Caroline Lee Hentz was born and raised in Lancaster, Mass. She began writing plays at age twelve. A teacher at age seventeen, she was known locally for her poems and stories. At age twenty-four, Hentz married Nicholas Hentz, a French immigrant who was a teacher, artist, scientist, and author. They lived for two years in Northhampton, Mass., where her husband taught at Round Hill Academy. In 1826, they moved to Chapel Hill, N.C., where he became a professor of modern languages at the newly opened University of North Carolina. In 1830, the couple moved to Covington, Ky., to operate a female seminary. In Covington, Hentz wrote a play, De Lara, or, The Moorish Bride, for a contest sponsored by William Pelby, a Boston actor and manager. Although she won the contest, Pelby was unable to pay the full amount of the $500 prize, so he returned the copyright to her in compensation. The play was staged in Boston and in Philadelphia. Hentz and her family moved to Cincinnati in 1832, again to run a school for girls. While living there, she wrote two more plays and published her first novel, the semi-autobiographical Lovell’s Folly. She also wrote and published magazine articles and short stories.
In 1834, the Hentzes moved to Florence, Ala., and opened Locust Dell Female Academy. Hentz continued writing short stories, which were published in periodicals such as Godey’s Lady’s Book, Magnolia, and the Southern Literary Gazette. In 1843, the Hentzes closed Locust Dell and moved to Tuscaloosa to run the Alabama Institute. In 1845, they moved again, this time to Tuskegee, Ala., where they again operated a girls’ school. While they were in Tuskegee, Hentz published her first collection of short stories, Aunt Patty’s Scrap Bag. In 1848, they moved to Columbus, Ga., to run another school for girls. In 1849, however, her husband’s health failed, and Hentz began to support the family by her writing. From 1850 to 1856, she published eight novels and six collections of short stories. Her books were very popular, best-sellers of that period. In 1852, the couple moved to Florida to live with their older children. In 1856, Hentz died in Marianna, Fla., of pneumonia. Several more short story collections were published by her children after her death.
Caroline Lee Hentz wrote domestic novels and short stories (most with Southern settings) which emphasized genteel religious and moral values and frequently featured star-crossed lovers. The Planter’s Northern Bride was a prominent “anti-Tom,” that is, a Southern response to Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
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Last updated on May 30, 2008.