Book Review by Nita K. Cole, Archivist Bossier Historical Center Bossier City, Louisiana April 12, 2004

Callamura by Julia Pleasants Creswell (Philadelphia) 1868. Reprinted 2003 (Shreveport: Ritz Publications)

Written shortly after the Civil War in 1868, this novel has many facets to offer the modern reader. It is partly autobiographical, partly a romance novel, and gives an excellent description of life in Louisiana before and during the war. The main focus of the book is an allegory of the evils of war and humankind.

The book tells the story of Mona Buccleugh, orphaned at the age of thirteen by the death of her mother, who comes to live with an eccentric uncle. The family lives in Pineville, Louisiana and they are descendants from an aristocratic French family. Mona enrolls in the local seminary where, because of her intellectual prowess, she becomes the favorite pupil of a teacher from New Hampshire. The family is separated by personal tragedy and at the outbreak of the Civil War, flees from the advancing Federal army and seeks refuge in Pleasant Hill. They are present for the Battle of Mansfield in 1864, where she is reunited with her beloved teacher.

Callamura, or "white walls" in Latin, is the name of the family's home and it embodies the theme of this allegorical novel. The death of Mona's mother and her interment in the family graveyard with its "white sepulchre" tombstone foreshadows the tragedies that the author experiences. Her family is torn apart by the treachery of Mona's cousin, Hermione, who's only wish is for men to worship her and to shower her with gifts. She is described as beautiful, flawless, and ultimately, heartless. She becomes a "marble mausoleum a white sepulcher of rottenness and death."

Julia also uses the novel for a political forum on abolitionism and states' rights. The northern teacher is portrayed as rational, objective and non-sectarian. Towards the end of the story the author recognizes that war is futile, "a brilliant comet that ushered in our struggle, shaking horrid war and bloodshed from its fiery mane, was fading from view."

The background for the story is painted in true Victorian culture. Mona's education is detailed from her academic studies, including the study of Greek, to the "ornamental" work of making wax flowers, hairwork and baskets. There are numerous allusions to classical works, French language, customs and the French Revolution. Mona's uncle is a "scientist" in the Victorian tradition. He spends most of his time in his library studying the science of physiognomy, which is the study of facial features, expression and gesture. Local entertainments include May celebrations, picnics and church gatherings. All these details give the reader an authentic description of life in a small village in the mid nineteenth century.

Mrs. Creswell was born in Huntsville Alabama in 1827. She was the daughter of the Secretary of State, Colonel James J. Pleasants of Virginia, who moved to Alabama and married the daughter of the second Governor, Thomas Bibb. Like the heroine in Callamura, Julia was educated by a superior teacher from the North. And, also like her heroine, Julia was considered an intellectual from an early age. Her father encouraged her to write verse and she was induced by her cousin, Thomas Bibb Bradley, to publish a selection of poems. This first work appeared in 1854 under the title Apheila and other Poems by Two Cousins of the South (New York).

Julia married David Creswell at her grandfather's home at Belle Mina, Alabama shortly after her first book of poems appeared. The following year the couple moved to Mansfield, Louisiana where they lived until the outbreak of the war, when they relocated to New Boston, Texas. Creswell was an attorney and later judge of the tenth judicial district of the Caddo parish court. He served as editor of the Southwestern newspaper, later to become the Shreveport Times.

Mrs. Creswell taught school in Allendale and then to escape yellow fever, they moved in 1868 to Greenwood, Louisiana, where she continued to teach. It was at this time that she wrote her novel, Callamura. Many of her poems appeared in the local newspaper and she became a well known poet and author. Her home was the center for cultured and intellectual discussion in the parish, where the judge was renown for his generous hospitality, and she led discussions "elevating to the mind and soul."

Judge Creswell died in 1879 and his wife lived only another six years. They are buried in the cemetery at Greenwood. Their descendants include former Shreveport Mayor, James C. Gardner, and a legacy of dedication to education, artistry and intellectual pursuits.

Shreveport has honored them with many civic monuments, including the Creswell School, subdivision and Creswell Street.

© Ritz Publications 2003 - 2006