'I Wish I Had a Field for My Energies...'

More
Julia Le Grand, who's made an appearance here before, speaks of watching Confederate men go off to war, while she is forced to man the homefront:

I can't tell you what a life of suppression we lead. I feel it more because I know and feel all that is going on outside. I am like a pent-up  volcano. 

I wish I had a field for my energies. I hate common life, a life of visiting, dressing and tattling, which seems to devolve on women, and now that there is better work to do, real tragedy, real romance and history weaving every day, I suffer, suffer, leading the life I do.

I came across this letter while reading Drew Gilpin Faust's Mothers Of Invention. The book is stellar so far, and having read This Republic Of Suffering, I'm not surprised. Faust, like all of my favorite historians, has a way of focusing on a particular aspect of history without losing sight of the surrounding context. 

So whereas Republic was about how Americans processed unprecedented carnage during the Civil War, the book is also about the literature of the war, the colored troops, Nathan Bedford Forrest, religion, gender, and spiritualism. Likewise, Mothers is ostensibly about the 500,000 white women in the slave-holding families of the South. But it, so far, is also about the very concept of "ladydom," and how it hinges on race and class.

This quote really illustrates the kind of complexity which Faust is so good at teasing out, without excusing anyone. In this case, Le Grand was an avowed white supremacist--her journal is obsessed with the criminality of blacks, and their child-like intellect. But her words here are powerful, and really give voice to the desires of countless of white women, and anyone else not considered to be of "the people."

I think it's important to see people clearly, as they were. But sometimes profound sentiments come from total hypocrites. Le Grand is speaking of Confederate white women, but with the smallest tinkering she could be talking black women supporting the Union, or the early colored troops restricted to fatigue duty. Or Peggy Olson nearly a century later. 

So many of these fights come down to frustrated individuals  wishing for nothing more than the proper field for their energies. 

Jump to comments
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Sad Desk Lunch: Is This How You Want to Die?

How to avoid working through lunch, and diseases related to social isolation.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more

Video

Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.

Video

What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world

Writers

Up
Down

More in National

From This Author

Just In