• Steven Leech

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 remaining members of the Randolph Honor household make plans to sneak into the South. On the way she gets mixed up as witness to the capture of the Northern naval vessel St. Nicholas by the legendary Zanova, also referred to as “the French Lady.” At one point Fadette holds a suspicious Union soldier at bay with a pistol she keeps hidden in the folds of her dress. This is only one of many close calls Fadette has throughout the novel.

Fadette, along with others living at Randolph Honor, finally prevail and make their way to Charleston, South Carolina. She and her party arrive in the nick of time for her cousin Amy Rutledge’s marriage to Harold Weir, who must leave immediately for duty in the Confederate army.

One is reminded by the wedding party, and other grand social gatherings to follow in Charleston and later at the plantation called Beauregard in Arkansas where the family sought respite during the Civil War, of lavish affairs described by another Delaware author of the antebellum period. In Mary Jane Windle’s Life in Washington, And Life Here And There (J.P. Lippincott & Co. 1859) she describes in detail social events of Washington’s Southern delegation to suggest how Northern manners, by comparison, are drab and dull. Windle was an unabashed Southern sympathizer, much more condescending toward Black subjects and more vociferous for the Southern cause. By the time Reeves wrote Randolph Honor the Southern cause was past and lost.

While in Charleston Fadette is introduced to a household of Southern relatives and others in their entourage in addition to the Rutledges and their daughter Amy. Included is a woman named Charlie Goodfellow, a Native American mixed-blood woman named Mantoaca, a man named Harry Thorne, and another named Ruthven Erle. All would play major parts in Reeves’ novel, especially Ruthven Erle.

Fadette discovers that Ruthven and Amy had had a brief youthful mutual flirtation, but with Amy’s marriage to Harold Weir that had passed. Ruthven Erle, a bit full of himself yet accomplished and resourceful, was not a bore. Ruthven and Fadette’s interaction with one another is characterized by a lot of verbal sparring, suggesting something simmering under the surface.

It isn’t long after the events in Charleston that the entire family and aforementioned entourage move to Beauregard, Ruthven Erle’s newly acquired plantation in Arkansas.

The locale of an Arkansas plantation mirrors Reeves’ own experience. George Read II, the Signer’s son, along with great-grandson, George Read IV, bought a cotton plantation of several thousand acres in Chicot County Arkansas, which bordered Louisiana making George Read’s ancestors large slaveholders.

Reeves’ portrayal of Blacks is not as condescending as Windle’s had been. Never does she use the term “slave,” or any other pejorative, and refers to the group as “negroes.” There are house servants, but they are usually treated with respect in keeping with Southern gentile manners.

Life at Beauregard in Arkansas resumes with lavish events until the Civil War catches up with them in the form of a Union raiding party, followed by a full-fledged Union siege during which Mr. Rutledge is killed defending the main house.

The household is split up in their escape through woods and bayous, and occasional encounters with Union military units, ending up in Missouri in a war diminished homestead called Prairie-Combe. The war follows them in the form of minor skirmishes and narrow escapes. Ruthven Erle comes and goes throughout events because he is an officer in the Confederate army. Fadette is imprisoned in a Union prison. Others who had been lost to the hostilities of the war begin to reappear. Charlie Goodfellow, who had disguised herself as a man in order to join the Confederate army, reveals herself after surviving a nearby battle. Another, who in the guise of a deformed hunchback who lived in a cave near Prairie-Combe and on a few occasions had come to the surreptitious and sometimes mysteriously motivated aid of Fadette and others, turned out to be the war-ravished survivor Lionel Randolph.

In the vortex of hostilities, Ruthven Erle finally comes clean with Fadette and confesses his love promising her a bright future in St Louis after the war because he had moved his “negroes” to Texas where there had been a bumper crop of cotton. This promise of riches from the source of slave labor would not to be because the end of the war was near and the Confederacy would lose the war.

Ruthven Erle is wounded at the Battle of Mine Creek in Kansas and after the Confederacy surrenders the survivors gather in Louisiana. Three of Fadette’s love interests have survived as well, but one, Lionel Randolph is but a shell of a man and Harry Thorne, embittered by the outcome, vows to exile himself to Mexico or maybe Brazil. Ruthven Erle, who had lost an arm, remains. Fadette realizes Ruthven needs her, and also realizing her love for him has prevailed, ends the novel.

Reeves’ mother, Anne Dorsey Read Reeves did have definite pro-Southern sympathies and her experiences likely paralleled events depicted in Randolph Honor. During the Civil War, she traveled to Virginia and settled in the vicinity of Lake Chicot near the Mississippi River with her daughter Marian, and other siblings. Her brother, George Read IV died at Rossmere plantation, Chicot County, Arkansas and may have been a model for Mr. Rutledge who was killed defending Beauregard in Reeves’ novel. A handwritten diary by Anne Dorsey Read Reeves, dated from October 16, 1861, to September 9, 1863, that covers her life and events during this period is archived at the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. Reeves’ mother, Anne Dorsey Read Reeves did have definite pro-Southern sympathies and her experiences likely paralleled events depicted in Randolph Honor. During the Civil War, she traveled to Virginia and settled in the vicinity of Lake Chicot near the Mississippi River with her daughter Marian, and other siblings. Her brother, George Read IV died at Rossmere plantation, Chicot County, Arkansas and may have been a model for Mr. Rutledge who was killed defending Beauregard in Reeves’ novel. A handwritten dairy by Anne Dorsey Read Reeves, dated from October 16, 1861, to September 9, 1863, that covers her life and events during this period is archived at the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

Reeves wrote a number of novels after Randolph Honor. In 1870 came Seadrift, published by Claxton, Remson & Haffelfroger; Philadelphia. In 1872, Wearithorne, Or In the Light of To-day was published by J.B. Lippincott & Co; Philadelphia. Both novels were attributed to “Fadette.” It was not until 1878 that Reeves’ next novel was published by Appleton in New York. Co-written with her aunt, Emily Read, and using her own name of Marian C. L. Reeves, that novel was Old Martin Boscawen’s Jest. In 1879, the two co-authored A Rosebud Garden of Girls, which was serialized in volume XCVIII of Goday’s Lady’s Book and Magazine. Another novel, Pilot Fortune, by Marian C. L. Reeves and Emily Read was published in 1885 by Houghton, Mifflin, and Company in Boston. There is no indication of Emily Read’s role in the authorship of the novels, but she did write some books on her own. In an inner leaf of Pilot Fortune, reference is made to a work entitled Aytoun. No information about this work has been found, however, a good presumption is that it may refer to the 19th-century Scottish poet and author William Edmondstoune Aytoun. There’s also some scant reason to suspect that Reeves’ role in writing Aytoun was minimal.

Emily Read, who was the sixth daughter of George Read III and Louisa Ridgely Dorsey, wrote four other titles on her own: Over The Hedge, Essie Garnett, Rose Elliot’s Wish, and Two Hundred Years Ago, Or Life in New Sweden. Nothing is known about the first three except that they were published before the final title, which was published in 1876 by American Sunday-School Union in Philadelphia, and which can still be acquired as a facsimile.

Marian C. L. Reeves wrote a final novel, A Little Maid of Acadie, published in 1888 by D. Appleton and Company in New York.

Unfortunately, copies of Reeves’ novels Seadrift and Old Martin Boscawen’s Jest, the latter’s locale being Cornwall, England, are extraordinarily rare. Copies of both have only been found on microform in select libraries.

Wearithorne, like other novels in print by Reeves, is currently available as a facsimile. Unlike her previous novels and those after it, Wearithorne is written in the first person. It is also written using the nom de plume of “Fadette.” Using the first person narrative, Wearithorne is a confessional tome from the main character, Nannette O’Kester O’Mallerstang. The locale is northern England, in Yorkshire County near the Scottish border. This accounts for the Scot sounding names and the Scot patois Reeves proficiently applies. The landscape is bleak with perilous rock outcroppings and nearly treeless landscape.

Nannette, and a few other women are part of a household controlled by her Uncle Kester Holme, who is not really her uncle. They make a living knitting garments, cutting peat, churning butter and providing other dairy products for the market. It is a hard life and Kester is a tyrant. The only respite Nannette has is to visit the library in the nearby estate called Wearithorne. Two things happen at the novel’s onset. First she discovers a letter and journal that her mother, whom she never knew because she died when Nannette was an infant, had written. From the letter she is led to believe her mother had meant for Kester to be sure that her daughter is cared for. Nannette is also led to conclude that the mother was “a lady.”

Nannette begins to detect she’d been dealt a great injustice, but by the end of the novel, she is burdened by crushing guilt.