A Disturbing and Alien Memory: Southern Novelists Writing by Douglas L. Mitchell

By Douglas L. Mitchell

In the overdue 19th century, because the learn of historical past shifted from the area of letters into the social sciences, novelists within the North and the West ordinarily became clear of writing background. Many southern novelists and poets, notwithstanding, endured to adopt ancient writing as an extension in their artwork shape. What made southern literary figures fluctuate from their northern and western opposite numbers? In A worrying and Alien reminiscence, Douglas L. Mitchell addresses this interesting query by way of tracing a line of southern writers from the early 19th century to the mid-twentieth, discovering that an obsessive have to protect the South and the oft-noted "rage to provide an explanation for" drove a few artistic writers to proceed to make forays into heritage and biography as a way to input a extra public sphere the place they can extra decisively effect interpretations of the earlier.

In the Romantic historical past of the 19th century, Mitchell explains, males of letters observed themselves as keepers of reminiscence whose renderings of the prior may possibly aid form the way forward for the country. He explores the ancient writing of William Gilmore Simms to track the failure of Romantic nationalism within the starting to be break up among North and South, then turns to Thomas Nelson Page's attempt to resurrect the South as a "spiritual country" with a redeemed background after the Civil warfare. Mitchell juxtaposes their paintings with that of William Wells Brown, the pioneering African American historian and novelist who used the authority of background to jot down blacks into the yank tale.

Moving into the 20th century, Mitchell analyzes the ancient component to the Southern Agrarian undertaking, concentrating on the stress among modernist aesthetics and polemical goals in Allen Tate's Civil struggle biographies. He then lines a direction towards a achievable ancient imaginative and prescient, Robert Penn Warren's restoration of a sad figuring out, and the construction of a compelling ancient paintings within the paintings of Shelby Foote. all through, Mitchell examines the strange issue of southern writers, the altering nature of heritage and its relation to the area of letters, and the query of public authority, laying off gentle on a number of missed texts within the technique -- together with Simms's The Sack and Destruction of Columbia, S.C., Brown's The Negro within the American uprising, Tate's Jefferson Davis, and Warren's John Brown.

Offering a brand new standpoint on a perennial debate in southern letters, A hectic and Alien reminiscence offers a serious framework for a missed style within the southern literary canon.

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Simms struggled with the legacy of his father, a failed Charleston merchant who had gone west, fought with Jackson at New Orleans and in the Indian wars, and made good as a Mississippi planter. 13 His father’s indictment of the city in a letter to his young son would haunt his choice: “Return to Charleston! Why should you return to Charleston, where you can never succeed in any profession, where you need what you have not,—friends, family, and fortune; and without these your whole life, unless some happy accident should favor you, will be a mere apprenticeship, a hopeless drudging after bread.

The Reverend Weems, he says, produced “a delightful book for the young,” but he has “rather loose notions of the privileges of the biographer” (vii–viii). The strength of Weems’s biographies lies in their vivid embellishment of events and character (with the biographer often supplying them out of whole cloth). Weems is the people’s historian, writing out of and for the popular imagination, but Simms at W IL L I A M G IL MOR E SI M MS A N D T H E FA ILU R E OF ROM A N T IC HIS TORY 27 several points faults his lack of respect for the facts and his twisting of Marion’s essential character and the concrete historical situation for the sake of a successful formula.

When the newly formed legislature takes seats, guarded from disturbance by the army of Greene, Marion is among its members, and it is anything but a body of the people at large, as Simms represents it: “Constituting as they did, in a slave community, a sort of feudal aristocracy, and accustomed, as, for so long a time they had been, to the use of weapons of war, its members wore the deportment of so many armed barons, gathered together quite as much for action as resolve” (292–93). ” (293). Simms here attempts to reconcile a problem that haunts the southern writer from Thomas Jefferson to Allen Tate and beyond when considering the peculiar problem of the antebellum South: how does one reconcile the founding of a democracy with a society built upon chattel slavery?

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