Today’s oddment . . .. . book borrowing habits hidden in plain sight . . ..from the 1850’s at the Richmond Library Company and on into the Civil War time at New Orleans’ Lyceum and Library Society.

A little something else that turned up during the research for “Couchsachraga” . . . appears there here

“Back into the library and the Sir Walter Scott section. Two shelves and part of another. Must have everything he ever wrote, and three or four of each one.

Not a surprise. So many ladies loving ‘Ivanhoe’.

‘Saint Ronan’s Well’. All the copies of ‘Peveril of the Peak’ out. Miss Edgeworth’s ‘Leonora’ instead. Supposed to be a good read. Romantic but not going too far. Auntie’s kind of thing.

‘Bleak House’ for parlor reading. Mrs. Hentz’s ‘The Victim of Excitement’ for the underwear drawer.”

An excerpt, you understand. You can read it for real soon.

I have a few shelves of books of Southern history, mostly women’s history. I knew that those ladies read a lot whether they were isolated on their husbands’ plantations or in a house with a doctor or lawyer husband in Baltimore or Mobile. But I had no idea that there were records detailing what specific women had borrowed.

Right into the center of their lives, as it were. Amanda Cochran of Richmond, for example, reading nearly everything James Fenimore Cooper had written including probably a few he was trying to forget. Julia Benedict of New Orleans reading her way through Sir Walter Scott while obsessively looking at ‘Harper’s Weekly’ though how that would have kept anyone’s mind off the war in Virginia and the blockading navy ships out in the roads who can tell.

Maybe it’s just as well the author, Emily B. Todd, did her research in Richmond and New Orleans and not Baltimore. Not sure my great great great grandmother would want me to know what she was keeping in her underwear drawer when she wasn’t running her household chasing after my great great grandfather and his little brother in between dinner party planning.

This way Honora Bankhead Guest’s little secrets are safe . . ..

Works consulted:

Clinton, Catherine. The Plantation Mistress: Woman’s World in the Old South. New York City. Pantheon Books. 1984.

Todd, Emily B. Antebellum Libraries In Richmond and New Orleans and the Search for the Practices and Preferences of “Real” Readers. Research note. 2001. Online at Also available at and Draws on microfilmed antebellum records of books borrowed by patrons of the Richmond Library, Richmond and the Lyceum and Literary Society, New Orleans.

The image being of one of the many editions of Scott’s ‘Ivanhoe’. He sold well everywhere but especially well in the southern American states with a huge female following for women read most of the novels.

Image: via

"Ivanhoe". Sir Walter Scott
“Ivanhoe”. 19th c. edition. Written by Sir Walter Scott. Illustrated by Maurice Greiffenhagen.