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Landon Carter's Uneasy Kingdom

Landon Carter, a Virginia planter patriarch, left behind one of the most revealing of all American diaries. In this astonishingly rich biography, Rhys Isaac mines this remarkable document - and many other sources - to reconstruct Carter's interior world as it plunged into revolution. The aging patriarch, though a fierce supporter of American liberty, was deeply troubled by the rebellion and its threat to established order. His diary, originally a record of plantation business, began to fill with angry stories of revolt in his own little kingdom. Carter writes at white heat, his words sputtering from his pen as he documents the terrible rupture that the Revolution meant to him. Indeed, Carter felt in his heart he was chronicling a world in decline, the passing of the order that his revered father had bequeathed to him. Not only had Landon's king betrayed his subjects, but Landon's own household betrayed him: his son showed insolent defiance, his daughter Judith eloped with a forbidden suitor, all of his slaves conspired constantly, and eight of them made an armed exodus to freedom. The seismic upheaval he helped to start had crumbled the foundations of Carter's own home. Like Laurel Ulrich in her classic A Midwife's Tale, Rhys Isaac here unfolds not just the life, but the mental world of our countrymen in a long-distant time. Moreover, in this presentation of Landon Carter's passionate narratives, the diarist becomes an arresting new character in the world's literature, a figure of Shakespearean proportions, the Lear of his own tragic kingdom. This long-awaited work will be seen both as a major contribution to Revolution history and a triumph of the art of biography.
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About the Author

Rhys Isaac is Distinguished Visiting Professor at the College of William and Mary and a Research Associate of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983 for The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790. An Emeritus Professor at La Trobe University, he lives in Melbourne, Australia.


"Landon Carter's diary is an unedited literary masterpiece full of Faulknerian stories. Now it has found a worthy editor and commentator in Rhys Isaac, a great storyteller in his own right. The result is a fascinating tale of public storms and personal furies that illuminates not only the dying world of the eighteenth century slaveholder but the dawning age of democratic revolution. Landon Carter's Uneasy Kingdom is itself a literary and historical masterpiece." -John Gillis, Rutgers University, author of A World of Their Own Making: Myth, Legenc and the Quest for Family Values "Masterfully, creatively, Rhys Isaac uses the words of one of America's great patricians to tell the story of the birth of the new republic and the psychological traumas that resulted. Deftly, Isaac moves between the public and the domestic, the political and the psychological in a tale as complex, nuanced and fascinating as was the figure it describes." -Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, Mary Frances Berry Collegiate Professor of History and American Culture, University of Michigan "An eloquent and unique look at the beginnings and consequences of the American Revolution as seen through the eyes of early America's finest diarist, Landon Carter.... Isaac weaves entries from Carter's diary with a splendid biographical narrative to provide a profound and intimate glimpse into one portion of early America."-Publishers Weekly (starred review) "A lively portrait of a busy, prolific character who went from being a monarchist to a reluctant revolutionary in the course of one lively adulthood. An irascible figure among neighbors, a respected member of Virginia's pre-Revolutionary House of Burgesses, and an often-brutal, sometimes-charitable master to his slaves and children, Carter embodied the paradoxes of his age. Carter was a dutiful chronicler of this changing world. And Mr. Isaac, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1983 for "The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-90," proves to be a strong advocate for Carter's voluminous musings."-New York Sun "A captivating view of a leading planter's personal life and political transformation during the Revolutionary era. Isaac deftly blends pungent extracts from Carter's diary with illuminating biographical details and historical commentary.... A splendid addition to our understanding of the Virginia gentry-and of ourselves."-David Shi, Christian Science Monitor "By creatively exploiting the remarkable diary of the eighteenth-century Virginia planter Landon Carter of Sabine Hall-a character out of a Fielding novel if there ever was one-Rhys Isaac has written an extremely imaginative book that brings to life the world of this well-meaning but often ludicrous slave-master in all its humanity and inhumanity. From Isaac's rendition of Carter's story-filled diary we learn, among other things, how rebellions against patriarchal authority both in Carter's own household and in the British empire were transforming American society."-Gordon S. Wood "Isaac convincingly portrays Carter, one of Virginia's twelve richest men, as a figure ensnared by contradictions: In his energetic defense of American liberty, Carter appreciated that he was helping to destroy a hierarchical world to which he was intensely attached....Isaac is a sensitive guide to Carter's world, and reading his systematic exploration is the only way for the layman to comprehend the diaries properly."-Ben Schwarz, Atlantic Monthly "If for nothing else, we should read Landon Carter because he was an honest man, and Rhys Isaac's Landon Carter's Uneasy Kingdom because it is a skilled and honest depiction of the man, his place, and his age."-Christianity Today "Offers fresh insights into the character of the plantocracy and its evolution. There is no doubt about the importance of Landon Carter's diary as a window on the planter class and Carter himself. It reveals a man who saw himself as a link in the long chain of patriarchy, whose history stretched back to time immemorial."-Ira Berlin, The Nation "Full of rich cultural and psychological insights. Isaac sympathetically reveals Carter as a tragic figure, almost as cruel to himself as he was to others. Driven by a perverse but pervasive sense of duty, he alienated almost everyone in his angry wake."-Alan Taylor, New Republic "An outstanding work of history.... An extraordinary, fascinating set of firsthand accounts from the revolutionary era."-Kirkus Reviews (starred review) "A poignant tale of crumbling patriarchy in a world of revolutions.... Unlike most historians, who try to maintain the appearance of objectivity, Isaac, like many anthropologists, feels that his personal perspective and subjective reactions should be made explicit.... The result is a very personal and intimate portrait of a Virginia patriarch."-Gordon S. Wood, The New York Review of Books "As an expert and incredibly knowledgeable editor, Rhys Isaac guides us through the diaries of the great and deeply human Virginia patriarch, Landon Carter, ultimately the owner of over 700 black slaves, as he responds with both joy and furious anger to the coming of the American Revolution and to the seismic shocks it brought to Virginia's old regime and to his own authoritarian family."-David Brion Davis "A major contribution to the study of the American Revolution.... Readers will be fascinated by Carter's impassioned narratives, masterfully placed in their time by Isaac's brilliant analysis. This admirable study joins Claire Tomalin's Samuel Pepys as an example of the finest scholarly analysis of personal diaries."-Library Journal (starred review) "A detailed, persuasive picture of a world so different from our own as to be almost unimaginable."-Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World

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