Hentz, Caroline Lee (1800–1856)

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Hentz, Caroline Lee (1800–1856)

American author . Born Caroline Lee Whiting in Lancaster, Massachusetts, on June 1, 1800; died in Marianna, Florida, on February 11, 1856; youngest of eight children of John (a businessman) and Orpah (Danforth) Whiting; married Nicholas Marcellus Hentz (a teacher), on September 30, 1824; children: Marcellus Fabius Hentz (1825–1827); Charles Arnould Hentz (b. 1827); Julia Louisa Hentz (b.1828); Thaddeus William Hentz (b. 1830).

Selected works:

DeLara; or The Moorish Bride (a play, 1831); Constance of Werdenberg, or The Forest League (a play, 1832); Lamorah, or The Western Wilds (a play, 1832); Lovell's Folly (1833); Aunt Patty's Scrap Bag (1846); Mob Cap (1848); Linda; or, The Young Pilot of the Belle Creole (1850); Rena; or, The Snow Bird (1851); Eoline; or, Magnolia Vale (1852); Marcus Warland; or, The Long Moss Spring (1852); 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); The Planter's Northern Bride (1854); Robert Graham (1855); The Banished Son (1856); Courtship and Marriage (1856); Ernest Linwood (1856); The Lost Daughter (1857); Love After Marriage (1857).

Caroline Hentz was born in 1800 and grew up in Lancaster, Massachusetts, the youngest of eight children of an established New England family. Intelligent and apparently well educated, she wrote poetry from an early age and, in her teens completed a novel. However, it was from the time of her marriage, at the age of 24, that she began the strange odyssey that gave rise to the prolific writing career of her later life.

Hentz, who was by all accounts a beautiful and vivacious woman, could probably have had her pick of husbands. She chose Nicholas Hentz, a brilliant and well-educated French émigré, who spoke three languages, was a skilled engraver and painter, and an entomologist of note. He was also physically frail, given to bouts of depression, and, as later described by his son, "one of the most nervous, jealous, suspicious characters that ever lived." The couple began their married life in North Carolina, where Nicholas taught languages and letters at the new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Over the course of the next ten years, Hentz gave birth to four children (her first son died at age two) and typically moved her household every two years. Despite her husband's ill health and bouts of depression, and her own increasing family responsibilities, Hentz somehow found time to pursue her writing. While living in Covington, Kentucky, where Nicholas ran a school for girls, she finished a play DeLara; or The Moorish Bride, a five-act drama set in a Spanish castle during the Moors' conquest of Spain, which won $500 in a competition and was produced at the Tremont Street Theatre, in Boston, and the Arch Street Theatre, in Philadelphia, in 1831. Buoyed by favorable reviews, Hentz wrote two more dramas, Constance of Werdenberg, or the Forest League, produced in New York (1832), and Lamorah, or The Western Wilds, produced in Cincinnati (1832) and New Orleans (1833). She also had several short stories published in Western Monthly and began work on a novel.

In 1832, finding the university restrictive, Nicholas moved the family to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was employed in a female seminary, and Hentz finished her first novel, Lovell's Folly, which was reportedly withdrawn from publication because of "libelous content." During this time, she and her husband were drawn into the local literary circle of Daniel Drake, attended also by the young Harriet Beecher Stowe . Hentz, with her stunning looks and charming wit, was often the center of attention at these gatherings. Nicholas' jealousy over the attention paid to his wife by another member of the group, and a subsequent incident involving a gun, eventually forced the family to flee Cincinnati. They spent the next 14 years living in a succession of Southern towns (Florence, Tuscaloosa, and Tuskegee, in Alabama, and Columbus, in Georgia), where Nicholas established schools. Hentz held the family together, assisted her husband in teaching, and provided for as many as 20 boarding students. There appeared to be little time for literary pursuits although Hentz achieved some notoriety in 1844, when one of her stories was serialized in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier. (It was published as Aunt Patty's Scrap Bag in 1846.) Nicholas also wrote and illustrated a collection of scholarly articles on spiders, later collected as The Spiders of the United States (1875).

By 1849, Nicholas had succumbed to growing hypochondria and was unable to work. Hentz, out of financial necessity, pursued her writing career full time. Within six years, she published seven collections of short stories, and eight novels, becoming, at age 50, one of the most prolific writers of the period. Though lacking any deep literary qualities, her novels enjoyed immense popularity for 30 years. (Two of her books, Eoline; or, Magnolia Vale [1852] and The Planter's Northern Bride [1854], were reprinted in the 1970s.) Often referred to as novels of domesticity, Hentz's stories are romantic in nature, populated with beautiful, self-sacrificing women who endure and triumph over tyrannical male figures who are often seriously unstable. Ernest Linwood, or The Inner Life of the Author, which was published posthumously in 1856, presented an almost autobiographical account of Hentz's own difficult marriage, even down to the melodramatic account of the incident that forced her family to leave Cincinnati. Setting her stories in the South, Hentz, like other antebellum writers, also helped create and popularize an idealized view of slavery and plantation life. Lynda W. Brown , in American Women Writers, calls The Planter's Northern Bride (1854), written in answer to Uncle Tom's Cabin, "a full-blown counter-statement to abolition." Brown also points out that although Hentz traveled in the same literary circles as Harriet Beecher Stowe, they were obviously quite divided on the issue of slavery.

Nicholas' health continued to deteriorate, and in 1854, he went to live with the couple's married daughter in St. Anders, Florida, while Hentz remained with their son in Marianna, Florida, commuting back and forth to care for her husband. On one of her journeys, she contracted pneumonia, which took her life on February 11, 1856.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Kelly, Mary. Private Woman, Public Stage. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Mainiero, Lina, ed. American Women Writers: From Colonial Times to the Present. NY: Frederick Ungar, 1980.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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