Hentz, Caroline (Lee) Whiting

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HENTZ, Caroline (Lee) Whiting

Born 1 June 1800, Lancaster, Massachusetts; died 11 February 1856, Marianna, Florida

Daughter of John and Orpah Danforth Whiting; married Nicolas M. Hentz, 1824; children: five (one died as a child)

Caroline Whiting Hentz was the eighth and youngest child of an old New England family directly descended from the Reverend Samuel Whiting, who settled in Massachusetts in 1636. Her father served as a colonel in the Revolutionary War. Two years after Hentz's marriage to a French entomologist, her husband became chairman of modern languages and belles lettres at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. This move was the first of many the family made following his erratic teaching career. Hentz bore five children; the oldest son died when he was two years old. In addition to rearing the children, running the household, supervising boarding students, and helping her husband with teaching and insect collecting, Hentz wrote verse, drama, tales, and novels. Reputedly, she could write easily in the midst of household distractions.

Her first novel, Lovell's Folly (1833), was suppressed by her family as "too personal." Some accounts say it was libelous. While in Kentucky, Hentz wrote a prize-winning play, DeLara; or, The Moorish Bride (1843). The five-act drama, set in a Spanish castle during the Moors' conquest of Spain, was produced in Philadelphia and Boston. Of her poems written for special occasions, perhaps the most important one was composed for the visit of Andrew Jackson to Florence, Alabama, in 1836. Her husband read the poem for President Jackson.

Although she began writing as a girl, Hentz did not become a well-known writer until the Philadelphia Saturday Courier serially published a domestic tale in 1844. It was later published in book form as Aunt Patty's Scrap Bag (1846). When her husband became chronically ill in the late 1840s, Hentz, out of financial necessity, began the most prolific period of her writing at the age of fifty. Her novel Linda; or, The Young Pilot of the Belle Creole (1850) became a bestseller. Seven more domestic novels and six collections of stories were published in rapid succession. Her books remained popular after her death until the end of the century. Two novels, Eoline; or, Magnolia Vale (1852) and The Planter's Northern Bride (1854), were reprinted in the 1970s.

While living in Cincinnati, Hentz knew Harriet Beecher Stowe. Both women belonged to a literary group, the Semi-Colons. Although they might have shared cultural interests, the issue of slavery separated them. Hentz's novel The Planter's Northern Bride was written as an answer to Uncle Tom's Cabin. It is proslavery propaganda. In Marcus Warland (1852), probably composed before she had read Stowe's work, Hentz made only a partial defense of slavery, but the later novel is a full-blown counterstatement to abolition. With other writers of antebellum novels, Hentz helped create and perpetuate an image of ideal plantation life. This fictional world of pious belles, gallant gentlemen, and happy slaves appeals so strongly to the popular mind that the myth persists.

Other Works:

Mob Cap (1848). Rena; or, The Snow Bird (1851). Helen and Arthur; or, Miss Thusa's Spinning Wheel (1853). Wild Jack; or, The Stolen Child, and Other Stories (1853). The Victim of Excitement (1853). Robert Graham (1855). The Banished Son (1856). Courtship and Marriage (1856). Ernest Linwood (1856). The Lost Daughter (1857). Love After Marriage (1857).


Ellison, R. C., Introduction to The Planter's Northern Bride (1970). Papashvily, H. W., All the Happy Endings (1956). Williams, B. B., A Literary History of Alabama: The Nineteenth Century (1979).

Reference works:

AA. CAL. DAB. NAW (1971). NCAB. Ohio Authors and Their Books (1962). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).

Other references:

AL (1950). Alabama Review (1951).