Victoria Peluso carries on her mother’s legacy through social media, a book club and an auction of her belongings later this month.
On Sept. 2, 2019, beloved southern writer Dorothea Benton Frank—author of classics like Sullivan’s Island: A Lowcountry Tale, Bulls Island, Folly Beach and Porch Lights—passed away at the age of 67.
Over the years, Frank developed a reputation for her skillful storytelling and her ability to capture the subtle nuances of Southern life through her writing in such a way that even those who have never lived in the South can understand. The Charlotte Observer called her “the queen of sassy southern fiction,” and her massive fanbase will surely miss her unique perspective on life in the South Carolina Lowcountry and her stories of love, family and friends.
Her daughter, Victoria Peluso, says she thinks her mother’s witty writing is what made Frank’s books so beloved.
“There are so many moments in life where, you know, you see somebody and you don’t have the words to say, but then you go home and you have the perfect thing to say to that person in your bathroom mirror,” she says. “My mom was so witty and so funny. And so she got to write her best comebacks and her best storylines and her crazy fantasies in these books.”
Frank was born on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, on Sept. 12, 1951. When her mother died, Frank found herself in an uncomfortable situation. She had fallen in love with her mother’s home on Sullivan’s Island, but her siblings wanted to sell it. She wanted to purchase the house herself, but her husband wasn’t interested. Determined to keep her mother’s home on the island, she wrote a book appropriately titled Sullivan’s Island: A Lowcountry Tale, in hopes of using the revenue to buy the house. While her plan didn’t quite work out, she used the money to buy another house on the island and started her career as a bestselling author.
Over the course of her career, she published 20 books, many of which became bestsellers and received critical praise. Her final novel Queen Bee shot to the top of The New York Times bestseller list, reaching a No. 2 spot. She received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the Charleston School of Law and another from the College of Charleston, as well as a Doctorate of Fine Arts from Bloomfield College.
Frank spent much of her free time fly fishing, reading, writing and cooking. Peluso says her mother had a close relationship with her fans and considered them a part of her family.
“Before my mom passed away, if we’d go to a restaurant, especially in the Charleston area, and someone would recognize her, we’d invite them to have a cocktail with us,” she recalls. “They’re not strangers. They know my mother’s heart. And when you know someone’s heart, they’re in your life.”
Peluso says her mother was her best friend. Frank ate lunch with her daughter every day after she transferred high schools and lost all of her friends.
“She would come and have lunch with me. Every single day she’d take me out to lunch, so I wouldn’t be by myself,” she says. “She was above and beyond.”
The two even went on to write a children’s book together titled Teddy Spaghetti, which Peluso says was inspired by her son.
Peluso has taken over her mother’s Facebook page to maintain the relationship her mother had with her fans.
“She made us laugh, cry, and sigh … because as we all are feeling, there will never ‘bee’ another.”Victoria Peluso via Facebook
She’s also started a monthly online book club, where she and her mother’s fans discuss Frank’s work.
“It’s really fun,” she says about the club. “So I just go live and I answer any questions people have related to my mother, her writing career, life in general or the book that we’re talking about. And I generate a couple questions, and I answer whatever people want.”
On September 16, 17 and 30, much of Frank’s property from her immaculate Montclair home, which was decorated by renowned interior designer Thomas Britt, will be auctioned off. This auction will include many works of art, furniture and, most notably, the desk where she wrote all 20 of her Southern novels.
According to Peluso, her mother was an avid art collector, and much of Frank’s artwork will go up for auction. These include pieces by Pablo Picasso, Leopold Gottlieb, Reginald Marsh and Adolf Konrad.
Peluso says she’s keeping her mother’s items that have sentimental value, but she was motivated to sell a lot of her mother’s belongings through the auction because she felt like they would mean a lot to her fans.
“We love the idea of being able to sell it to somebody who would have it in their home and love it,” she says.