Jervey, Caroline (Howard) Gilman
JERVEY, Caroline (Howard) Gilman
Wrote under: Caroline Howard, Mrs. Lewis Jervey
Daughter of Samuel and Caroline Howard Gilman; married Wilson Glover, 1840; Lewis Jervey, 1865; children: four
Caroline Gilman Jervey was the eldest of four surviving children of author and magazine editor Caroline Howard Gilman and a Unitarian clergyman. Jervey married a South Carolina planter in 1840 and was left a widow with three children in 1846. She returned to her family, began teaching, and ran a successful school for many years. She had one daughter by her second marriage to a Charleston admirer of many years. With the exception of several years in Greenville, South Carolina, during the Civil War, Jervey spent her entire life in Charleston.
Although her mother disclaimed any ambition to write a novel, Jervey wrote two fully developed novels. Vernon Grove; or, Hearts As They Are (1859) tells the story of Richard Vernon, a wealthy man blinded by a fever, who moves from the city to the country. Near his country home lives a 10-year-old girl, Sybil Gray, who grows up to reform his character, fall in love, and marry him. A contemporary critic found it an "interesting story, of marked but not improbable incidents," but modern readers may dispute the probability of some incidents, especially those that seem too obviously designed to demonstrate the selfishness or piety of various characters.
Although Vernon Grove first appeared as a serial in the Southern Literary Messenger (January-August 1858), a magazine whose every cover proclaimed it "alone among the monthly periodicals of America, in defence of the Peculiar Institutions of the Southern Country," it is carefully devoid of any specific background. Indeed, the poor living near the hero's country seat are described as "cottagers," so the setting seems a novelistic never-never land. Atlantic Monthly (Jan. 1859) approves this lack of realism, noting that "a leading characteristic of 'Vernon Grove' is the extremely good taste with which it is conceived and written."
In Jervey's second novel, Helen Courtenay's Promise (1866) is made to her dying father, who demands that his 18-year-old daughter swear to protect his lifelong reputation for probity by secretly substituting her own fortune for the one that he has embezzled, although it was left him in trust for a friend's son. She never betrays her secret, even to the young man who wins her hand in the final pages of the novel. Its plot is weaker and even more dependent on coincidence than that of Vernon Grove, and is further marred by overly melodramatic and clichéd scenes. But Helen Courtenay's Promise is saved by its heroine. Helen is a brave and steadfast young woman with superior intellect and judgment; still, she and the hero both agree with Milton's dictum: "He for God only, she for God in him."
During the four years in which Helen supports herself and earns enough money to make up the difference between the two fortunes, she studies acting and goes on the stage. Although she gives up her career, her exemplary character and actions convince the hero that his denunciations of the stage are in error. In allowing the heroine to become an actress, in describing her interpretations of her roles, and in emphasizing the physical and emotional dangers of acting, Helen Courtenay's Promise may have been influenced by the life and novels of Anna Cora Mowatt Ritchie.
Jervey's poems, a dreadful play for children—The Lost Children (1870)—and some anemic fairy tales hardly merit resurrection, but her two novels can still hold a reader's interest.
Stories and Poems by Mother and Daughter (with C. Gilman, 1872). The Young Fortune Teller (with C. Gilman, 1874).
Wright, L. H., American Fiction 1851-1875 (1957).
Atlantic Monthly (Jan. 1859).
—SUSAN SUTTON SMITH