Celia Garth

Written by Gwen Bristow
Review by Diane Scott Lewis


Celia Garth is tired of being a poor relation. Determined to make her way as a dressmaker in revolutionary Charleston, South Carolina, she boards as an apprentice in a dress shop. She falls for a young militiaman who finds her a position with a glamorous matron. Engaged to marry the rebel, Celia faces the bombardment of Charleston by the British. Homes are ravaged, her betrothed is murdered, and Celia is asked to become a spy against the British by the matron’s mysterious son. Although at first hesitant, she then sees it as her duty to keep her young country free.

First published in 1959, the novel imbues Celia with a strong sense of herself as a person and a loyal American. She is sassy, intelligent, and rarely submissive, unless it serves a purpose. Ms. Bristow was a native of South Carolina, and it shows in her details. Plantations are burned, women raped, the rebels starved. The famous Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, is lauded as a hero to the struggling colonies who fight and suffer to become the United States.

Because of the time period in which it was published, the story “tells” as much as it “shows.” Dialog set-up is awkward, and the point of view slips into various people’s heads without a moment’s notice. But sprinkled with humor, Celia Garth is a rousing tale of a spirited woman who fought for America’s independence.