(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Ralph Percy’s first-person narrative begins in 1621, only fourteen years after the founding of the Jamestown colony, where he has settled as a tobacco farmer after serving in the European wars. His friend John Rolfe urges him to marry one of the brides for sale who have just arrived from England. Idly casting dice, Percy vows that if he throws ambsace, he will go buy a bride—and ambsace he throws. Among the milkmaids, he sees a dark-eyed and dazzling beauty who returns his look with scorn. After Percy rescues her from the forceful advances of Edward Sharpless, however, and asks her to marry him, she agrees. They are married by Jeremy Sparrow, a picaresque minister who befriends Percy. When Percy takes his bride, Jocelyn Leigh, upriver to his farm, she informs him that to escape persecution in England, she disguised herself as her waiting woman and came to America, where she married him only as a last resort. Respecting her appeal to his generosity, Percy does not press his connubial rights. She in turn remains wary, aloof, and aristocratic.

Shortly thereafter, there arrives from England Lord Carnal, an arrogant favorite of King James, who dotes upon such exquisitely handsome young men. It was to escape marriage to him that Jocelyn, the king’s ward, fled England. In Virginia, Carnal expects everyone to give him his way and to have the marriage annulled, and he is enraged when Percy defies him.

As her husband continues to defend her honor and her person, disregarding the risk to himself, Jocelyn develops a grudging respect for him. He disarms Carnal at rapier play, defeats him at wrestling, and saves her from abduction. When orders come from...

(The entire section is 684 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Cella, C. Ronald. Mary Johnston. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Cella provides a critical and interpretive study of Johnston with a close reading of her major works, a solid bibliography and complete notes and references.

Jones, Anne G. Tomorrow Is Another Day: The Woman Writer in the South, 1859-1936. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991. Contains an assessment and critical interpretation of Johnston’s novels.

Longest, George C. Three Virginia Writers—Mary Johnston, Thomas Nelson Page, and Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1978. An extensive bibliography and useful reference guide, one section of which is devoted to the works of Mary Johnston.

Nelson, Lawrence G. “Mary Johnston and the Historic Imagination.” In Southern Writers: Appraisals in Our Time, edited by R. C. Simonini, Jr. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1964. A discussion of Johnston’s skills as a historical novelist.