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11.07.04 Peterkin, Julia Mood, Scarlet Sister Mary, published in 1928 and Green Thursday, published in 1924

Notes Concerning the Author

Julia Mood Peterkin (1880-1961) was a novelist who lived in the South Carolina Low County and wrote short stories and novels set in her surroundings.  She is best known for her sympathetic portrayal of South Carolina black people, and she knew many on a personal basis. 

She graduated from Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina and taught school afterward.  At the age of 23 she married William George Peterkin who owned a 2,000 acre cotton farm named Lang Syne.  After a time Julia began writing short stories, inspired by the everyday life and management of the plantation.  Novels followed.

Among her most important works are the mythic Green Thursday (1924), a story-cycle like Go Down Moses and Dubliners; her classical tragedy Black April (1927), which has been called “perhaps her most powerful work of fiction”; her feminist comedy Scarlet Sister Mary, and her magisterial work of non-fiction, Roll, Jordan, Roll (1933).

Folklorists have praised Peterkin’s “primary knowledge” of African American folk culture. Her explanation was that “I have lived among the Negroes.  I like them.  They are my friends, and I have learned so much from them.”  She may, in fact, be regarded as a native speaker of the Gullah language.  Raised by a Gullah-speaking nurse after the death of her mother, she wrote, “I learned to speak Gullah before I learned to speak English.”

The notes above are taken, in part, from the essay of Charles Joyner, published in The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture.

Abstract for Scarlet Sister Mary

Scarlet Sister Mary is set among the Gullah people of the Low Country in South Carolina, sometime in the early twentieth century.  The title character, Mary, is an orphan on an abandoned plantation who was raised by Auntie Maum Hannah and her crippled son Budda Ben.  The description of Mary as “Scarlet Sister” reflects the basic conflict in the novel as Mary is torn between her desire to be a member in good standing in the church and a desire to live a life of sin and pleasure.

Peterkin’s sympathetic portrayal of South Carolina black people in her short stories and novels, published in the 1920s and the 1930s, were very popular at the time.  Scarlet Sister Mary received the Pulitzer Prize in 1929 and was produced on Broadway.

By the way the Prize founder, Joseph Pulitzer, an Hungarian immigrant who became a very successful New York newspaper owner and publisher, was sympathetic to the Southern people and their culture.  His wife Kate was of Mississippi and was a close friend of Jefferson Davis’s wife Varina and daughter Winnie.  “Kate” did not die until 1927 and her influence on the Pulitzer Prize selections may well have extended a few years afterward.

Abstract for Green Thursday

We need a review of this second book.

Availability of these Books

Go to for a selection of used and reprint books.  There is also an on-line version of some.