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Susan Petigru King (1824–1875)

Author of Gerald Gray's Wife and Lily: A Novel

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Susan Petigru King was born Susan Dupont Petigru to a wealthy, influential family in Charleston, South Carolina. When she was two years old, her mother suffered an emotional breakdown and became addicted to morphine. Susan attended Madame Talvande’s French School for Young Ladies in Charleston along with Mary Boykin Chesnut, where she studied French and German, chemistry, botany, astronomy, literature, rhetoric, art, dancing and music. Her father lost all his money in the Panic of 1837, and at age 19, Susan was pushed to marry one of his law partners, Henry Campbell King. The couple had one child, but the marriage was troubled. Within six years, Susan was spending extended periods of time in the North visiting her sister. In 1853, Susan published her first book, Busy Moments of an Idle Woman. It was followed by Lily: A Novel (1855), which became her best-known book. In 1859, she published a novel and short story collection under the title Sylvia’s World: Crimes Which the Law Does Not Reach. Her last novel was Gerald Gray's Wife (1864), first serialized in Southern Field and Fireside. Henry King was killed in the Civil War, and Susan moved to Columbia to work as a clerk in the Confederate Treasury Office. She was accused of being a "fast woman" and flirting with soldiers and officers from both the Confederate and Union armies. In 1871, while she was working as a foreign-language clerk in the Post Office Department in Washington, D.C., she met and married C.C. (Christopher Columbus) Bowen, eight years her junior, a notorious radical Republican member of Congress and Carpetbagger. He was arrested and tried on charges of bigamy brought by two former wives, and was later convicted for murder. He received a two-year prison sentence, but Susan successfully appealed to President Grant for a pardon. However, she was shunned by Charleston society and her family. She died of typhoid fever at about age 50 in 1875. Today she is considered an important southern American writer.
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