Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Flirtation at the Moultrie House

Novella | 1850

         One of Simms’s minor works, the epistolary novella, Flirtation at the Moultrie House, presents an interesting picture of society life in mid-century Charleston.  Mary Ann Wimsatt notes that Flirtation, published as a pamphlet in 1850 by Edward C. Councell of Charleston, shows Simms’s “growing talent for brisk descriptions of city life,” while Simms biographer John C. Guilds notes the satiric success of the work:  “Not only is Flirtation of interest because it represents a type of fiction almost wholly different from that characteristically associated with the prolific South Carolinian; it displays a levity and deftness of satiric touch that make it entertaining reading even today.  For contemporary Charleston wags Flirtation must have been a sparkling conversation piece.”[1]  The editors of the Letters note that this small work derives from a real experience in Simms’s life, a 29 August 1850 ball at the Moultrie House on Sullivan’s Island; Simms was in attendance as one of several “senior managers.  They appeared in citizen’s dress, wearing rozettes [sic] upon their left breasts and attending ladies in costume.”[2]  Published anonymously, Simms makes no mention of his authorship of this work, nor even mentions the work itself, anywhere in his correspondence.  The pamphlet seems to be the only published edition of the work until 1974, when Guilds included Flirtation in Stories and Tales, Volume V of the University of South Carolina Press’s Centennial Edition of Simms’s works.  Guilds’s notes to this later printing of Flirtation make clear that, while there is no definitive evidence of Simms’s authorship, his presence at the actual ball of 29 August, as well as other internal evidence, overwhelmingly suggests that Simms did, indeed, pen this work.  Further, Guilds suggests that Simms never claimed authorship because he “probably himself considered Flirtation too light an effort to take seriously.”[3] 

         The South Caroliniana Library’s copy of the pamphlet features a white paper cover that is highly degraded, both front and back.  The front cover features an elaborate frame surrounding all:  FLIRTATION | AT | THE MOULTRIE HOUSE: | IN A | SERIES OF LETTERS. | FROM | MISS GEORGIANA APPLEBY, | TO HER | FRIENDS IN GEORGIA, SHOWING THE DOINGS AT THE | MOULTRIE HOUSE, AND THE EVENTS WHICH | TOOK PLACE AT THE | GRAND COSTUME BALL | ON THE 29TH AUGUST, 1850; | WITH OTHER LETTERS. | [rule] | CHARLESTON: | PRINTED BY EDWARD C. COUNCELL, 119 EAST BAY | 1850.  The title page reprints the text on the cover without the elaborate frame.

W. Matthew J. Simmons

[1] Mary Ann Wimsatt, The Major Fiction of William Gilmore Simms:  Cultural Traditions and Literary Form, (Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1989), 150; John Caldwell Guilds, Simms:  A Literary Life, (Fayetteville, AR:  University of Arkansas Press, 1992), 195.

[2] Letters, 3:60n.

[3] See Stories and Tales, (Columbia, SC:  The University of South Carolina Press, 1974), 780.