by Betty-Bright Low and Jacqueline Hinsley: Harry N. Abrams; 192 pages.
Sophie du Pont was one of seven children of E. I. du Pont, who emigrated to America from France in 1802 and established a gunpowder manufactory near Wilmington, Delaware. This volume is composed of sketches, diary entries, and letters beginning in 1823, when she was thirteen, and ending with her marriage in 1833. Well-researched and handsomely designed, the book provides a rare and entertaining look at family life in the early Republic.
Sophie’s writing is forthright and informative. “I’ve come to the conclusion that railroads are the most disagreeable means of travelling, & stages the most agreeable,” she writes after a day spent on the road. “Steamboats come between the two, convenience in a great measure compensating for ennui.” In one letter to her brother Henry, she wishes she’d been sent to West Point instead of him; in another, she records her impressions of portraits of herself and her sister just painted by Rembrandt Peale: “Eleu’s looks as if she were going to cry—mine has too red hair, but all to that it is thought a good likeness—he has stuck a couple of dirty looking rosebuds in my hand, which I don’t admire.” But the book’s greatest delight is its illustrations. Sophie called her watercolors “caries,” short for caricatures . They chronicle events that are completely ordinary but startling nonetheless because so few such pictures have survived. One drawing shows a chase after runaway black cats; another, titled “A Scene in Peach Season,” shows Sophie and her sisters eating fruit so juicy it drips all over the parlor. (Another picture shows Sophie, “by chance , throwing a handful of old pears” at an unloved chemist from the gunpowder factory.)
Almost all watercolors by young girls are dubbed charming. These actually are.