“Remembering Virgilia Hazard”

“REMEMBERING VIRGILIA HAZARD”

My recent viewing of my “NORTH AND SOUTH Trilogy” DVD set, led me to the“Special Feaures” section that featured a behind-the-scene look at the television miniseries trilogy. In it, Patrick Swayze (Orry Main), James Read (George Hazard), Lesley Anne-Down (Madeline Fabray) producer David Wolper and the trilogy’s author, John Jakes discussed both the literary and television versions of the saga. I found their recollections of the trilogy’s production very interesting and entertaining. What I found surprising were the actors’ admissions that they found abolitionist Virgilia Hazard to be their favorite character. Even more surprising was my discovery that John Jakes shared similiar feelings.

In the saga, Virgilia Hazard (Kirstie Alley) was the only daughter of iron manufacturer William Hazard (John Anderson) and his wife, Maude (Inga Swenson) in Pennsylvania. She had three brothers – the eldest sibling Stanley (Jonathan Frakes), the youngest Billy (John Stockwell/Parker Stevenson) and middle brother George. Unlike most of her family, Virgilia became a firm devotee of causes for women’s rights, civil rights for free Northern blacks and especially the abolitionist cause in mid-19th century United States. In fact, one could honestly say that Virgilia’s devotion to abolition drifted into fanaticism.

Virgilia ended up being one of the most complex characters that author Jakes had ever created. On one hand, her fanaticism, tactless behavior, self-righteousness and bigotry toward all Southern-born whites made her a very unpleasant person. Just how unpleasant could Virgilia be? She had a tendency to air her beliefs to anyone within hearing range, regardless of whether they wanted to listen to her or not. She became so blind and bigoted in her self-righteousness toward Southern whites – especially those of the planter-class that she failed to notice that despite her brother George’s close friendship with the son of a South Carolina planter, Orry Main, he had also become a devoted abolitionist and civil rights advocate by the eve of the Civil War. If she had been willing to open herself more to the Mains, she would have discovered another potential abolitionist in their midst – namely Orry’s younger Cousin Charles.

Her tactless behavior nearly cost George’s friendship with Orry, when she helped Grady (Georg Sandford Brown), the slave of the Mains’ neighbor, James Huntoon (Jim Metzler), escape from slavery during the Hazards’ visit to South Carolina. That same tactless behavior led her to take part in John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry and expose herself needlessly to the local militia. And because of this, Grady – now her husband – rushed forward to save her ended up dead, instead. One of Virgilia’s worst acts – at least to me – was when she had tossed away her convictions and self-esteem to become Sam Greene’s (David Odgen Stiers) mistress, following her confrontation with a hospital administrator (Olivia DeHavilland) over a Confederate officer’s death. All over a matter of survival. She had no problem with confronting her family and neighbors’ scorn over her devotion to abolition. She had no problem with confronting the Mains in her complicity to help Grady escape. But when she faced a murder investigation, she threw her self-esteem to wind and lowered herself to the level of a prostitue to stay out of prison.

But for all of her faults, Virgilia also possessed a great deal of virtues. Why else would the likes of Swayze and Read declare that she was their favorite character? One cannot help but admire her resilient devotion to the abolitionist cause, which was not very popular with most of her family and fellow Northerners. She was open-minded enough to look past Grady’s skin color and view him as an attractive man, worthy for her hand in marriage. Many, including most of the Hazards, had excused her marriage to Grady as a political statement. One member of the Hazard family knew the truth – George’s Irish-born wife, Constance Flynn Hazard (Wendy Kilbourne).

And while many “NORTH AND SOUTH” fans may have abhorred Virgilia’s habit of speaking her mind, I cannot help but admired it. If I must be honest, I really enjoyed Virgilia’s habit of confronting her family and the Main family about slavery and reminding them of the institution’s horrors. I feel that it took a lot of guts on her part and I admired her for this. Virgilia’s practice of “telling it like it is” seemed very apparent in three scenes:

*Philadelphia Abolitionist Meeting – in which she gave a speech about the practices of slave breeding on Southern plantations. Despite Orry’s outraged reaction to her speech, it turns out that Virgilia had spoken the truth. Due to the United States’ official banning of the Atlantic Slave Trade in 1808, many Southern planters were forced to resort to the deliberate breeding of their female slaves to either maintain the number of slaves in the South or to make a fortune in selling such slaves when the value of their land depleted.

*Opposition to the Mexican-American War – during Orry’s first meeting with the Hazard family, Virgilia made her disgust and opposition to the United States’ threat to wage war against Mexico very clear, claiming that many of the war’s supporters saw it as an opportunity to conquer Mexican territory and use it for the expansion of slavery. I hate to say this, but slavery’s expansion had been a strong reason for those who supported the idea of war.

*Confrontation Over Grady’s Escape – this is without a doubt, my favorite scene in which Virgilia confronted her family and the Mains over her disgust with slavery. Hell, I had practically cheered the woman as she made it clear that not only the South, but the entire country will eventually pay a price for its complicity in the institution of slavery. And she had been right.

It took a brave woman to willingly pursue a cause that many found unpopular . . . and make her convictions to others, quite clear. Hell, I think that she had more balls than all of the men in her family. Even more so, she did not hide her beliefs and convictions behind a personable veneer in order to soothe the sociabilities of her family and their friends.

I had discovered that both Lesley Anne Down (Madeline Fabray) and David Carridine (Justin LaMotte) had both received Golden Globe nominations for their performances in the first miniseries. Frankly, I find this appalling for I believe that Kirstie had deserved a nomination, as well. Probably even more so, considering that she had a more difficult role. I wonder if both Swayze and Read had felt the same.

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5 Responses

  1. I agree with you Virgilia should have received at least a nomination for what she did, because it’s hard to play the role of someone who is actually right but socially wrong. Indeed who can say now that what she said was wrong. but she was really unpleasant. I disagree when you say she was the bravest of all: Constance her sister-in-law, even though more modest, although helped escaped slave, she was also the only one to help Virgilia when she came back home alone and poor. And to thank Constance for her kindness what did Virgilia do: she stole her dresses and jewels. Hard to feel any sympathethy toward such a character.
    But contrarly to women of the serie Virgilia dare talk openly in front of people; and this is something that wasn’t accepted from women at that time (I would even say that it is still the case, just compare the number of male politics with female ones). At the very nice scene just before she is hang, she explain her brother how hard it was for her not be listened to because of her gender. I can easily understand why she became agressive and unable to make the difference between her friends and enemies.
    I think she couldn’t do otherwise than become the mistress Green, because her behaviour had made her isolated, and to be honest I found it great when she killed this bastard, he was the true criminal.
    As a conclusion I suppose that the shoocking character she played was the reason why Kirstie Alley couldn’t get any nomination. As you said her character was the most complexe of the serie (it’s quite different from the book actually), but maybe too complexe for the public.

    • I don’t think that Alley’s interpretation of Virgilia was that different from the novels. Not really. She may have come off as one-dimensional by the first novel. But by the third, she became less angry and more compassionate . . . and yet, managed to retain her political and social beliefs. It’s a pity that David Wolper and his writers decided to kill her off in the second miniseries.

  2. Thank you for the post! Great miniseries indeed, all the actors were great, but she clearly stood out. Her performance was amazing and very intense. I find it shocking that she didn’t get more recognition for it. I loved the underlying chemistry between Virgilia and Orry. I love it when they meet at the field hospital and make truce. In spite of their past differences, she is clearly pleased to see that Orry runs free.

  3. I think that Virgilia loved Orry.

  4. [“I think that Virgilia loved Orry.”]

    I suspect you have the character mixed up with the actress who played her.

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