Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Scarlet Sister Mary” as Want to Read:
Scarlet Sister Mary
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Scarlet Sister Mary

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  1,070 ratings  ·  73 reviews
Banned in Boston when it was first published in 1928, Scarlet Sister Mary is the story of a sexy, independent, and outspoken woman who lives to please herself. Abandoned by her husband, the heroine takes many lovers, loses her firstborn son, and eventually "finds peace" as a church member, although she refuses to give up her love charm and her gold hoop earrings. Scarlet S ...more
Paperback, 376 pages
Published January 1st 1998 by University of Georgia Press (first published 1928)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.60  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,070 ratings  ·  73 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Scarlet Sister Mary
Julia Peterkin pioneered in demonstrating the literary potential for serious depictions of the African American experience. Rejecting the prevailing sentimental stereotypes of her times, she portrayed her black characters with sympathy and understanding, endowing them with the full dimensions of human consciousness.

In these novels and stories, she tapped the richness of rural southern black culture and oral traditions to capture the conflicting realities in an African American community and to
Roxanne Russell
I can't believe I made it to 31 with a focus on American Literature in my education, and I was never required to read this excellent story of an independent, realistic Gullah woman. Time on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Sun Also Rises was wasted in comparison to the quality of simple but lyrical form and profound but individualistic revelation in this book. Peterkin captures a language and culture of this regional people as though it is her own, because partly it was. I've wondered many times wh ...more
I read this as part of my Pulitzer Project quest to read all of the Pulitzer winners.

Scarlet Sister Mary was the somewhat contentious recipient of the 1929 Pulitzer. In 1929, the jury nominated Victim and Victor by John Rathbone Oliver to receive the prize. However, by the time the suggestion reached the Board, they superseded the pick with Scarlet Sister Mary, which was a nominee from the School of Journalism. The chair of the jury resigned in protest.

Scarlet Sister Mary is the story of Mary, “
Aug 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wrote my senior thesis on this novel, which i LOVED. The seminar class was Southern Renaissance Lit-- betcha didn't even know the South had one, eh? Well Thomas Wolfe and William Faulkner will tell you otherwise.
Christian Engler
Written by former plantation mistress Julia Peterkin, Scarlet Sister Mary is a novel of intellect, individualism, coltish word play, tradition and most importantly, respect. The novel, like, Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Color Purple, is written in an old southern vernacular, and it tells the story of Sister Mary or Si May-e, a young and sprightly woman at the novel's start. It is some time after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and freedon (used loosely, historically speaking), has c ...more
I treasure having found this book. It satisfied a lot of my current interests - southern literature, Pulitzer Prize winners, and books based around my home state of South Carolina. It's obviously never been that popular based on the # and average of ratings out there and it being awarded the Pulitzer Prize was so heavily challenged by Dr. Richard S. Burton, chairperson of Pulitzer's fiction-literature jury, that he ended up resigning when his nomination, Victim and Victor by Dr. John B. Oliver, ...more
Jul 25, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pulitzers-read
I'm sorry to have to say this, but this book was terrible. In every way. The writing was poor. The vocabulary was limited. The depth and range of expression was minimal. The plot organization and coherence was non-existent. I have absolutely no earthly idea how this book could have even made the list of contenders, much less won a Pulitzer prize.

The book itself is about the life of a poor, black woman named Mary living on a former plantation in South Carolina after the abolition of slavery. For
Dec 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pulitzer
Pulitzer 1929 - Scarlet Sister Mary is about a former slave post civil war and her life as she goes from being a single woman looking for a husband to an independent woman. I was surprised to find out that Julia Peterkin was a former white plantation owner herself. Considering the book was written in 1929 it is surprising forward in its themes. Something else that was surprising was that there isn't a single white character in the book. Although they are mentioned none of them actually appear. T ...more
May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Julia Peterkin won the Pulitzer Prize for Scarlet Sister Mary in 1929. The story is about an orphan African American woman named Mary who grew up in an abandoned plantation in South Carolina post slavery. Mary gets married and her husband deserts her shortly after their marriage and the birth of their child. Mary provides for her child and has 8 more children with different fathers. Her love for her children is unconditional and she is portrayed in the book as strong and confident woman who stan ...more
Sep 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you can convince yourself that Ms. Peterkin isn’t just making fun of black people, and instead focus on the theme of female struggle against religious patriarchy and domestic abuse, it’s a surprisingly relevant and powerful story.... but that’s a hell of a big “if.”
Definitely the most interesting thing about this book is its place in U.S. literary history, with its scandalous (ahem) subject matter, controversial Pulitzer win, defiance of norms, and feminism, as Peterkin dared to write about a black woman. Not to mention that the woman is in charge of her own life, sins, basically tells the judgy church deacons to buzz off, etc. Unfortunately, the story and writing leave much to be desired. Yeah, there's some Southern nature, all nocturnal owls in swamps an ...more
Deloris Grant
I was extremely excited when I found this book. Julia Peterkin was the 1929 Pulitzer Prize winner with Scarlet Sister Mary. I was drawn in by the avid descriptions of African-Americans on the plantation and the short chapters and dialect captured wonderfully by Peterkin, but after about 6 or 7 chapters this text became a dated black exploitation novel. The plot line was not extensive or meaningful. It was too outdated. I did feel that Peterkin captured a time period and wrote about African-Ameri ...more
Tracy Towley
Aug 28, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pulitzer
I didn't dislike this book but it was a bit of a chore to get through. It told the tale of a black community trying to figure out their new freedom. It followed the life of Sister Mary and her dozen children. None of the characters particularly stood out to me and I wasn't really taken in by the narrative. It was interesting from a historical perspective, but I would have liked to see more emotion coming from it, or being elicited from me.

In summation : I can't say that I'm particularly thrilled
Jul 07, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
21/2 stars

This was a difficult book for me to find, and I lucked out at a used bookstore. That said, the book left me disappointed. Like other readers, I found the dialect a challenge to follow, and the story - while interesting - seemed to summarize in parts. There is a fifteen year leap in the action, for example, that nearly lost me.

Not the best of the Pulitzers I've read. I'm interested now to read the book some on the committee wanted to win.
Apr 16, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pulitzer
This one was a little difficult for me to find. I had to special order it at the library and then they sent me the 1928 edition. Since it was hard to find, I assumed that it was going to be a heavy slow read. However, I was pleasantly surprised that it really wasn't. It was far less dry than some of the other early Pulitzer winners I've read.
Some of the sentiments in the book are now obviously outdated, but I'd say for its time, it's a pretty decent book.
Feb 13, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book seems like a precursor to Zora Neale Hurston's works - it has the dialect of an isolated black community in South Carolina, and a very strong female character in Sister Mary - in all her strengths and weaknesses. I really cared about all the characters - plus the descriptions of the land and the seasons were beautiful.
Elizabeth Hesseltine
Based on some of the GR reviews, I almost didn't read this book. But, it's on the Pulitizer list, so I decided to try it. I'm glad I did! The story was enjoyable and the characters were interesting.
Jun 01, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pulitzer
Most racist book I have ever read. That this won a Pulitzer is a real tribute to how far race relations in this country have come. Read this for historical perspective, and for no other reason.
Oct 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My challenge is to read all the Pulitzer by the end of 2013.... Love this one... And would smoke a pipe if it was acceptable ...
John Guffey
The story itself was entertaining and easily read, but the characters weren't very complex and many came and went so it was hard to know any of them. 3.5 stars
May 10, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pulitzer-winners
Well, some Pulitzer winners hold up better than others do.
Scott Cox
Julia Peterkin's famous novel, "Scarlet Sister Mary" was a ground-breaking work for its time (late 1920's). It is both fictional as well as a fascinating sociological account of the post-slavery Gullah people (Sierra Leone descendants) living in the South Carolina lowlands. The setting is an abandoned cotton plantation and the cast of characters are entirely African Americans; white people are mentioned only twice in the novel (interestingly, in association with the dreaded boll weevil infestati ...more
Jun 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pulitzer-winners
A wonderful book although as many point out, it can be very difficult to find. I'm always surprised with books from the 1920s, 1930s (and earlier) that cover such "racy" material. It helps put some things into context.

This is a great read; full of Gullah dialect that is surprisingly (and refreshingly) easy to read most of the time and that really places the story in a specific place and time. But, while (again) the writing is great, the story is missing...something. The first half of the book is
Nov 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pulitzer
Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin
10 out of 10

It seems somewhat sad to see that quite a number of formerly acclaimed chefs d’oeuvre have fallen into neglect and if you look them now on the world’s database, you tend to find very little about them and this looks to be the case of Scarlet Sister Mary, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1929 ( but not much read these days.

One reason might be that phenomenal as this novel is, it could be difficult
Mar 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written by Julia Peterkin and published in 1929, "Scarlet Sister Mary" is a Pulitzer Prize winning novel based on the unique culture of former Gullah plantation slaves living out their lives in the post Civil War low country of the coastal Carolinas. As told through the day to day life of a young woman named Sister Mary, the story recounts the amazing survival skills, language and religious customs that bond this isolated black community together and allow them to be completely self sufficient t ...more
This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1929 and tells the story of Southern life through the eyes of Mary.

She is a former slave who still lives on the Blue Brook Plantation. She never knew her real parents but thinks of Maum Hannah and Buddah Ben as the closest thing to parents that she has.

She is pregnant and about to marry a man who is known to be wild. Buddah feels that she would be better off marrying another person who is better suited to marriage.

There is also realistic dialogue and good desc
Dec 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yet another of the Pulitzer Prize winners in the fiction category (1929) that Steve and I are reading. This one is about post-reconstruction south - from the perspective of a plantation community of African Americans. The white plantation owners are long gone, but the blacks have a thriving community in the old plantation housing, while the "big" house is long vacant. The story focuses on Mary - or Si May ee as she is called by friends and family - a young, strong woman who is in an out of favor ...more
May 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my second Julia Peterkin book. Scarlet Sister Mary is a continuation of the struggle post Civil war blacks endured on the farm. I am astounded at the talent Mrs Peterkin displays painting such a vivid picture of the rural south. She had a great courage to devote her skills to a subject that was nearly taboo in her time. She brings the reader into the sights and smells and heartbreak of poverty and isolation of those shunned by their own people. The only criticism I have is the blaring ab ...more
Written by a white Southern author who found the lives of blacks more interesting than whites'. Sixteen-year-old Mary is two months pregnant with July's child when they marry. A year later, July disappears with another woman. Mary falls into a depressed funk but manages to overcome it with the help of Maum Hannah and Budda Ben who both raised Mary from her youth. Mary goes on to have 8 more children with different men, doing what she pleases despite being kicked out of Heaven's Gate church and t ...more
« previous 1 3 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Tackling the Puli...: Scarlet Sister Mary (Julia Peterkin, 1929) 9 30 Sep 05, 2013 12:24PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Laughing Boy: A Navajo Love Story
  • Years of Grace
  • The Able McLaughlins (The McLaughlins, #1)
  • Early Autumn: A Story of a Lady
  • The Bridge of San Luis Rey
  • In This Our Life
  • So Big
  • Now in November
  • Arrowsmith
  • The Yearling
  • Lamb in His Bosom
  • Alice Adams
  • The Store
  • Honey in the Horn
  • The Magnificent Ambersons
  • One of Ours
  • His Family
  • The Late George Apley
See similar books…
Born October 31, 1880, Laurens County, SC

Died August 1961 near Fort Motte, SC

Won Pulitzer Prize for Novel with Scarlet Sister Mary in 1929.

Related Articles

Dedicated fans of authors Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan might know the duo better by the affectionate moniker “The Fug Girls,” after their l...
5 likes · 2 comments
“Everything has its way of speaking and telling things worth knowing. Even the little grass-blades have their way of saying things as plain as words when human lips let them fall...the choice bits of wisdom...were never written down in any books.” 3 likes
More quotes…