Augusta Branson, born of a prominent Southern family made destitute by the Civil War, is forced by her family into marriage with a wealthy upstart. Read more...
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Augusta Branson, born of a prominent Southern family made destitute by the Civil War, is forced by her family into marriage with a wealthy upstart. Ten years after her marriage and the end of the war, she watches her husband, Eli, die from a horrifying blood fever.
Newly widowed, Augusta begins to wake to the realities that surround her: her social standing is stained by her marriage, she is alone and unprotected in a community that is being destroyed by racial prejudice and violence, the fortune she thought she would inherit does not exist, and the deadly blood fever is spreading like wildfire. Nothing is as she believed, everyone she trusts is hiding something from her, and if Augusta can't find a missing package, she and her son face certain death.
Using the Southern Gothic tradition to subvert literary archetypes like the white Southern Gentleman, the good Mammy, the conniving scalawag, and the defenseless Southern Belle, "The Rebel Wife "shatters the myths that still cling to the antebellum South and creates an unforgettable heroine for our time.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-11-14
- Reviewer: Staff
Polites’s debut offers a richly detailed portrait of Reconstruction-era South Carolina. Shortly after the Civil War ends, Augusta marries Eli Branson, a much older businessman (and suspected Yankee sympathizer) whose fortunes could help support her struggling family. Ten years later, Eli’s sudden, gruesome death sends Augusta and her household into a tailspin. Though she expects to inherit a vast fortune from Eli, her knowledge of his business dealings is spotty, and her family attorney says that her husband’s assets aren’t nearly as extensive as she’d thought. After Augusta learns that Eli was carrying a large sum of money when he fell ill, she realizes that finding the money may be the only way to support herself and her young son. As the blood fever that killed Eli begins to spread through the town and postwar racial tensions flare, her search for the missing money becomes more frantic. But before she finds it, she must confront evidence of her husband’s complicated past and secrets that color her relationship with her family and friends. After a nimble, engrossing first chapter, Polites loses momentum, but he eventually builds to a vivid climax. The novel’s well-rendered setting and complex characters easily make up for a few slow passages. Agent: Keating Literary. (Feb.)
Shattering stereotypes in antebellum Alabama
The aftermath of the Civil War—specifically, the Reconstruction era in Alabama—comes to vivid life in Taylor M. Polites’ debut novel, which dispels some of the myths associated with that period of our history.
The Rebel Wife opens in 1876 with the gruesome death of Eli Branson, the local mill owner, from what his doctor calls blood fever. Eli had been shunned in the small town of Albion for being a Yankee sympathizer—and indeed, the town’s Negroes turn out for his funeral in far greater numbers than the whites. Eli’s young widow Augusta, or Gus, wasn’t privy to his political activities, or even his finances, though she assumed she and Henry, their son, had been well provided for at his death.
Gus quickly learns how mistaken she has been—not only underestimating the negative feelings of the town’s whites toward Eli, and now her, but also their wealth, which, according to her cousin Judge, the executor of Eli’s will, has dwindled to practically nothing.
Polites has peopled his well-researched account with an intriguing cast of characters, each of whom contributes to Gus’ awakening to the postwar realities she now must face alone. There is Judge, whose greed surpasses their blood ties; Mike, Gus’ conniving brother who expects a share of the mill profits; Rachel, who has cared for Gus since childhood; and Simon, a loyal freed slave who knows the details of Eli’s finances, including a secret stash sought also by Judge and Mike.
Gus is perceptively portrayed as she gradually moves from feeling “irrelevant and disregarded” to taking charge of her altered life, and grows in her awareness of what the slaves have been through. She is ashamed of having accepted their treatment “as the way things are”—a far cry from the usual image of the Southern belle in fiction and film. Polites’ debut is a historically accurate and compelling depiction of the postwar South, in all its divisiveness and discord.