Sophie du Pont: A Young Lady in America

Publisher / date: Harry N. Abrams Inc. Publishers, 1987
pages: 192
Hardcover
genre: biography/letters/art

I LOVE THIS BOOK!

Years ago, a friend who teaches American History (colonial period up to the American Civil War) encouraged me to borrow this book from her. I must confess I seem destined to hardly read books that I borrow… I flipped through it; but did I read much of it? Perhaps I just wasn’t “in the mood” for it. It certainly made no impression on me. And yet, it stayed with me enough to lookup  the title again last year — and I found my local university library had a copy. I took it out, and fell in love.

It is atypical for the books you will find listed here at “Regency Reads,” in that there is more of an editorial hand involved here. Subtitled, Sketches, Diaries, & Letters 1823-1833, Betty-Bright Low and Jacqueline Hinsley paid particular attention to young Sophie’s drawings. And certainly the initial reaction is about all the “carics,” as Sophie called them. If you delight in the drawings of Mrs Hurst Dancing — these works by Diana Sperling will be brought to mind by Sophie du Pont.

The sketches represent Sophie’s life from the ages of 13 to 23. Drawings in the rear illustrate what a fine artist she was. But it was the letters and diary entries that grabbed attention — real slices of life from this period that I can’t really count as “Regency” but will since (in England) George IV (and then William IV) was on the throne during these years. I have long “wanted more”! Oh, for volumes of these wonderful writings – for not only Sophie is represented, but also additional family members. When I say that this du Pont family is connected to Winterthur, well, you will then figure that there is a LOT of material available, and ask: Well, why only this volume?? Since we’re talking the late-80s, indeed there should have been many, many follow-ups; but we’ll take what we can get!

As luck would have it, I didn’t have to “borrow” this book for long — an exquisitely-kept copy (complete with dust jacket, of course!) was found at my second favorite used-bookstore, Monroe Street Books, in Middlebury, Vermont. This book, and the first couple I “reviewed” on this blog — the Diaries of Sarah Hurst, 1759-1762 and the Journals of Ellen Tollet of Betley Hall, are three all-time faves for portraits of average women of the 18th and 19th century.

* * *

There are two “prequels” available to readers of Winterthur Portfolio (which can be found online through library database connections, ie, through JSToR, if not in the flesh). Here, Betty-Bright Low presents family letters with some editorial introductions and excisions. Nicely illustrated:

  • Low, Betty-Bright P. “Of Muslins and Merveilleuses: excerpts from the Letters of Josephine du Pont and Margaret Manigault,” Winterthur Portfolio 9 (1974): 29-75.
  • Low, Betty-Bright P. “The Youth of 1812: More Excerpts from the Letters of Josephine du Pont and Margaret Manigault,” Winterthur Portfolio 11 (1976): 173-212.
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