Wlliam Gilmore Simms
image of pageExplore Inside
Other versions Edition: 1, Printing: 2 (1975, 1976)

Joscelyn: A Tale of the Revolution

Novel (Romance) | U of South Carolina P | 1975

          Although written and published last among his eight Revolutionary novels in 1867, Joscelyn should be placed first in the series chronologically, for it lays out the preliminaries and “origins of this partisan conflict.”[1]  Set in the final six months of 1775, the romance depicts the beginnings of the Revolutionary conflict between patriots and loyalists in the backcountries of Georgia and South Carolina. Simms mixed historical figures, such as William Henry Drayton and Thomas Browne, with fictional ones to illustrate the dramatic tensions and implications of the early partisan conflict.  The narrative centers upon a loyalist Georgia family, the Dunbars, whose son, Walter, is drawn into conflict with the title character, Stephen Joscelyn, a crippled teacher from South Carolina, over a misunderstanding compounded by their shared passion for Angelica Kirkland.  Simms’s story is commendable for its accurate portrayal of the complex loyalties and conflicting interests that divided families in the early stages of the Revolution; John C. Guilds maintains that while “Simms’s sympathies clearly lie with the revolutionaries, the effectiveness of Joscelyn rests largely upon the author’s ability to present with sensitive insight the conflicting loyalties of the Dunbar family.”[2]  Guilds estimates the work to be “remarkably good, a worthy addition to the Revolutionary Romances series.”[3] 

     The textual history of Joscelyn involved many trials and misfortunes.  Simms conceived of the work as early as March 1858, stating in a letter to Harry Hammond that he was writing a book involving a scene in Augusta, Georgia; letters in June and July of the same year indicated that he wanted to visit Augusta to familiarize himself with the place in which he would set his next romance.[4]  A subsequent trip in July proved discouraging, as an August 1858 letter to Hammond complained of negative press coverage that alleged his research and writing intended the “greatest injury” to Georgians who were sensitive about their notorious loyalist Browne; consequently, Simms stated a newfound desire to avoid the state altogether.[5]  After laying the project aside for two years, he intended to write the novel in the summer of 1860, but family tragedy, financial troubles, health issues, and the Civil War prevented him from undertaking it for the next six years.[6]  By October of 1866, he had written 120 pages, and a November 1866 letter to Evert Augustus Duyckinck indicated that Simms not only had decided upon the title but also that it would be published in serial form.[7]  Joscelyn was published in Old Guard[8] between January and December of 1867—a process of deadlines that caused Simms physical, mental, and emotional stress; Simms took solace in the possibility of the romance being published in book form, but this hope was unfulfilled.[9]  It was not until 1975 that his wish for a book version was realized when the University of South Carolina Press included it among the first volumes of their Centennial Edition of The Writings of William Gilmore Simms.  Despite Joscelyn never being published in book form during Simms’s lifetime and the cumbersome process of writing it, Simms considered the romance “to be among the most excellent of [his] prose writings.”[10]

     The 1975 Centennial Edition of Joscelyn features blue boards and spine.  The title page reads:THE WRITINGS OF | William Gilmore | Simms | CENTENNIAL EDITION | [curvy rule] | VOLUME XVI | Joscelyn | A TALE OF THE REVOLUTION | Introduction and Explanatory Notes by Stephen E. Meats | Text Established by Keen Butterworth | [U of SC P logo] | UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA PRESS | COLUMBIA.

Michael Odom

[1] Stephen Meats, “Introduction,” Joscelyn: A Tale of the Revolution, Centennial Edition, vol. XVI (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1975), ix-x.

[2] John C. Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 309.

[3] Ibid., 308. 

[4] Letters, 4:41, 72, 82.

[5] Ibid., 4:83-84.

[6] Ibid., 4:223, 275.

[7] Ibid., 4:614, 618.   

[8] The Old Guard was known to be a “Copperhead” (Northern Democrats who opposed the Civil War) publication. 

[9] Letters, 4:626-7; 5:41.  For Guilds’s full discussion of the laborious textual history, see Guilds, Simms, 306-309.

[10] Letters, 4:181.