The Bleak Romances of Fadette: Marian C. L. Reeves, Delaware's Most Prolific and Obscure 19th Ce


Fadette’s actual name was Marian Calhoun Legare Reeves. She was the great-granddaughter of George Read, one of Delaware’s signers of the Declaration of Independence as well as one of the few who was also among the framers of the United States Constitution. There is differing information about where she was born. Most sources cite Charleston, South Carolina, but West Point, New York, and New Castle, Delaware are also cited. Her birth date is more certain: March 9, 1841, to Anne Dorsey Read, the daughter of George Read III, and Isaac Stockton Reeves, a West Point 1938 graduate, who died on February 22, 1851.

While spending much of her adult life in Delaware, Reeves was evidently well educated and well traveled as suggested by her first novel, Ingemisco, published in 1867 by Lelock & Company; New York under her nom de plume “Fadette.” “Ingemisco,” is a term connected to “requiem” and was later used in Italian opera.

Ingemisco is about the young woman Margaret Ross and her family on a summer excursion in Switzerland. The Ross family is landowners of notable substance from Scotland. They socialize with members of European royalty during their visit, including Count Ernst Ivar Zalkiewski, who realized his wealth as an adult after growing up as a commoner and becoming Margaret’s growing romantic interest throughout the novel. The members of the Ross family and their royal hosts travel throughout Switzerland by horseback visiting sites and telling stories. In many ways, Ingemisco is part travelogue and Reeves’ skill for descriptive narrative provides vivid description of the landscape.

Early in the novel, Margaret goes exploring alone on horseback and gets caught in a sudden storm that imperils her life. She is saved by the intervention of Count Zalkiewski. The two fall into a slow smoldering love, though in an atmosphere of mutual denial. It is a device Reeves employs, as well, in later novels to sustain the plotline. Zalkiewski finally confesses his love to Margaret, but is initially spurned because she had promised her father she would marry Harry May, whose family owns a large estate adjacent to the Ross property back in Scotland. Zalkiewski is crushed, which has the effect of making his love for Margaret more ardent. She loves the Count as well, but her promise to her father must be kept.

Two events take place almost simultaneously. The Count wins her over when she finally realizes she loves him irresistibly, and then her father dies suddenly. In a moment of weakness, when she is most vulnerable, she gives into the Count’s marriage proposal. Because she has betrayed her oath to her late father, in a crisis of emotional conflict, her love turns to hate. She becomes acquiescent to married life yet sullen. The Count becomes forlorn and helpless. During a trip to Munich for Oktoberfest the Count had arranged a visit from Margaret’s estranged mother and siblings back in Switzerland, and after some gestures of forgiveness, Zalkiewski’s and Margaret’s love for one another is rekindled. It is arranged that Margaret’s younger sister Alice will marry Harry May, thus preserving her father’s wish to merge the two families’ properties back in Scotland.

Finally cementing the Count’s marriage to Margaret, in the final incident in the novel, the Count is seriously injured in an accident while out horseback riding with Margaret. Frantically, through actions taken by Margaret, she saves his life. Events have gone full circle. They have saved each other’s life, lives they now owe to one another.

Reeves may have been a Southern sympathizer with regard to the American Civil War, which broke out just after she turned twenty, and her second novel reflects as much. Randolph Honor, published in 1868 by Richardson and Company in New York, is arguably her most important novel. It depicts historical events and reflects aspects of her personal life. The novel is attributed to the “author of Ingemisco.” As an indication of Reeves’ personal stake in the story, she has named the main character of the novel “Fadette.”

Randolph Honor is not about a person by that name, nor does it have anything to do with “honor,” except perhaps obliquely. Honor is a term, usually of Southern usage, given to a notable estate and in this case, Randolph Honor is located near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay on the western shore of Maryland near the mouth of the Patuxent River. It is soon after the outbreak of the Civil War and the formation of the Confederacy.

As a border state, Maryland is a place of mixed sympathies toward the sides in the conflict. Fadette is a young woman, young enough to be the ward of a guardian. Other than that we don’t know much more about her other than she is part of an extended family of Southern sympathizers. In fact, her guardian Lloyd Randolph is wanted by Union authorities. He is soon arrested and put in prison at Fort McHenry. Fadette, a precocious young woman who possesses a lot of daring, devises a plan to spring Lloyd from confinement by smuggling in a Union uniform. However, Lloyd gives the uniform to a fellow inmate for escape in order that the latter can fulfill a secret mission on behalf of the Confederacy. Lloyd is subsequently sent to the Union prison at Fort DuPont, which is near New York City.

Lloyd has a younger brother, Lionel Randolph, who is in love with Fadette and who sneaks into the Confederate states under the assumed name of Tom Brown. As tensions begin to build in Maryland, which ultimately leads the state to join the Union side, Fadette and some remainin