performed at the Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia and the Tremont in Boston (Perry and Weaks 83). Hentz's career advanced greatly between the years 1832 and 1856. In March of 1832, she published her first work, a short story, "The Sacrifice" in Godey's Lady's Book. While living in Covington, Kentucky, Caroline also wrote Constance of Werdenberg, a play performed at the Park Theatre in New York in 1832. That same year, another one of her plays,Lamorah; or, the Western Wild, played in Cincinnati in 1832 and in New Orleans at Calwell’s on January 1, 1833. In 1850, Hentz published her most profitable novel, Linda. One of her most famous novels, The Planter’s Northern Bride, was published in 1854 in response to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Her earlier works spoke to young men and women, mimicking religious parables and instructing them in moral goodness. Hentz was known for "engaging in some of the most prominent public debates on the ethics and social relations of the slave system." After retiring from her career as an educator, she began to write vigorously and her literary career blossomed as a result. From 1850 to 1856, "Hentz produced several collections of stories as well as seven more novels." Her last novel, Ernest Linwood, was published on February 11, 1856 (Perry and Weaks 84). She is "frequently remembered as the author of The Planter's Northern Bride, her polemical and distinctively Southern response to Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin."
Comparisons with Harriet Beecher Stowe
Caroline Hentz in her everyday life was almost identical to her abolitionist adversary Harriet Beecher Stowe. Both of these 19th-century women hailed from Massachusetts; both taught alongside their husbands. Both ladies had moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1832, where they became personal friends. To further the similarities for these opposing leaders in the abolitionist debate, both became major nationally known authors of popular fiction.
"Her five-act tragedy, De Lara; or, The Moorish Bride, Philadelphia, also won a competition sponsored by the Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia" (Stanesa 131). This "prize [was] offered by Boston actor and manager William Pelby", but he was unable to pay it. The Boston Library named her as one of the top 3 writers of the day."The Mob Cap appeared in the Saturday Courier winning critical praise and a $200 prize".
While at Covington, Kentucky, Hentz, who had written a poem, a novel, and a tragedy before she was 12 years old, competed for a prize of $500 that had been offered for a play by the directors of the Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia. The prize was awarded to her for her tragedy of De Lara, or the Moorish Bride, which was produced on the stage, and afterward published in book-form. Lamorah, or the Western Wild, another tragedy, was acted at Cincinnati and published in a newspaper at Columbus, Georgia. Constance of Werdenberg, a third tragedy, remained unpublished.
She was the author of numerous short poems, and a voluminous writer of tales and novelettes that were published in periodicals and newspapers, and many of them afterward collected into volumes.
The Planter's Northern Bride
In this body of work, Caroline Hentz came to the definitive defense of slavery. Hentz used her expertise, having lived for many years in the South, to claim that she was more knowledgeable about slavery than Stowe. Hentz wrote about the caring relationship between master and slave, a Southern opinion on slavery that strongly contrasted with the New England-bred Stowe's characterization of the institution.
Hentz introduces in this novel several villains, including a busybody who tries to free slaves against their will. In doing this, she tries to discredit the abolitionist argument of inhumane treatment of the Southern slaves. She portrays the people wanting to tear down the institution of slavery as actually being motivated by personal gains, not by a desire to improve mankind. She expanded on this motivation to include the industrial revolution that was taking place in the North, which would require the massive amounts of cheap labor that only the south could give by way of slavery.
- "Lamorah; or, the Western Wild" (play, 1832)
- "Constance of Werdenberg., or, The Forest League" (play, 1832)
- "Lovell's Folly" (1833)
- "De Lara; or, The Moorish Bride" (1843)
- "Human and Divine Philosophy: A Poem Written for the Erosophic Society of the University of Alabama" (1844)
- "Linda; or, The Young Pilot of the Belle Creole" (1850)
- "Rena; or, The Snow Bird" (1851)
- "Eoline; or, Magnolia Vale; or, The Heiress of Glenmore" (1852)
- "Marcus Warland; or, The Long Moss Spring" (1852)
- "The Banished Son and Other Stories of the Heart" (1852)
- "The Victim of Excitement, The Bosom Serpent, etc." (1853)
- "Wild Jack; or, The Stolen Child, and Other Stories" (1853)
- "The Planter's Northern Bride" (1854)
- "Courtship and Marriage; or, The Joys and Sorrows of American Life" (1856)
- "The Lost Daughter and Other Stories of the Heart" (1857)
- Stanesa 130
- Perry and Weaks 82
- Perry and Weaks 83
- Knight 193
- Perry and Weaks 84
- Knight 194
- Stanesa 132
- Knight, Denise D. Writers of the American Renaissance: An A-To-Z Guide. West Port: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003.
- Perry, Caroline, and Mary Louise Weaks. The History of Southern Women's Literature. Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press, 2002. 82-84.
- Stanesa, Jamie. "Caroline Lee Whiting Hentz (1800-1856."Legacy. 2. 13. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University, 1996.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1892). "Hentz, Nicholas Marcellus". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton
- Text of The Planter's Northern Bride
- Works by Caroline Lee Hentz at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Caroline Lee Hentz in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Rindo, Ron (2011). "Catherine Lee Hentz". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Auburn University.