Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Other versions Edition: 1, Printing: 1 (1853)

The Ghost of My Husband: A Tale of The Crescent City

Novella | Chapman & Company | 1866

                Marie de Berniere: A Tale of the Crescent City is a collection of stories published in 1853 by Lippincott, Grambo, and Co. of Philadelphia.  In addition to the title story, the collection includes “The Maroon” and “Maize in Milk.”  Each story was published serially prior to the collection and gradually expanded from its serial version into novella form.  In a 20 June 1853 to James Henry Hammond, Simms mentioned “collecting my scattered novellettes & tales.  You have probably seen ‘Marie de Berniere &c.’ This will be followed up by other vols. of similar material; all of which will yield me a little money.”[1]  In 1855, Lippincott, Grambo, and Co. published the same collection under the title of the second story, The Maroon: A Legend of the Caribees, and Other Tales.  The work embodies Simms’s commitment to publishing shorter works of fiction; as he wrote to publisher John R. Thompson in a 10 January 1863 letter, Simms believed tales such as these should be collected “for reading in camp and along the highways.”[2]

                Early reviews of the collection were positive.  In a notice of the book from the Literary World on 21 May 1853, “Logan” from Philadelphia praised the work: “It is unnecessary to say these tales are good, exhibiting all the force of Simms’s animated style, with local truthfulness of scene and character.  Nowhere else may we find so good a picture of life in New Orleans as in Marie de Berniere — its author has seen and appreciated everything.  It is novel too; for society there is not as we cold Northerners can comprehend it without long familiarity, and even then we rarely possess the open-sesame to knowledge of life, sympathy.”[3]  The Charleston Courier provided a warm review a few days later with regional observations that Simms himself would affirm: “The tales are all marked by the most felicitous traits and characteristics of the well-known author, who would have been one of the most popular of our novelists, and the most generally read in the South, had he not lived in that section himself.”  In a similar vein, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in July 1853 praised the collection’s “highly-wrought portraitures of Southern character.”[4]  

                “Marie de Berniere” can be classified as both a story of local New Orleans “manners” and a “moral imaginative” tale.  The story was first published pseudonymously (under the name of “E—”) in the Southern and Western Monthly Magazine and Review in 1845; in this instance, it was entitled “The Unknown Masque. A Sketch of the Crescent City.”  A subsequent version, “The Egyptian Masque; A Tale of the Crescent City,” was set to be published serially in the American Metropolitan Magazine in 1849, but only lasted through one February installment prior to the magazine’s cessation.  The story was expanded and its title changed again to “Marie de Berniere” when it was published serially in Arthur’s Home Gazette in 1852.[5]  The tale’s evolution and expansion, according to John C. Guilds, was accompanied with the addition of sentimentality and sensationalism, much of which was derived from German influences: “It is clear, however, that in expanding ‘The Unknown Masque’ into ‘Marie de Berniere,’ Simms depended more and more upon literary sources, largely German, and less and less upon personal experiences.  In brief, ‘The Unknown Masque’ is much more a domestic story of manners and much less a literary import from Germany than ‘Marie de Berniere.’”  The early versions proved to be a germ for the novella that would be roughly ten times larger in its 1853 version found here.[6]  The novella was later republished by Chapman and Company in 1866 under the title of The Ghost of My Husband; a Tale of the Crescent City.[7]

                In his textual introduction to “The Maroon: A Legend of the Caribees,” Guilds commends the tale as ranking “among the more artistically pleasing of the generally undistinguished byproducts of the Charleston writer’s interest in and knowledge of Spain and its literature.”  Guilds also praises the “picturesque and fast-moving romance” for its unusual frankness in portraying the main character, Lopez de Levya, and the explicit love scenes that were shocking at the time.[8]  “The Maroon” has a rather extensive publication history prior to its inclusion in Marie de Berniere. The germ for the story came from a short sketch published in 1832 by Simms anonymously in the New York Mirror entitled “A Legend of the Pacific,” which was also republished in The Book of My Lady in 1833.[9]  It was then published in six installments in the New York Illustrated Magazine of Literature and Art in 1847; the story was again published serially in the Southern Literary Gazette in 1850 with minor revisions.[10]  Subsequent to its appearance in book form, “The Maroon” was set to be published in 1865 by a Columbia press, Evans & Cogswell, but never came to fruition due to Sherman’s occupation of the city.  The publisher was a likely victim of the occupation, as evidenced by Simms’s 9 September 1865 letter to Evert Augustus Duyckinck.  Referencing As Good as a Comedy — scheduled to be released the same year by the Columbia publisher — Simms noted that the “advent of Sherman was fatal to its publication.”[11]  It is likely that “The Maroon” suffered the same fate.

                “Maize in Milk. A Christmas Story of the South,” the third novella included in Marie de Berniere, provides a fictional account of the customs and traditions of Christmas in the Old South.  Simms likely began the tale in 1846; he noted in a 17 March letter to Duyckinck: “I wrote recently to W & P suggesting to them an American Tale of Christmas, for which I have the scheme of a very pretty story.”[12]  Wiley and Putnam apparently rejected it, leading Simms to publish it serially the following year in Godey’s Lady’s Book from February through May of 1847.[13]  Guilds praises the “spirit and atmosphere of its setting” abundant throughout while cautioning that the reader “interested in understanding the social order and philosophy of the Old South will find much of it captured here, including the paternalistic concept of the Negro slave so inimical to Simms’s reputation”; consequently, Guilds maintains the tale is “best read as a reflector of nineteenth century Southern thought and manners.”[14]  Perhaps Simms encapsulated it appropriately in a 25 February 1847 letter to Duyckinck: “It is simply descriptive.”[15]

                The 1853 edition of Marie de Berniere, housed in the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina, features green boards with a raised ornate design on the cover.  The spine, green with gilt lettering, reads: [rule] | MARIE | DE BERNIERE | A TALE | OF THE | Crescent City | ETC. | LIPPINCOTT, GRAMBO & CO. | PHILADA. | [rule].  The title page reads: MARIE DE BERNIERE: | A | TALE OF THE CRESCENT CITY, | ETC. ETC. ETC. | BY | W. GILMORE SIMMS, | AUTHOR OF "THE YEMASSEE," "RICHARD HURDIS," "GUY RIVERS," ETC. | [rule] | PHILADELPHIA: | LIPPINCOTT, GRAMBO, AND CO. | 1853.  A microfilm copy of The Ghost of My Husband is also held in the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina.  The front cover features ornate, floral frame surrounding all; portraits of three men dominate the cover, which reads:  Price 20 cts. No. 2. | THE | SUNNY SIDE SERIES | [portraits of three men] | THE | GHOST OF MY HUSBAND. | A | TALE OF THE CRESCENT CITY. | [rule] | ''If I stand here, I saw him.'' —SHAKSPEARE. | [rule] | BY W. GILMORE SIMMS, ESQ., | AUTHOR OF ''THE YEMASSEE,'' ''THE FORARYERS,'' ''EUTAW,'' ''MELLICHAMPE,'' | ''KATHARINE WALTON,'' ETC. ETC. | [floral rule] | NEW YORK: | CHAPMAN & COMPANY, 116 NASSAU STREET. | THE AMERICAN NEWS COMPANY, PUBLISHERS' AGENTS.

Michael Odom

[1] Letters, 3:240-41.

[2] Ibid., 4:420.

[3] Literary World XII (May 28, 1853): 447.

[4] See early reviews in Letters, 4:40n, 625n; Harper’s New Monthly Magazine VII (July 1853): 282.

[5] Southern and Western Monthly Magazine and Review I (April 1845): 262-69; American Metropolitan Magazine I (February 1849): 69-73; Arthur’s Home Gazette II (February 14, 21, 29, March 6, 13, 20, 27, 1852).

[6] See John Caldwell Guilds, Textual Introduction to “The Unknown Masque. A Sketch of the Crescent City,” Stories and Tales by William Gilmore Simms (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1974), 698, 700.  The expansion to which Guilds refers can be traced to a 20 November 1848 letter Simms wrote to James Lawson referencing an article he sent to Israel Post, a publisher of American Metropolitan Magazine, who would pay $5 per page.  This unconcluded story, “The Egyptian Masque,” lasted only one installment due to the publication’s perishing, but it had already surpassed the total word count of “The Unknown Masque”; this increase would become more obvious in its fullest manifestation, Guilds asserts, when “Marie de Berniere” began appearing four years later.

[7] Letters, 4:625n.

[8] Guilds, Textual Introduction, 704.  For more discussion on Simms’s relationship with Spanish influences, see Stanley T. Williams, “Spanish Influences on the Fiction of William Gilmore Simms,” Hispanic Review 21.3 (July 1953): 221-28. 

[9] New York Mirror X (October 13, 1832): 117-118.

[10] New York Illustrated Magazine of Literature and Art III (January-June 1847); Southern Literary Gazette III (May 4, 11, 18, 25, June 1, 8, 1850).

[11] Letters, 4:518.

[12] Ibid., 2:152.

[13] Godey’s Lady’s Book XXXIV (February-May 1847).  See Letters, 2:177.

[14] Guilds, Textual Introduction to “Maize in Milk. A Christmas Story of the Story,” Stories and Tales by William Gilmore Simms (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1974), 762.

[15] Letters, 2:273.