Lamb in His Bosom

Lamb in His Bosom

In 1934, Caroline Miller's novel Lamb in His Bosom won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. It was the first novel by a Georgia author to win a Pulitzer, soon followed by Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind in 1937. In fact, Lamb was largely responsible for the discovery of Gone With the Wind; after reading Miller's novel, Macmillan editor Harold S. Latham sought other...

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Title:Lamb in His Bosom
Author:Caroline Miller
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Lamb in His Bosom Reviews

  • Book Concierge

    Cean Carver weds Lonzo Smith on a fine Spring day in 1832, and they leave her parents’ home for the six-mile journey by ox cart to their new homestead. This 1934 Pulitzer winner deals with a backwoods country existence in rural Georgia, following the Carver / Smith families until shortly after the Civil War. Over the course of several decades, the book explores what life was like for these farmers of pre-Civil War America. They battle weather, wild animals, disease, and injuries. And, when

    Cean Carver weds Lonzo Smith on a fine Spring day in 1832, and they leave her parents’ home for the six-mile journey by ox cart to their new homestead. This 1934 Pulitzer winner deals with a backwoods country existence in rural Georgia, following the Carver / Smith families until shortly after the Civil War. Over the course of several decades, the book explores what life was like for these farmers of pre-Civil War America. They battle weather, wild animals, disease, and injuries. And, when called, the men leave to fight a war they never wanted, and have no stake in.

    It takes a little while to get used to the language and style, but it’s a wonderful book. At times it’s plodding, but there are extraordinary moments of brilliant writing. Descriptions so vivid you can feel the heat, smell the blood, hear the birds or the wail of panthers. It is a simple story, of simple people, but their lives are anything but simple.

    Cean Carver Smith is the focus of much of the novel. Over the course of the book she gives birth to fourteen children, mourns the death of several of her family members, endures moments of panic, and perseveres with courage and dignity. She is steadfast in her resolve to provide for her family, to love her husband and parents, and to endure.

    What is so special about the book is that it gives voice to the majority of rural farmers of this era. People with limited education, no slaves, many children, and a deep faith that hard work would reap rewards. Miller was the first Georgia writer to win the Pulitzer, and the success of this novel prompted the publisher to go seeking other Southern writers. Thus, was Margaret Mitchell’s

    discovered. That book quickly surpassed this one in popularity, and more’s the pity in my opinion.

    (NOTE: Review updated on second reading, Sept 2017)

  • Diane Barnes

    I was at Trader Joe's this morning and the cashier asked me what were my plans for the day. I told her I was going to finish my errands, then go home and settle in with a book. She asked me the title, I said "Lamb in His Bosom" and she gave me a blank stare. I told her it was about the settlers in the backwoods of Georgia before the Civil War. Another blank stare, then she told me she preferred books with drama.

    Drama? Drama? I should have told her I planned to go home and dive back into this

    I was at Trader Joe's this morning and the cashier asked me what were my plans for the day. I told her I was going to finish my errands, then go home and settle in with a book. She asked me the title, I said "Lamb in His Bosom" and she gave me a blank stare. I told her it was about the settlers in the backwoods of Georgia before the Civil War. Another blank stare, then she told me she preferred books with drama.

    Drama? Drama? I should have told her I planned to go home and dive back into this novel of what it took to survive in those years. You want drama, try building a home and a farm with nothing but your own strength and knowledge of how to get it done. Try giving birth to 13 children, not all of whom survive. Try killing a panther after one of those births just minutes after delivering your child alone, when you're too weak to lift the gun, but do it anyway to protect your child. Try dealing with drought, sickness, hunger, danger, all brought to you courtesy of daily life when hard work was all you could count on. Birth, death, young love, old age, it's all here. Drama with a capital D.

    The dialect in the mouths of these characters is a form of poetry, although it's not often used. The story is told in narrative form, in rich, simple terms, using old words I heard my grandmother use.

    Touchous, mought (for might), sploundered (a fainting spell), nighabout, and a phrase I used to love: root hog or die pore, meaning you have to work hard for what you get.

    "A woman has business to be as strong as a man. A man don't mind laying the ax between a calf's eyes; a woman does mind, and has to stand by and watch it done. A man fathers a little un, but a woman feels it shove up against her heart, and beat on her body, and drag on her with it's weight. A woman has to be stronger than a man".

    I hate to leave this world and the people I grew to love, but one of the truly wonderful things about books is that you can return to these places any time you wish. This one will be reopened many times.

  • Sara

    Lamb in His Bosom is Caroline Miller’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel centered on poor farmers in the pre-Civil War South. My reaction to this novel was visceral. I am proud to say that my own heritage is rooted in just such rural people and that I could indeed see traces of my own great-uncles, grandmother and grandfather in the characters of the hard-working men and women portrayed here. It is, however, the women who capture my heart and make this novel sing personal songs to me. Cean, her

    Lamb in His Bosom is Caroline Miller’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel centered on poor farmers in the pre-Civil War South. My reaction to this novel was visceral. I am proud to say that my own heritage is rooted in just such rural people and that I could indeed see traces of my own great-uncles, grandmother and grandfather in the characters of the hard-working men and women portrayed here. It is, however, the women who capture my heart and make this novel sing personal songs to me. Cean, her mother Seen, and Margot who leaves a physically easier but morally deficient life to join them in the wilderness that borders the Okefenokee swamp, are the ones who make endurance and joy possible, bring life into being, nurture the living and prepare the dead for burial.

    I could not help thinking of my own grandmother who bore eleven children and buried three of them either at birth or within a year of it. I can remember how hard-scrabble her life was, even when I was young and it must have seemed so much easier and “convenient” to her. Miller’s descriptions are vivid and detailed, so that it is easy to imagine these people at the hard labor of butchering, plowing, milking, cooking, sewing, and living. She pulls us into a world where birth and death are intimately linked and life is either a blessing or a curse depending on how capricious you believe God to be. It is also easy to find in the pages and characters the love and pleasures that are drawn from the simplest of things.

    The religious element in these lives is what essentially propels them forward during the unbelievable hardships they must bear. The promise of another world that is less cruel and in which they can meet again with those they have lost energizes and motivates them to live.

    “Seen would throw that promise back into God’s eternal face in the weak song of her lips. He had promised and repromised to bear her like a lamb in His bosom, never, no, never, no, never to forsake her.” One might ask where God is during all the horrors that visit these people, but one would be better to ask how they would ever have endured their lives without the promise that He was there and providing for them as they left this world for the next.

    What stuck me deeply was the difference between our lives and theirs. How removed we are from everything around us compared to the way they lived within their world and part of it. Nature is their intimate provider and their constant threat. Rattlesnakes and panthers assault them, but blooming flowers enthrall them and the creatures of the woods feed them. When death comes, it is a presence. They sit with the dead, they touch them, they clean them, they dig the graves and lower the coffins. They do not assign their care to a hospice or call for a mortician.

    Finally, there is the theme of home and family that runs through this story beginning to end. Seen and Vince leave Carolina to settle in Georgia because of the promise of a longer growing season and an easier life. They do not find that, but what they do find is a separation that is almost unbearable from the family and world they have left behind. Lias longs to leave this place of his birth, but in the end it is always homeward he looks. He wants those at home to always be looking for him to come and never to know of his death, because he wants never to be forgotten. In his own way, he proves the wisdom of his wish, for he is himself carrying alive in his heart the souls of those who have already passed from the earth in his absence. Cean mourns Cal’s death in the war more cruelly because he is so far from home when he meets his end. “But mayhap somebody dug a hole for him to rest in, away from their (buzzards) greedy beaks. Never did she know, and it was a sorrow to her; death is bad enough at its best, when ye can bury a body and lovingly tend the earth that lies above it…”.

    Miller has a wonderful grasp of the people she portrays and uses their language with the loving touch of one who has heard these words tripping from the tongues of real people. She says she mined these stories over time from elderly people she knew, and it is obvious to me that a current of reality runs through her writing that cannot be denied. I am amazed that I had never come across this novel nor heard of it, despite its having won the 1934 Pulitzer and having inspired Margaret Mitchell’s writing of Gone With the Wind. I am grateful to the Goodreads member who suggested it as a group read and thus brought it to my attention.

  • Candi

    This book was akin to discovering a buried treasure! How this Pulitzer Prize winning novel (1934) never came to my attention until January of 2016 when I read a brilliant review by Goodread’s friend Sara, I cannot imagine. I thank her for first introducing me to this exceptional book and to GR group On the Southern Literary Trail for selecting this as the September read which prompted me to purchase a copy and begin reading. It’s not an easy book to locate for borrowing purposes, but it was well

    This book was akin to discovering a buried treasure! How this Pulitzer Prize winning novel (1934) never came to my attention until January of 2016 when I read a brilliant review by Goodread’s friend Sara, I cannot imagine. I thank her for first introducing me to this exceptional book and to GR group On the Southern Literary Trail for selecting this as the September read which prompted me to purchase a copy and begin reading. It’s not an easy book to locate for borrowing purposes, but it was well worth the investment!

    Margaret Mitchell’s

    is one of my all-time favorite novels, and

    I believe should take a spot on the shelf right next to it. They complement each other beautifully.

    examines the American south from a different viewpoint – from that of the poor, non-slave-owning, hard-working farmers during pre-Civil War times. Slavery is an issue that is very distant to them; it is an institution of the “Coast”, the rich planters that live many miles away from them. We gain an understanding of their reflections on slavery, but this is not the main focus of the book, although certainly relevant to the times.

    The narrative focuses on Cean Smith from the time of her early marriage to Lonzo throughout her multiple childbirths and ending with the close of the Civil War. This is not a Civil War novel, however. Rather, it is a story about Cean and her husband and children and her extended family - their toiling of the land, the joys and sorrows of raising multiple children, and the faith they must hold onto in order to live from day to day in a land that is as likely to take away as it is to provide. It is about the rhythms of the seasons, the slow grind of daily living, and the tension of survival. In one moment we observe Cean grieving over loss:

    At other times she contemplates the wonder of the life around her:

    Caroline Miller’s writing is sensitive and lovely.

    Ultimately, it is the women of this novel that are the real heroes. Cean, her mother, Seen Carver, and her sister-in-law, Margot, support one another as well as their partners. Even in their suffering, they grow and reap more strength than ever before. They are life-sustaining, dependable and ever-giving. The author paints a vivid picture of the people and the landscape of the time. It is a genuine portrait of simpler times that were really anything but ‘simple’. Highly recommended for those that enjoy Southern literature and/or historical fiction. I should mention that the dialect of the region is used throughout the dialogue; it certainly made for an even more authentic voice and I quickly adapted to it and enjoyed it.

  • Rebbie

    This book was one of the two picks for September of the On the Southern Literary Trail book group. I know, I'm like the worst book group member on all of Goodreads. But I finally got one finished in time to redeem myself with these fantastic people and be a part of the group, so there's that.

    Lamb in His Bosom won the Pulitzer in 1934, and even the infamous Margaret Mitchell of Gone With the Wind fame declared this book her favorite and said it was the best book written about the American South

    This book was one of the two picks for September of the On the Southern Literary Trail book group. I know, I'm like the worst book group member on all of Goodreads. But I finally got one finished in time to redeem myself with these fantastic people and be a part of the group, so there's that.

    Lamb in His Bosom won the Pulitzer in 1934, and even the infamous Margaret Mitchell of Gone With the Wind fame declared this book her favorite and said it was the best book written about the American South (for the record, I agree with the delightful MM, but I also love GWTW too; she shouldn't have sold herself so short imo).

    This book is the only one of its type that I've ever read: from the pov of poor farmers pre-civil war (and during, too) who did not have slaves. It's brutally honest in the way it represents the subculture of the South back in those days, even as to how the poor farmers back then viewed slaves and slavery. I'm pointing this out because this is a delicate issue in the United States (as it should be), and even though its honesty is valued deeply, it might be too painful for some people to read.

    The book follows the family (well, families) of the patriarch and matriarch Vince and Cean ("Seen") Carver. Mostly it's the story of their daughter, also named Cean, as she embarks on her new life with her husband Lonzo. The book travels through decades, and shows what happens to these people through birth, marriages, life, death, disasters, etc.

    Never again will I complain about my life (I'll try not to, pinky swear!); I can't imagine how difficult it must have been to survive back then. No matter what happened, you had to keep going or you would not survive. Working through the worst of scenarios no matter what trials you were facing was a matter of life and death.

    I found it fascinating to read about how people back then took care of ailments and other medical emergencies. We're so far removed from nature in our current modern society, and there's something to be said for being independent and savvy enough to figure out how to survive with nature and your wits.

    Two things:

    1. The writing is superb. This is no exaggeration; Caroline Miller was decades ahead of her time in the way she wrote her lovely book.

    2. I didn't think that there was enough story line having to do with the civil war. I realize that the book would have probably been 1000+ pages if Miller had done this, but I'd rather have that since this felt rushed and clipped.

    Anyhoo, this book is a total recommend for people who like historical fiction, family sagas, Southern literature, survival, a good mix of romance, heartbreak, sweeping family dysfunction, and an ever-changing cultural landscape. It's an A+ read.

  • Lawyer

    A Lamb in His Bosom: Caroline Miller's Antebellum South

    I was enthralled by Miller's portrayal of the strength of the yeoman farmer class in the wiregrass and piney woods of antebellum Georgia. The pace of life was dictated by the seasons. Whether crops would flourish or wither depended on the unpredictable vagaries of the weather. The harvest would yield a bumper crop or yield so little that starvation stared families in the faces. Death was a predictable misery. Disease, accident, all deadly.

    A Lamb in His Bosom: Caroline Miller's Antebellum South

    I was enthralled by Miller's portrayal of the strength of the yeoman farmer class in the wiregrass and piney woods of antebellum Georgia. The pace of life was dictated by the seasons. Whether crops would flourish or wither depended on the unpredictable vagaries of the weather. The harvest would yield a bumper crop or yield so little that starvation stared families in the faces. Death was a predictable misery. Disease, accident, all deadly. Miller depicts her characters facing their losses with a resigned acceptance. The atmosphere of Miller's novel is one of unrelenting tension that can leave the reader drained. Miller's growing description of the distinction between the farmer class and the coastal traders deftly foreshadow the establishment of the planter class. As the decades pass, Miller accelerates and compresses the coming and passing of the American Civil War. The ending seems a rush to bring the novel to a close. I found Miller's development of strong and independent women to produce a work appropriately considered an early of feminist literature. I consider Lamb in His Bosom to be very deserving of its 1934 Pulitzer Prize. While I Recognize Gone with the Wind a beloved work of literature, Caroline Miller wrote a novel more realistically portraying a truer world of the South and its people. Remarkably memorable. Highly recommended.

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  • B.

    This book was a total surprise. The author was born and partly raised in my small southern Georgia hometown and was the first Pulitzer Prize winner from the southern U.S. She's the one who paved the way for Margaret Mitchell.

    The book itself seems simple on the surface, but really goes much deeper, especially if you know south Georgia. For someone who grew up in the region, there's something uncannily familiar in the characters. Uncanny because the books is set in the pre-Civil War era, yet you

    This book was a total surprise. The author was born and partly raised in my small southern Georgia hometown and was the first Pulitzer Prize winner from the southern U.S. She's the one who paved the way for Margaret Mitchell.

    The book itself seems simple on the surface, but really goes much deeper, especially if you know south Georgia. For someone who grew up in the region, there's something uncannily familiar in the characters. Uncanny because the books is set in the pre-Civil War era, yet you can still easily see elements of that rough and scrabble pioneer spirit in so much of Georgia now.

    The story is an elegiac epic centering around one extended family and their various struggles to survive, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Maybe not for everyone, there's not a lot of historical reference, not much action, but the characters are true, living people and the writing is lyrical and lovely.

  • Camie

    This winner of the Pulitzer Prize the year before Gone With The Wind is the life story of Cean and Lonzo who newly married set out to build their lives in the backwoods of Georgia. A simply told story ( including terms like howsomever) of the self reliance required in a time when the daily chores of life such as growing crops and raising 14 children made you very old before age 40. 4 stars Sept OTSLT

  • Richard Derus

    Rating: 4.5* of five

    What a read, what a ride, what a life I led reading Cean's tribulations. What a miserable thing it is to be a woman, apparently, and how hard it is to love another! Forget the hell out of children.

    Rating: 4.5* of five

    What a read, what a ride, what a life I led reading Cean's tribulations. What a miserable thing it is to be a woman, apparently, and how hard it is to love another! Forget the hell out of children.

    Only to lose them as soon as you writhe, scream, push, expel them. My gawd, the only comfort is Gawd.

    But in spite of all that, Caroline Miller is a storyteller and I kept going although I don't believe in gawd, ain't straight, and have always had money. Why? Because this is why I read: to discover. I discovered a lot reading this book...a lot I didn't know already, I mean.

    The view from 2017 back to 1933, when this book first appeared, feels like a greater gap than the one between 1933 and 1830s Georgia. That's silly, I suppose, since what Miller wrote was genuinely historical fiction, recreating in her imagination the ideas and feelings of people who never had any kind of break, never got any credit for their labor, never spoke in chorus the way the rich and powerful always have. I, we I would argue, need to read these voices. They left no imprint on the psyche of the nation, before or after the first US Civil War, being merely pawns in the games played higher up. Their fatalism is perfectly logical. They were largely christian folk and were accustomed to the idea of blessings or blastings emanating from Above sans explanation or merit. What sustained them? Miller, from her century's remove, thought it was:

    Just gorgeous, also exactly right, pitch perfect, and mercy on us all such a relief from the excessive flagellation poor, starchy, unbending Cean receives from This Our Life.

    I must say that the losses Cean endures through the War are enough to convince me that, had I to suffer them, would've made me much more receptive to the "charms" of religion. Nothing, however, on this wide green earth could make me receptive to New Light Preacher O'Connor's charms. What a tedious prig. I felt that half-star slipping the second I met him. It fell off for good at the end, which felt more like something academics would discover among her papers and label "Notes Towards an Ending" in the Norton Critical Edition.

    But the prose, the world, the sheer not-

    -ness of it, are reason enough to read it, and I feel confident in saying that you should.

  • Erika

    Two years ago, I set out to read every Pulitzer Prize-winning novel roughly in order and I’m now finishing up the 1930s. It’s been an interesting, arduous, and somewhat surprising project.

    After 16 books, I can see clear patterns and the biggest one, by far, is America’s infatuation with its own rural past. Fully 11 of the 16 I’ve read are historical novels set in the country. There’s nothing wrong with that, but many of these works didn’t deserve the prize, while novels like

    Two years ago, I set out to read every Pulitzer Prize-winning novel roughly in order and I’m now finishing up the 1930s. It’s been an interesting, arduous, and somewhat surprising project.

    After 16 books, I can see clear patterns and the biggest one, by far, is America’s infatuation with its own rural past. Fully 11 of the 16 I’ve read are historical novels set in the country. There’s nothing wrong with that, but many of these works didn’t deserve the prize, while novels like

    and

    were both passed over.

    So, it’s within that context that I’m reviewing

    a first novel and massive bestseller at the time.

    The story is about a family of dirt-poor Georgia farmers and takes place in the decades leading up to the Civil War. In researching the novel, Miller, who was from a small Georgia town, would “go on excursions with her children, keeping her eyes peeled for old people who lived in old houses and might have stories to tell.”

    There's no recorded history of Georgian subsistence farmers from that time, which makes this novel extremely valuable. Every detail rings true. Here’s why you don’t want to miss a “candy-pullin,” here’s how women were treated, here’s the home-made medicines people frantically used to try to save a life.

    Over the course of the book, Cean Smith, the protagonist, churns out 14 children and works her ass off in stoic deprivation. People die from horrible accidents and infection, homes burn down, animals attack and the best anyone can hope for is to live long enough to get old and weak.

    Cean has never owned a slave, or even seen a person of color. The ocean exists only in hymns, and even a lake is beyond her experience.

    is at its strongest when it shows us the claustrophobic, isolated, forgotten lives of people, particularly women, in the Deep South before the war. These characters are ignorant and stunted, but also filled with dignity, grit, and common sense.

    All this makes

    a perfect novel for anyone who’s interested in the period.

    However, if you’re just looking for something to read, this is not the book for you.

    The novel is hurt by stilted dialogue and Miller is sometimes condensing to her characters—I think unintentionally—but the effect is still “look at these simple-yet-noble country folk.” She also runs into trouble with the plot and the book sort of stops rather than ends.

    Should be required reading for anyone interested in the history of the American South. Everyone else, I would suggest taking a pass.

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