Thursday, October 09, 2008

Scarlet Sister Mary - Winner, Novel/Fiction, 1929

Scarlet Sister Mary
By: Julia Peterkin
Bobbs-Merrill, 1928

"...the story of the harlot of Blue Brook Plantation.''

Bobbs-Merrill used the above quote in their promotions for Julia Peterkin's Scarlet Sister Mary, and I found it to be the best summary of her book. The story is simply about the life of Sister Mary who can't seem to settle down and brings 9 children with 9 different fathers into the world along the way. I often wondered, as I read, where the book was going. I guess the problem that needs resolution along the way is whether Mary will ever settle down. For me that is not enough to keep me interested for more than 300 pages. Needless to say, I didn't really enjoy the story of Scarlet Sister Mary.

The value of Peterkin's book, I believe, is not found in the story but in her grasp of the post-emancipation culture, superstitions, religion, and language specific to the Gullah people of the low country plantations of the South Carolina and Georgia coasts. Peterkin lived in South Carolina and probably gained some of her insight as a plantation mistress after her marriage in 1903. The characters in Scarlet Sister Mary speak in the Gullah dialect, which can slow down the reading, but gives a good sense of the people she describes. I wouldn't put Scarlet Sister Mary on any list of books I enjoy, but I would say it is a good read to give a sense of post-Civil War plantation life.


Adrian said...

We're on your friends list! How exciting. I'm glad you reviewed Scarlet Sister Mary because it seems like it could really be an interesting read. But, like you, an ongoing lack of resolution just makes me uncomfortable in literature AND real life.

Hope you're doing well! I missed out on making jam during peach season, but I will certainly use your advice next spring and summer!

Grete said...

Thanks for your honest assessment! That would've been one of in the Pultizer department that might've sounded interesting... but if it's mostly a descriptive piece, I'd probably avoid it in the future... :)