Bill's South

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Bill's South

Post  Aslinn Dhan on Mon Apr 09, 2012 6:45 pm

The Victorian period was not so very different in the United States. Like Britain, there was a great deal of industrialization, particularly in the North and like Britain, there was a growing aristocracy which was primarily in the South. The South was predominantly made of Irish and Scots Irish and English people with an eventual influx of French in the Louisiana gulf coast. Slavery was an important part of Southern agriculture and made an indelible mark on the culture and language and social attitudes of the times.

Bill’s family would have been considered moderately well set. Not wealthy but a bit more than middle class. Bill would have had a decent education for the time; probably something close to a 10th grade education but that would have been far more than adequate for the time for a young man of his rank. It is very likely Bill was taught to play the piano by his mother, who would have had the usual southern girl education to read and write and run a house and manage servants and have complete ability with the womanly arts, which would include such things as sewing and embroidery, knitting and quilting and basic first aid and medicine. Being musically inclined would have been a perk in her bridal resume. He would then be encouraged to learn the business, mainly the farm, and he would have hunted and courted among the people either in the fictional town of Bon Temps or in nearby Monroe. Traveling to Shreveport would have been an adventure for young Bill Compton, and traveling to New Orleans would have been an adventure of many days just to get there.

Bill was likely brought up Protestant. Catholicism was more prevalent in the southern part of Louisiana. He may have been Methodist or Episcopalian or Presbyterian. This may answer the question why he may not have owned slaves. Some churches frowned on the ownership of slaves. In the book, it was Sookie’s people who owned slaves, Minas and the middle aged woman, but I am sure making Bill and his family in the show the slave owners was just one more thorn in the side of Tara who wanted more than one reason to dislike Bill.

His family may well have been farmers or they may have been produce brokers, who bought produce and then arranged to have it shipped to New Orleans were it would then go North by sea or to Mississippi to take advantage of the river system.

Southerners were big on reading for pleasure and encouraged literacy in education above all things. Both boys and girls were encouraged to learn to read and write and literacy was actually high among white people in the south, while education was denied to slaves. Literacy may have actually encouraged the air of another age in the south of courtly manners and as Margret Mitchell was noted to say: It was the age of Knights and their Ladies Fair.

The South gave social opportunities to people who would otherwise not have a chance to experience social advancement in England, Ireland or Scotland. The various flavors and textures of their homelands were part and parcel to the world Bill Compton was a part of. Leisure was in the spring after the planting was done and in the fall and he would have squired his Caroline before their marriage to cotillions, balls and dances and other amusements. They would have become an official couple when they were seen in church together. Bill of course would have gone to sit with Caroline’s people during service. Caroline would never have left her family pew to sit with Bill, this would have told the congregation that her family perhaps did not approve of Bill in some way. He would have spent the day with her, taking supper with her family and leaving at dusk.

When Bill decided to ask for Caroline’s hand, he would have gone to talk to her father before even asking her. She may know he was going to speak for her to her father, but this was business where she was virtually excluded. It is likely Bill explained his prospects, whether he would be a man of means who could care for Caroline in the way she was accustomed. Religion would have been important and his reputation would have been important. Was Bill a drinker, a rounder, a carouser, a womanizer? Another thing that would have been important would be his family’s history. Was there any mental or physical defect in his family? Were there any scandals like divorce or suicide in his family? These would be all things Caroline’s father would likely know before Bill, in his slow southern drawl, asked for Caroline’s hand.

Having been found acceptable, Bill would give Caroline a token of engagement. The engagement ring was becoming popular and he would have presented her one. It would likely be a family heirloom, but not necessarily his mother’s ring unless she was passed away. The engagement would be announced in the church by the pastor. This would be the old fashioned “crying of the banns” which was still popular.

Caroline’s family would fete her with an engagement party and Bill would bring his father and mother to the home of the bride to meet the in-laws. If they had money enough and such services were available, a photo was taken of the couple with both sets of parents, and then with the two of them.

After the banns had been cried a second time, Bill’s father and mother would host her in the Compton House for a household party. This is when she would be shown the rooms she and Bill would occupy and where the nursery would be, and she would have been presented with certain things that would show she was being welcomed by the Compton family. If the house was too small, they may even be building on to the house to make room for her and Bill, but apparently, this was not necessary. It was common for the newlywed couple to live in the groom’s home until such time Bill would be able to build her a home of her own.

The bride’s friends would then throw her a bridal party. The bride would have been collecting things for her household for some time. She would have embroidered table linen, handkerchiefs, night clothes and under things both for him and her to wear on the wedding night, and she would have a set of dishes and bed linens and other things needed to start up her house. Dowries were still a part of the deal, but these were usually tokens and the bride would tuck this away and add to it to give with her daughter when she was married.

The weeks leading up to the wedding were a whirlwind of parties and fetes and dinners thrown for the bride and groom. Bill would be taken in by her male relatives and taken on hunting parties and other masculine pursuits and Caroline would be taken in for hen parties. Older women would inform her of her duties and in veiled ways be told the facts of life. Sex was something that was expected and tolerated for the sake of having children but sexuality and pleasure was actually suppressed for women. Bill would have been perhaps taken to a local brothel for his sexual education if he had not taken it upon himself to become educated. It was not unusual for men to be virgins on their wedding night and be as ignorant as the bride about sex except in the most rudimentary way. Virginity was a premium in brides and it was not unknown for less than virginal brides to be sent home after the first night with a complaint the groom had been robbed of her chastity and he could make this fact public. Of course, there might also be cases of hurry along marriages where the loving couple put the cart in front of the horse.

The bride’s family paid for the wedding, but Bill would have been responsible for the honeymoon. This could entail a trip to Shreveport, perhaps, or to Jackson, which was closer, or to New Orleans. They may be staying in as fine a hotel as Bill could afford or was available or they may only be staying with friends or family who may be of better means or away for a trip and they would be looked after by the household staff. The actual honeymoon could last as long as month with a round of visiting friends and relations who would host the new married couple in their homes.

Finally though, Bill would have to return to Bon Temps to go back to his labors and Caroline to begin her work as the lady of the house. Since she lived with the Comptons, she likely had very little in the way of duties in running the household. She would help out and spend time with Sarah, Bill’s sister and his mother. She would take care of Bill, making sure his clothes were taken care of and his bath ready when he was done with his work and she would be his loving wife and bed mate. Getting her pregnant would be Bill’s job. A bride would be expected to have her first child, preferably a son, a year after the wedding. While she was waiting to be pregnant, she would be co-host for any festivities and holidays. If Mother Compton was flexible, Caroline would be welcome to implement any traditions she might have concerning the holidays. The Scots Irish and Irish and English loved a party and if something added to the fun, they would surely do it.

Thanksgiving was not a big holiday yet, but Samhain, or All Hallowed was already a popular harvest time celebration. This may be the first small entertainment of the newly married couple. There would be music and games and stories and dancing. Christmas would be the big deal though, and this is when family members would be holding their breath to hear Caroline was in a family way. Christmas trees were just coming into vogue in the north, but was not quite a consistent part of Southern tradition. The mantle would be decorated perhaps and there would be a table of gifts but likely there was no Christmas tree yet in the Compton home. What they would do is go to church on Sunday morning and they would come home to a big supper and perhaps go to a dance or conduct one with a few friends and family in their own home. They would also follow the English tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas time.

By now, Bill and Caroline are expecting. They inform the parents and both families come together to get ready for the arrival. Caroline is put promptly in the hands of a midwife who will examine her and keep an eye on her. Doctors were far flung and southern women tended to be extremely modest and would only see a doctor if there was something wrong early in the pregnancy. Cribs and cradles and other furniture was brought out and refurbished to be used. It is likely Bill had slept in the crib as a baby and now his child was to sleep there. Other things would be brought out: a teething ring of silver or ivory, a christening gown, baby blankets, but Caroline, her mother and mother in law and perhaps Bill’s sister would spend their time making things for the baby. Tiny hats, little booties and sewing and hemming long clothes for diapers would be the main activity of the ladies of Compton house after all their other chores were done. Of course everyone wants Bill to have a son. Sons are the heirs to the property and the bearers of the family name.

Child birth was a dangerous undertaking during those times and if there was a deterrent for sex during this time or reasons for Southern Belle Frigidity so many books and writers of Southern Gothic wrote about, it was the fear of the dangers of pregnancy and child birth. Caroline would enter her final confinement the last few weeks of her pregnancy and Bill may even have been kicked out of the marriage bed. She would have the baby with Bill’s mother and the midwife in attendance. If she was lucky she would have an easy birth and come through safely. The biggest danger was of course hemorrhaging and infection afterwards. The baby would be examined and slapped on the bottom to breathe and all the other stereotypical things we see in the movies and shows. She would then lie-in for some weeks, about six weeks to two months to heal and regain her strength. Caroline might have had a wet nurse, perhaps some slave woman borrowed from another land owner or Caroline might have fed the child herself if the Comptons did not hold with slavery.

After the lying-in and Caroline’s recovery, the baby would have been christened. Though Bill and his wife were likely Protestant, they would have the baby blessed and named and promise to raise the baby in the Christian faith. If the baby was a boy, it is highly unlikely he was circumcised as this was not a common practice among Christians at the time. The baby would not make its public debut until it was at least three or four months old, but family could travel to the Compton house to have a look at the child.

Southerners are a political people and though Bill may have been a taciturn young man who did not say much one way or the other, he would have felt strongly about such issues as States Rights and self determination of local government. He may not have been a huge supporter of slavery, but he would not have necessarily been an abolitionist. He may have even discussed things with his family and Caroline’s family about what would happen should war come and what role he would play in it. If he and Caroline were living in their own home by then, Bill may be making arrangements to close their home and move Caroline back in with his folks for her safety and for the support they could give her. He may be already putting together guns and ammunition, not only for his use but for his family’s use to protect themselves as part of the home guard. The family may begin to hoard food and medicine. Truthfully, no one imagined the Civil War would be so long and drawn out and so tragic. Bill would give Caroline instructions, perhaps give her money, not confederate bank notes but gold and silver to hoard back. He would perhaps get himself a good horse and Caroline and his mother would have a uniform made. Of course the confederacy wore grey but they may have provided him an extra uniform of home spun dyed with butter nut shells. His father would have made sure he had a good pair of leather gloves and leather boots.

The women would be canning and preserving all the food they could get their hands on and already they would be feeling the pinch on some things. Coffee and tea and sugar were pretty well easy to come across until much later, but cloth and lace and silks were becoming harder and harder to come by. Sarah Compton, Bill’s sister, was perhaps courting or engaged and she would simply have to wait until after the war to be married in a proper dress with all the accoutrements. Bill was probably 26 when he left with his outfit to go and fight in the war between the states.

Civilian life during the Civil War was one of privation. Caroline probably heard more from Bill in the beginning of the war but heard from him increasingly less and less as the months and years went on. As Bill was a Lieutenant, he might have had one leave to come home and he would only be home for few days at the most. These reunions were often bittersweet. Caroline would have found Bill somewhat changed. War does that and seeing his friends and neighbors being shot all to hell has a way of affecting a man and haunting him. As with many southern men, he may inwardly be feeling doubts about the Cause but he was a man of honor and he would do what he had to do to get through it. Bill would confide in his father and Caroline’s father about the hardships to come but put on a brave face to his wife and sister and mother.

Bill may spent a little of his time hunting while he is home to get as much game together for his family as he could before he left to return to his duties. Food and nutrition was a big deal for the civilians. Bill’s belly might be empty but he would be assuaged knowing his children and his wife were fed. He would check with her to make sure she still had her gold and silver hidden and admonish her about spending it unless she absolutely had to. He would have also told his father to take the family silver and any heirlooms to hide them, not only from Yankees but from their own Confederate Army procurers who would confiscate their food and money and animals for the Cause. I imagine the cubby under the floor was a natural hiding place, it was likely where the family hid their wealth, never dreaming 174 years later, Bill would sleep his days away under the floor of the house.

Social events were still important if less grand during the time of the war. Any celebration was a nod toward the belief better times were coming and the faith the war would end soon. This was especially true in the beginning of the war. By the end of the war, the people were so tired and defeated and poverty stricken, they would not be able to celebrate even homecomings if they happened.

And there were men who did come home. In the books, Bill did return to his family. They would have considered this a miracle out of scripture. Sarah’s beau did not make it home and she never married. Bill went on to have another child, a homecoming baby, who died a year later. Infant mortality was extremely high as was maternal mortality as there was nearly no one near who could help deliver the children. Bill would have worked very hard to provide for his family and any of their valuables they managed to keep hidden were taken out a little at a time and spent to keep the farm alive and keep them alive. Jewelry would have been sold and even extra land would have been sold.

Eventually, though, the Compton family would have gotten on their feet to a certain extent. Bill may even have other families living on his land to help him farm in a cooperative way and they would have at least become stable by the time Lorena snatches Bill up from his happy modest home to become a Vampire.

If like in the show Bill had never returned, Caroline would have given up hearing from him about a year after the war. The Comptons would have assumed he had fallen and was buried in some anonymous grave somewhere in the north. They would have to struggle along as well as they could and they would have all worked hard on the farm to eke out an existence. Disease and privation was a very real problem in the south as well as trouble with the Carpet Baggers. These were the Northern Speculators who came down to the south and did their worst to pick the bones of the survivors. They caused taxes to be raised on farms and plantations and they stirred up unrest among the newly freed slaves. Many people lost everything they had to the carpet baggers. While this was a problem in Southern Louisiana and in places like Georgia and Mississippi, Northern Louisiana was not as troubled.

After it was plain Bill was not coming back, she would be considered Widow Compton. She would raise her and Bill’s children and when it could be afforded, she would have a memorial grave set up with his name and date of birth and some sentiment carved upon it. She would ask of his returning friends if they knew what became of him and they would report to her about the last time they had seen him, but could honestly tell her very little else. She would wear black the first few years of her widowhood and then she would be able to wear other colors as long as they were of a somber tone. Caroline would have been more than free to allow herself to be courted and even remarry, but it is apparent she did not. She was married to her memories of her Bill.

The south today still bears the scars of the Civil War. It was the hot bed of the civil rights movement and has the scars of racism and segregation still fresh on its landscape. But it is still a popular setting for story telling because of its wealth of lore and social mores and the ghosts of its past and its heat. I can’t imagine a good Vampire story without the Spanish moss and the gators now.

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Aslinn Dhan
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Re: Bill's South

Post  Guest on Mon Apr 09, 2012 7:02 pm

Excellent insight as to the times Bill lived in. Parts of it sound wonderful indeed but it is hard to forget the suffering that came with it, as with any war. You cannot help but get a sense of why Bill is the way he is and why longs for a home that altho so very close, is still so far away.
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