The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 86, July 1982 - April, 1983

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

two for themselves. However, it has been microfilmed and may be bor-
rowed from the University of South Carolina Library.
For Mrs. Chesnut's life, one should turn to Elisabeth Muhlenfeld's
admirable biography, which emphasizes the subject's last twenty years.
Muhlenfeld was involved in the editorial work on Mary Chesnut's Civil
War, and Woodward in turn contributed a foreword to her book.
Muhlenfeld is especially informative on Mary's self-imposed literary
apprenticeship before she began revising her Civil War journal. After
the war, she remained as busy as ever at her home in Camden, garden-
ing, supervising her dairy business, and, whenever her almost constant
ill health permitted, entertaining relatives and friends. Above all, she
wrote voluminously, including three unpublished novels, "The Cap-
tain and the Colonel," the autobiographical "Two Years of My Life,"
and "Manassas"; numerous translations; and a biographical sketch of
her husband. According to Muhlenfeld, "Mary Chesnut had, by the
time she was revising 'Two Years,' developed a crisp, identifiable style
with which she was comfortable; she had learned to write realistic dia-
logue and compressed, vivid character sketches. Whether or not she
realized it consciously, she had completed her apprenticeship" (MBC
p. 189). In late 1881, she bought a large supply of scratch pads and
began a full-scale revision of the journal, apparently working through
it chronologically. During the next three years, she wrote well over five
thousand manuscript pages, and filled nearly fifty copybooks. "Mrs.
Chesnut's major point, her central theme in the journal, might be said
to be the chaos itself, the riot of emotions and events and people that
are a disrupted society" (MBC p. 198).
Muhlenfeld's careful detective work confirms that the 188os version
was very much a literary work, a "nonfiction novel" many years before
Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. Mary died in 1886 before being satis-
fied that she had her journal in final form; still, the revised version is a
tribute both to a very gallant lady and, as she intended, to the inhabi-
tants of an irrevocably lost world.
University of Texas, Austin NORMAN D. BROWN
The Ambidextrous Historian: Historical Writers and Writing in the
American West. By C. L. Sonnichsen. (Norman: University of
Oklahoma Press, 1981. Pp. 12o. Bibliography, index. $9.95.)
The uneasiness that has always prevailed between professional his-
torians and nonprofessionals who practice the craft is somewhat com-
parable to the range wars of the Old West, in which small ranchers and

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 86, July 1982 - April, 1983. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101209/. Accessed August 22, 2014.