Bowen, Sue Petigru

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BOWEN, Sue Petigru

Born 1824, Charleston, South Carolina; died 1875

Also wrote under: Sue Petigru King

Daughter of James L. Petigru; married Henry King

Sue Petigru Bowen published her novels, all set in the deep South, just before the Civil War. Lily (1855), her longest novel, presents the tragic tale of the eponymously named young heroine who, orphaned at ten, becomes the richest heiress in her county. She is adopted by friends of her father, eventually grows to maturity, but falls in love with a weak man who loves her but cannot restrain his promiscuous appetites. The day before her wedding to the repentant Clarence Tracey, Lily is murdered by his mistress as she is trying on her bridal dress. A good part of the narrative is devoted to descriptions of Lily's genteel Southern education—her French lessons, dance instruction, and needle-work—and also to her fashionable clothes, parties, and picnics.

Later works, such as Sylvia's World; and Crimes Which the Law Does Not Reach (1859), also deal with the fashionable life. In the latter, rich, virtuous girls are contrasted with coquettes. Interesting here is the presentation of Southern social life at a rich resort and the portrait of Mrs. St. Clair, a former coquette who learns through hard experience that love lasts longer than admiration. In Sylvia's World, a rash but virtuous young girl has her heart broken by trusting the wrong young man. He cares more for her fortune than for her.

Bowen deals with the fashionable world of resorts and balls and with the maturation of young girls into womanhood. Her male characters are charming but weak and untrustworthy, and her novels have didactic rather than happy endings. The vision of young, trusting girls destroyed or embittered through their experiences with men haunts her novels.