Edited By Christine Feldman-Barrett
Part One: Leisure and Lifestyle
p a r t o n e Leisure and Lifestyle c h a p t e r o n e “My Unsocial Habit” Reading and Emergent Youth Subcultures in Civil War America ronald j. zboray and mary saracino zboray “This morning we all sat in the chamber being industrious,” 19-year-old Lucy Gilmer Breckinridge wrote from her Virginia plantation home in November 1862, after knitting socks and walking with her cousins. That afternoon they sewed sol- diers’ shirts. Proud that she had broken an undesirable but characteristic pattern, she announced to her diary, “I am getting over my unsocial habit of sitting in my room reading all day” (Breckinridge, 1862–1864, p. 84). Her achievement was fleeting, for later that day she “read…a sweet little book” (p. 85), William Edmond- stoune Aytoun’s Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers (1849). Such reports by young peo- ple dissociating themselves from their surrounding environments through solitary reading were not uncommon in Civil War America. The endless war talk, blatant patriotic posturing, steady stream of battle news, and ubiquitous reports of death and dying drove some youths, with book in hand, into isolated quarters. Aspiring to a long and hopeful future ahead of them, they recoiled from a seemingly cease- less time of turmoil. Reading helped them to endure, escape, protest, and subvert the war with which older folk often seemed enraptured. Of course, many young people—even children—were as drawn to the war frenzy as their elders, as prior scholars have noted (Curran,...
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