Miss Ravenel's Conversion is important in American literary history as the first novel to depict the Civil War with realism. Its battlefield scenes owe much to John De Forest's own experience as a captain in that conflict. But in 1867 genteel readers were affronted by De Forest's frank view of war and sex. Though praised by William Dean Howells, the novel was forgotten after De Forest's death in 1906. It was later rediscovered by Van Wyck Brooks and other critics.
Modern readers will enjoy this story of a southern woman who comes to New Boston with her father in 1861, opposes his views on secession and abolition, and is changed forever by the great war. Some critics have called the charming Lillie Ravenel the first realistic heroine in American fiction.
John W. De Forest's best-known novel is introduced by Sharon L. Gravett, an associate professor of English at Valdosta State University.