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Synopsis

Mary Boykin Chesnut, born Mary Boykin Miller (March 31, 1823 November 22, 1886), was a South Carolina author best known for a book published as her Civil War diary, a "vivid picture of a society in the throes of its life-and-death struggle." She described the war from within her upper-class circles of Southern planter society, but encompassed all classes in her book. She was married to a lawyer who served as a United States senator and Confederate officer. Chesnut worked toward a final form of her book in 1881-1884, based on her extensive diary written during the war years. It was published after her death in 1905. New versions were published after her papers were discovered, in 1949 by the novelist Ben Ames Williams, and in 1981 by the historian C. Vann Woodward. His annotated edition of the diary, Mary Chesnut's Civil War (1981), won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1982. Literary critics have called Chesnut's diary "a work of art" and the most important work by a Confederate author. Chesnut was aware of the historical importance of what she witnessed. The diary was filled with the cycle of changing fortunes of the South during the Civil War. Chesnut edited it and wrote new drafts in 1881-1884 for publication, and retained the sense of events unfolding without foreknowledge. She had the sense of the South's living through its time on a world stage. Politically aware, Chesnut analyzed and portrayed the various classes of the South through the years of the war. She portrayed southern society in detail and studied the mixed roles of men and women. She was forthright about the complex and fraught situations related to slavery, particularly the abuses of sexuality and power. For instance, Chesnut discussed the problem of white planters' fathering mixed-race children with enslaved women within their extended households. Chesnut used her diary and notes to work toward a final version in 1881-1884. Based on her drafts, historians do not believe she was finished with her work. This edition of Chesnuts famous diary is specially formatted with a Table of Contents and the original illustrations.

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