Drawing on her own experiences as a southern aristocrat during wartime, A Family Secret is writer and social critic Eliza Frances Andrews's fictionalized retelling of the end of her long-cherished way of life. A best seller in both the North and South upon its original publication in 1876, the novel focuses on the plight of upper-class southern women unprepared for the challenges of post-Civil War life, women Andrews described in her own diary as girls "educated only for show."At its core a love story, A Family Secret revolves around the adventures of Virginia-born Audley Malvern, descendent of one of the "first families" of the Old Dominion, and Ruth Harfleur, long-lost heir to a plantation fortune. Though Andrews pointedly claimed that the novel was not an attempt to "doctor public morals," her characters both lament the passing of a treasured way of life and decry the brutality of war that smothered the traits of decency and kindness.The novel draws significantly on Andrews's wartime memories. The scene of a visit to the prisoner-of-war camp at Andersonville was based on stories she had heard from visiting soldiers. The wartime railroad train and the interaction between Confederate officers and the backwoods farmer-soldiers--on whose shoulders the burden of war squarely rested--have their origins in observations recorded in Andrews's journals. A valuable portrait of the attitudes of class and racial division in the Civil War South, A Family Secret depicts the myths on which antebellum social structure rested and hints at the changes to come in the region's racial and gender roles and expectations.
Eliza Frances Andrews (1840-1931), an acclaimed author whose novels were best sellers during her lifetime, was also a journalist, teacher, and world-renowned botanist. S. Kittrell Rushing is Frank McDonald Professor and head of the Communication Department at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He is the editor of Eliza Frances Andrews's Journal of a Georgia Woman, 1870-1872. Rushing is coeditor of The Civil War and the Press (2000).