Dinnies, Anna Peyre (Shackelford)
DINNIES, Anna Peyre (Shackelford)
Also wrote under: Moina, Rachel, Mrs. Anna Peyre
Daughter of W. F. Shackelford; married John C. Dinnies, 1830
A lifelong resident of the South, Anna Peyre Dinnies showed at an early age the promise of genius and a talent for poetry. Her father, a judge and a distinguished scholar, supported her literary ambitions and is said to have "happily and effectively" influenced her literary taste. Fortunate enough to be educated at the Female Seminary of the Miss Ramsays in Charleston, South Carolina, Dinnies was further encouraged and her talents developed.
In 1826 Anna and John C. Dinnies began a four-year correspondence, but Anna did not meet her husband-to-be until a week before their wedding. Sarah Josepha Hale wrote in her anthology, The Ladies' Wreath (1837), that the Dinnies' marriage contract was "entered into solely from sympathy and congeniality of mind and taste."
Although Dinnies wrote before she was married, her published poetry comes chiefly after 1830. Known as a poet of "Domestic Affections" because she relied heavily on themes of married life, contemporary critics took her work to be a reflection of her own happily wedded state. Hale commented that Dinnies' poetry "breathes the tender, trusting, and devoted feeling of conjugal love, in a manner very flattering to her husband." Whether or not Dinnies' poems reflect her personal happiness, they do present an idealized vision of marriage.
Dinnies' most famous and frequently anthologized poem, "The Wife," is typical of her work. In it she tells of the dependency of a wife upon her husband:
I could have stemmed misfortune's tide,
And borne the rich one's sneer,
Have braved the haughty glance of pride,
Nor shed a single tear.
I could have smiled on every blow
From Life's full quiver thrown,
While I might gaze on thee, and know
I should not be 'alone.'
Others of Dinnies' poems are as unremittingly romantic. Focusing as they do on the modesty of woman and the perfections of marriage, they strike the modern reader as excessively emotional. For example, in her poem, "The Blush," she defines a blush as "A gush of feeling from the soul!" Dinnies often uses emotion to a didactic end, as in "To My Husband's First Gray Hair." Here the wife of the poem first laments the gray hair and later sees in it a reminder that all things must pass away.
Dinnies' work is not entirely without humor, depth, and an occasional sharp edge. In "Wedded Love," the wife of the poem lifts her husband out of his depression not by praising his virtues but by affirming her own good taste. He is superior to other men because she would not have "stooped to bind /Her fate unto a common mind." The poem "Addressed to My Daughter While She Slept" shows another side of Dinnies' work. Although the first stanza gives the reader the traditional image of a mother and her sleeping child, the next six stanzas focus on the unhappy changes that accompany childhood and young womanhood. The last stanza alludes to the difficult life of an adult woman and all the "sorrows woman must sustain."
The majority of Dinnies' literary work appeared in various Southern journals. She wrote for the Illinois Quarterly under the name of Moina, and she contributed a series of didactic articles called "Rachel's What Not" for the weekly Catholic Standard, edited by her husband. Dinnies also published an illustrated volume called The Floral Year (1847), containing 100 compositions in 12 groups, along with illustrations of different bouquets, one for each month. This volume was typical of the many early 19th-century anthologies of "flower sentiment," in which poetry is combined with pictures of flowers. Although she published only one book, Dinnies' poetry was frequently anthologized in such volumes. Today her book and others like it seem literary curiosities. Nonetheless, Dinnies and other traditional poets of the early 19th century take their place as precursors of more significant American poets, Emily Dickinson among them.
Coggeshall, W. T., The Poets and Poetry of the West: With Biographical and Critical Notes (1861). Griswold, R. W., The Female Poets of America (1873). Hale, S. J., Flora's Interpreter; or the American Book of Flowers and Sentiments (1848). Hale, S. J., The Ladies' Wreath (1837). Stedman, E. C., ed., An American Anthology, 1787-1900 (1900). Watts, E. S., The Poetry of American Women from 1632 to 1945 (1977).
A Cyclopedia of Female Biography (1857). Woman's Record (1853).
—BILLIE J. WAHLSTROM