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Landon Carter's Uneasy Kingdom: Rebellion and Revolution on a Virginia Plantationby Rhys Isaac
"Isaac — who in his first book, The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790, inventively adopted anthropological methods and approaches to examine the social, cultural, and political impact of evangelical Christianity on the colony — is a sensitive guide to Carter's world, and reading his systematic exploration is the only way for the layman to comprehend the diaries properly....Alas, though, the vagueness, pomposity, and self-consciously literary style that marred The Transformation of Virginia often render this book puzzling and highly annoying..." Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic Monthly (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review)
Synopses & Reviews
Landon Carter, a Virginia planter patriarch, left behind one of the most revealing of all American diaries. In this astonishingly rich biography, Rhys Isaac mines this remarkable document — and many other sources — to reconstruct Carter's interior world as it plunged into revolution.
The aging patriarch, though a fierce supporter of American Liberty, was deeply troubled by the rebellion and its threat to established order. His diary, originally a record of plantation business, began to fill with angry stories of revolt in his own little kingdom. Carter writes at a white heat, his words sputtering from his pen as he documents the terrible rupture that the Revolution meant to him.
Indeed, Carter felt in his heart he was chronicling a world in decline, the passing of the order that his revered father had bequeathed to him. Not only had Landon's king betrayed his subjects, but Landon's own household betrayed him: his son showed insolent defiance, his daughter Judith eloped with a forbidden suitor, all of his slaves conspired constantly, and eight of them made an armed exodus to freedom. The seismic upheaval he helped to start had crumbled the foundations of Carter's own home.
Like Laurel Ulrich in her classic A Midwife's Tale, Rhys Isaac here unfolds not just the life, but the mental world of our countrymen in a long-distant time. Moreover in this presentation of Landon Carter's passionate narratives, the diarist becomes an arresting new character in the world's literature; a figure of Shakespearean proportions, the Lear of his own tragic kingdom. This long-awaited work will be seen both as a major contribution to Revolution history and a triumph of the art of biography.
"Pulitzer Prize — winning historian Isaac (The Transformation of Virginia, 1740 — 1790) offers an eloquent and unique look at the beginnings and consequences of the American Revolution as seen through the eyes of early America's finest diarist, Landon Carter. Carter, who owned the magnificent Sabine Hall plantation in Virginia, recorded his daily life from 1752 until just before his death in 1778. Originally used to record 'plantation procedures,' as Isaac points out, the diary soon grew from a collection of proverbs about when to plant to a journal of Carter's attempt to understand the meaning of the coming revolution for himself and his family. A supporter of the British, Carter nonetheless sided with the growing American quest for liberty. He thought of himself much like a king whose authority extended over the realm of his plantation. As the larger revolution approaches, Carter experiences smaller revolutions and rebellions on his own plantation: his son defies him by marrying against Carter's wishes, and eight of his slaves rise up in an armed rebellion. Angry that his authority is being challenged on all sides, Carter also exhibits perplexity at the changing world around him. Isaac weaves entries from Carter's diary with a splendid biographical narrative to provide a profound and intimate glimpse into one portion of early America." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Poignant documents on the collapse of an old world, mixed with learned commentary: an outstanding work of history....An extraordinary, fascinating set of firsthand accounts from the revolutionary era." Kirkus Reviews
"Readers will be fascinated by Carter's impassioned narratives, masterfully placed in their time by Isaac's brilliant analysis. This admirable study joins Claire Tomalin's Samuel Pepys as an example of the finest scholarly analysis of personal diaries." Library Journal
About the Author
Rhys Isaac is Distinguished Visiting Professor at the College of William and Mary and a Research Associate of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983 for The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790. An Emeritus Professor at La Trobe University, he lives in Melbourne, Australia.
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