Allen’s story about the antebellum South is a bittersweet tale of what might have been. The romance between protagonist Jasper Wainwright and Cara Randall has all the usual trappings: aristocratic lead characters, a thorny courtship, and a backdrop presaging the Civil War. Jasper returns to Beaufort to visit his cousin, Henry Birch. Henry is eager to promote a match between Jasper and Cara, his favorite niece and his favorite cousin. Distaste for slavery makes Jasper loathe to stay; attraction to Cara holds him, tough. To his surprise, Jasper finds some of his anti-slavery ideas echoed in the writings of one Eustace Woods. Secessionists like Barnwell Rhett and vicious crackers like Winslow Dotter dash Jasper’s hopes the South can gradually and peacefully wean itself from slavery.
Beaufort 1849 is a polished piece of historical fiction which deftly juxtaposes the words of real figures like Rhett with those of Wainwright and Birch. The languid days of a Southern summer spring to life, resplendent with parties and mint juleps. The treatment of slaves, apart from Jasper’s freedman, Jim, however, leans to the simplistic.