Thomas Nelson Page was a product of the antebellum South, and the romance of the pre-Civil War period influenced all his thinking and his writing, as did the Civil War itself. He was born on a plantation in Hanover County, Virginia, in 1853 and lived there until he entered college. He attended Washington College (later Washington and Lee University) from 1869 to 1872 but was forced to leave before graduation because of lack of sufficient money for his expenses. An important influence on him during those undergraduate years was Robert E. Lee, president of the institution, who took a personal interest in young Page. After leaving college, Page found employment as a tutor and studied law with his father. In 1873 he entered the University of Virginia and received the LL.B. degree in 1874. During the following decade he practiced law, married, and continued the writing he had begun while at Washington College.
Page’s first fame came with the publication of a story in black dialect, “Marse Chan,” in Century Magazine. In 1893 he left the practice of law altogether and moved to Washington, D.C.; by that time he had acquired sufficient reputation as a writer and a lecturer to assure himself of an income. For the next twenty years he lectured and wrote, and his stories, novels, and social studies almost all concerned the South before, during, and immediately after the Civil War. His works reflected his own romantic and idealized notions about the South. He truly believed that the antebellum South had been a generally happy place for both slaves and masters, and he attempted in his writings to present such a sympathetic picture that the North would change its views and the breach between the North and South would be healed.
Page became a diplomat in 1913, when President Woodrow Wilson appointed him ambassador to Italy, a post he held until 1919. He was sympathetic toward the Italians and tried to support Italy’s position in the peace negotiations at Paris after World War I. Failing to be helpful that way, he wrote a highly sympathetic volume, Italy and the World War. Ill health prevented any further serious writing during the remainder of his life, and his last novel, The Red Riders, was left unfinished when he died at his Hanover County home on November 1, 1922.