In Dawson’s Fall (2019, MacMillan), a novel based on the lives of Roxana Robinson’s great-grandparents, the author tells a story of America at its most fragile, fraught, and malleable. Set in 1889, in Charleston, South Carolina, Robinson’s tale weaves her family’s journal entries and letters with a novelist’s narrative grace, and spans the life of her tragic hero, Frank Dawson, as he attempts to navigate the country’s new political, social, and moral landscape.
Dawson, a man of fierce opinions, came to this country as a young Englishman to fight for the Confederacy in a war he understood as a conflict over states’ rights. He later became the editor of the Charleston News and Courier, finding a platform of real influence in the editorial column and emerging as a voice of the New South. As he wrangled diligently in his columns with questions of citizenship, equality, justice, and slavery, his newspaper rapidly lost readership, and he was plagued by financial worries.
Nor could Dawson control the whims of the heart: his Swiss governess became embroiled in a tense affair with a drunkard doctor, which threatened to stain his family’s reputation. And, in the end, Dawson was felled by the very violence he vehemently opposed.
Rebecca Dawson talks with Walter Edgar about the true story of Frank Dawson and his family, their times, and why she chose to tell their story in a novel.
- Originally broadcast 08/02/19 -