The vanished world of the Old South is revealed in the story of Emma Garnet, as she moves from pampered plantation owner's daughter, through her discovery of the evils of slavery and work in military hospitals during the Civil War, to her final reconciliation with her feelings about the South
Like America in the mid-nineteenth century, Emma Garnet Tate Lowell is at war with herself. Born to privilege on a James River plantation, she grows up more and more aware that her family's prosperity is inextricably linked to the institution of slavery. Bookish and sensitive, young Emma Garnet sets herself against her bumptious, self-made father, Samuel P. Tate, at an early age. In the company of her mother and adored brother Whately, Emma Garnet manages to survive with her heart and mind intact.As she tells her story in 1900, she is still prey to her childhood, to the memories of a life that was made bearable in the main by the indomitable family servant Clarice. Emma Garnet secedes from the control of her domineering father to marry Quincy Lowell, a member of the distinguished Boston family. Living in Raleigh on the eve of the Civil War, she and Quincy, with Clarice's constant help, create the ideal happy home.When war destroys the rhythm of their days, Emma Garnet works alongside Quincy, an accomplished surgeon. Assisting him in the treatment of wounded soldiers, she comes to see the war as "a conflict perpetrated by rich men and fought by poor boys against hungry women and babies." After Appomattox, Emma Garnet sets out to take her exhausted husband home to Boston, where she begins the long journey of her own reconstruction.