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Eugenia Price, 79, Romance Novelist, Dies

May 30, 1996 NY Times

Eugenia Price, 79, Romance Novelist, Dies

By ROBERT MCG. THOMAS JR.

Eugenia Price, who turned a chance visit to coastal Georgia into a career as the South's most popular writer of antebellum romantic fiction, died on Tuesday at a hospital in Brunswick, Ga., not far from her home in St. Simons, the island she made famous through a series of novels. She was 79.

Her companion, Joyce Blackburn, said the cause was congestive heart failure.

Her hoop-skirted heroines tended to be too unremittingly beautiful, her handsome heroes a shade too dashing and their problems a bit too easily solved for Ms. Price to have won serious literary acclaim. But then again, how many acclaimed authors sell more than 40 million books in 18 languages?

That Ms. Price did just that was a tribute both to her ability as a storyteller and her knack for recreating a bygone era with such compelling and authentic historic detail that, according to the St. Simons's Chamber of Commerce, a substantial majority of the thousands of tourists who visit the island each year come there specifically to scout out the houses, marshes and other locales she used in her novels, not to mention the headstones of the actual people she brought back to life as fictional characters.

Ms. Price, a dentist's daughter from Charleston, W.Va., was a precocious student who entered Ohio University at 16 and later studied dentistry at Northwestern University before dropping out of school to pursue a writing career.

Those familiar with the intensely romantic themes of her fiction would not be surprised that she began her career writing soap operas, initially in Chicago and later in New York and Cincinnati, the headquarters of Procter & Gamble.

An intense conversion to Christianity in the late 1940's altered the course of her life and of her writing. Abandoning soap operas, she began turning out inspirational books -- among them "Discoveries," "Beloved World" and "The Eugenia Price Treasury of Faith" -- that won her a wide following long before she turned to fiction.

Indeed, it was while on a tour in 1960 to promote one of her two dozen inspirational titles that she and Ms. Blackburn, who had been living in Chicago, happened to stop off in St. Simons and were so enchanted by the beauty and ambiance of the place that they decided they never wanted to leave.

It was a measure of their immediate and intense devotion to the island that the two women bought cemetery plots there before they built the house they named Dodge after the real St. Simons clergyman who, with his two wives, became the focus of Ms. Price's first novels, "Lighthouse," "New Moon Rising" and "Beloved Invader."

Those books were such a succcess that she wrote a Florida Trilogy and a Savannah Quartet before a turning out a final Georgia Trilogy, whose return to the familiar St. Simons settings helped propel the first book of the final series, "Bright Captivity" (1991), to The New York Times best-seller list. The third, "Beauty from Ashes" (1995), was also a best seller. Her last book, "The Waiting Time," is to be published next year by Doubleday.

Ms. Blackburn, a writer who subsumed her own career to serve as Ms. Price's live-in editor, is her only survivor.

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