Augusta Evans’ St. Elmo belongs to that class of fiction which my sister and I lovingly refer to as ‘high Victorian’. If you are in the mood for heart-rending melodrama, virtuous pale-faced heroines with raven tresses, impossible love and evil characters convincingly reformed by the Gospel :), then I venture to suggest any one of her books. But perhaps because this was my first, given to me by an older lady at church, and because it is set in my own beloved state, it remains my favorite.
From a girlhood fraught with tragedy to a triumphant womanhood Edna Earl passes through a series of remarkable events that each make their indelible stamp upon her character. The dark but dashing St. Elmo Murray is a source of conflict throughout the tale, but the heroine’s resolution is reminiscent of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Beautifully written, with a surprise on almost every page and a liberal sprinkling of references to Classical writers and allusions to Greek mythology, a truly edifying story is woven in the inimitable style of one of the South’s greatest novelists.
As a point of interest, the ruins of the house that Augusta Evans used as her model for the Murray home still stand in Adairsville, Georgia. A stay in what was then known as ‘Woodlands’ provided the inspiration for an Italianate manor in the hills of Georgia and the remarkable grounds and gardens surrounding.