Augusta Jane Evans
by John Sledge
She is the most famous author the Port City has produced. She died when this century was young, yet even with the passage of all these years no other local writer has approached her stature.
Augusta Jane Evans was born in Georgia in 1835.
Her family moved to Texas in 1845, then to Mobile four years
later. Like most 19th
century girls, she had no formal education, but she was a voracious
reader. She wrote her
first novel in secret while still a teenager, and presented it to her
father as a Christmas present in 1854.
It was published the following year with the title
The Civil War brought both personal tragedy and
success to Miss Augusta. Her
engagement to a New York journalist was broken off because of
sectional differences. During
the war, admiring locals named a military outpost "Camp Beulah" in
honor of her novel. She wrote
In the gloomy aftermath of war, Miss Augusta turned
out her most popular work,
In 1868, the Mobile authoress married Colonel Lorenzo Wilson, a self-made man involved in banking, railroads and wholesale groceries. He was twenty-seven years her senior. The couple settled into a columned home, Ashland, not far from Georgia Cottage, and attended the St. Francis Street Methodist Church. "Miss ‘Gusta," as she was called, reigned as the social queen of Mobile, having replaced the dethroned Madame LeVert, who had welcomed the occupying federals rather too warmly for Mobilians’ taste. Ashland became a salon, with Saturday designated as visiting day. Frequent guests included the poet Thomas Cooper DeLeon and the lawyer Peter Joseph Hamilton, who in 1897 would write the massive "Colonial Mobile."
In 1895, a reporter visited Ashland and penned a description of the sixty-year-old writer. "Mrs. Wilson is tall, with blue eyes and dark hair, fast growing gray," he wrote. "Although her face is grave and intellectual, it evidences the womanly sweetness of character that has made her so beloved by all who know her. The culture of rare flowers and plants fills her moments."
Augusta Evans Wilson died in 1909. Her literary output consists of nine novels, the last being "Devota," published in 1907. Obituaries around the South paid especial attention to her literary style, already outmoded in the new century. The Nashville American called her books "sentimental and written in a stilted style." The Columbus (Mississippi) Enquirer Sun noted that she was "not an author of the latter day type," and the Birmingham Ledger placed her in "the literary style that prevailed till 1870." Her beloved Ashland burned in 1926, but Georgia Cottage still stands, and a historic marker on Springhill Avenue designates it as her home. The University of Alabama Press has recently reprinted "St. Elmo," but it is a historical curiosity that does not speak to our condition. Augusta Evans Wilson, locally famous though she still is, is largely unread today.