Pugh, Eliza (Lofton) Phillips
PUGH, Eliza (Lofton) Phillips
Born 15 December 1841, Lafourche Parish, Louisiana; died 24 July 1889, Assumption Parish, Louisiana
Wrote under: Arria
Daughter of George W. and Sarah McRhea Phillips; married William W. Pugh, Jr., 1858; children: one son
Eliza Phillips Pugh's father, a successful politician and member of the Louisiana Legislature, died when she was a child. Her mother raised her on their plantation, the Hermitage, near Bayou Lafourche, a rich farming region of south Louisiana. Pugh grew up in relative isolation. Physically delicate, she is said to have begun writing stories to amuse herself when she was ten. In 1856 she matriculated at Miss Hull's Seminary in New Orleans, and two years later, after graduating, she promptly married the son of a wealthy planter in nearby Assumption Parish. They had one son.
Shortly before the Civil War Pugh began to write professionally, beginning her first novel, and under her pen name, Arria, contributing several literary and political sketches to the New York World, the New Orleans Times, and other journals and papers. Later, she wrote an unpublished account of the battle of Georgia Landing and the Union invasion of the countryside near the Pugh plantation. Her husband died shortly after the war, and she continued to live and write at Bayou Lafourche until her death.
Unrequited and hopeless love is the theme of both of Pugh's novels. Not a Hero (1867) recounts the story of Rachel Grant, who, because of emotional infidelity to her husband, is punished by exile from their home and daughter, Judith. When Judith is fifteen, Rachel returns, begging her embittered husband to let her join the household anonymously. Phillip consents reluctantly. Their daughter then proceeds to repeat her mother's mistake: marrying one man but falling in love with another, Stanley Powers, the very rake who had so unfortunately attracted her mother. The situation is enlarged rather than complicated by Powers' staunchly faithful mistress, Janet Somers—who is, interestingly enough, a self-supporting artist in the French Quarter of New Orleans—and Elinor Grey, a Garden District matron. As a model of womanly virtue and an understanding friend, Elinor eventually saves Judith from repeating her mother's folly of alienating her husband. We conclude finally that Powers, the catalyst of all the distress, is certainly not a hero despite his battlefield death.
In a Crucible (1872) is a more complex novel involving several unworthy loves, particularly between Parolet, a south Louisiana beauty with a mysterious past, and two brothers of a wealthy rural family. This second novel is far more controlled and direct than Not a Hero, which is heavily encumbered with Latinate structures and moralizing effusions. But even here, Pugh has difficulty telling a straight story. The plots of both novels tend to be obscured by circumventions and her attempts to maintain suspense without resolving it adequately.
Pugh was not unable to imagine interesting characters and situations, or to capture the flavor of south Louisiana lifestyles. Her efforts to probe the psychology of hopeless love have the ring of authenticity, but the dated inefficiency of her style keeps Pugh's creations from springing to life and tends to obscure her thought.
The papers of Eliza Phillips Pugh are housed in the Louisiana State University Library in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Lathrop, B. F., "The Pugh Plantations: 1860-1865" (dissertation, 1955).
New Orleans Picayune (31 Dec. 1871, 25 Feb. 1872). [Biographical data furnished by Dorothy Pugh.]
—BARBARA C. EWELL