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Literature / Lamb in His Bosom

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Lamb in His Bosom is a 1934 novel by Caroline Miller.

It tells the story of Cean Smith, a wife and mother in the remote backwoods region of South Georgia. At the beginning of the narrative a teenaged Cean marries Lonzo Smith, a taciturn but affectionate farmer. The narrative follows the Smiths over the course of some 25 years, from the 1840s to the end of The American Civil War, as they struggle with the hardscrabble life of peasant farmers. Over the course of the book Cean bears fourteen children and buries five, survives snakebite and panther attack, and sends a husband and son off to war. Another prominent character is Cean's brother Lias Carver, who is as hotheaded and wild as his sister is strong and dependable, and who eventually forsakes life in the Georgia backwoods.

Said to be a favorite of Margaret Mitchell, who not long after wrote Gone with the Wind about the other extreme of the social spectrum in antebellum Georgia.


  • Answer Cut: The final section of the novel, the flashback that reveals Lias's fate, is introduced by Cean wondering idly one night what happened to her long-missing brother.
  • Appeal to Tradition: Lias comes up with the idea of putting their goods on a river raft and floating them to the coast for market. His father Vince simply refuses to, because they've always taken their goods by oxcart and they always will.
  • Cassandra Truth: Old Aint Viney Vickers, lying on her deathbed in her nineties, makes a prophecy nobody believes.
    "They’ll be a war wussen ye ever hyeard tell of."
  • Conscription: Cean's brother Jake goes off and hides in the swamp to avoid the Confederate details that are pressing men into the army
  • Death by Childbirth: Cean is heartbroken when her oldest child Maggie dies of childbed fever.
  • Death of a Child: Part of life in the backwoods. Cean loses a daughter and a niece in a fire, and two sons are stillborn. An extended flashback tells how Cean's parents lost their eldest child, a daughter named Elizabeth, who sickened and died at the age of two.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Cean is jealous of the rich planters' wives of the coast and their "n***r" servants, and wishes she could have some slaves of her own.
  • Domestic Abuse: Lias beats his wife Margot. Everyone else in the family disapproves but no one feels empowered to do anything about it.
  • Down on the Farm: The hard, unforgiving life of backwoods Georgia farmers, who struggle to make the land bear fruit so they can put their produce on carts and take it to Savannah on the coast to sell.
  • Dream Sequence: Cean has a surreal dream in which she visits heaven and sees all her dead children.
  • Fake Faint: Seen fakes a faint in order to break up an ugly fight between Jasper and Lias.
  • Flashback:
    • An extended flashback tells how Cean's parents lost their first baby, a daughter named Elizabeth, at the age of two.
    • Much of the latter portion of the book has the Smiths and Carvers wondering what happened to Lias when he lit out for the California gold rush in 1850. The very end of the novel is an extended flashback that solves that mystery: Lias made his way to Boston where he caught a ship, but by the time he made it to California he was severely ill with tuberculosis. The one letter he sent home, which so surprises everybody when it arrives in 1858, was written by him on his deathbed.
  • Funetik Aksent: Believed to be an accurate recreation of the dialect of rural farmers in South Georgia in the mid-1800s.
    "This is a first-rate place fer yore hogs to waller in when hit’s hot."
  • Gold Fever: One year the Smiths and Carvers take their produce down to the coast and hear a lot of chatter about the California Gold Rush of 1849. Lias heads out to California, abandoning his wife and two children.
  • I Have This Friend: Jasper is developing an increasing attraction to his brother Lias's wife Margot. He tells his mother in an extremely artless and obvious way that he heard about this guy across the river who beat his wife, and how the man's brother married the wife and saved her after the man and wife divorced. He comes to regret this a couple of pages later when Seen blurts the truth out to Lias, causing an ugly fight.
  • It Will Never Catch On: The old men talk about war with the North, but the young men of the community dismiss that as a ridiculous idea.
  • Life Will Kill You: Life in the backwoods is dangerous. Lonzo mis-aims an axe and cleaves open his foot; the wound gets infected and he dies, leaving Cean a widow.
  • Mama Bear: Cean has delivered a child prematurely, while her husband is down at the coast selling their crops. She is still weak and faint in the immediate aftermath of childbirth, when a panther gets into their house, smelling the baby. Cean shoots it.
  • Manly Tears: Lonzo, convinced that his wife is going to die as she has a difficult delivery of their first daughter, breaks down and cries, sobbing into his beard.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Cean now a widow, the new preacher in town starts to tentatively court her, but she's not sure how to react. So when he greets her with "And how is the Widow Smith feeling?", she shoots back "With my fingers, same as always!"
  • Morning Sickness: At the end of chapter 2, Cean barfs up her breakfast out of nowhere. At the beginning of chapter 3 she's pregnant.
  • Ominous Owl: Vince believes that screech owls are a harbinger of death.
    "The screech-owls had kept him awake a many a night as they shivered in the trees close to the house, giving warning that Death was hiding about the house in wait for somebody."
  • Portent of Doom: Cean starts noting ominous portents: a humming in her ear, a snake track across her path as she goes to milk the cow, a rabbit crossing her path, her dream of fire in the night. A couple of nights later their house burns down.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: Cean dreams on the night of August 30, 1862, that her son Cal is dead. Later she finds out that he was killed that very day at the Battle of Second Bull Run.
  • Romancing the Widow: Cean falls in love a second time when she's past forty, marrying the town preacher and having one last child.
  • Sibling Triangle: Jasper falls in love with Lias's wife Margot. Margot, desperate to escape Lias's abuse, reciprocates. They eventually get married when Lias leaves for California and is declared dead.
  • Title Drop: An elderly Seen sings her favorite hymn, "How Firm a Foundation", which contains a lyric about death: "And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn/Like lambs in My bosom they still shall be born." Then Seen, gripped by dementia, thinks about how God promised to take her "like a lamb in His bosom."
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: When Margot is talking about running away from her abusive husband, "she brought forth from her bosom the fine leather bag" where she keeps the jewels that she'll use to pay her way."