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

By Douglas L. Mitchell

In the past due 19th century, because the examine of historical past shifted from the area of letters into the social sciences, novelists within the North and the West commonly became clear of writing heritage. Many southern novelists and poets, although, persisted to adopt historic writing as an extension in their paintings shape. What made southern literary figures range from their northern and western opposite numbers? In A tense and Alien reminiscence, Douglas L. Mitchell addresses this interesting query by means of tracing a line of southern writers from the early 19th century to the mid-twentieth, discovering that an obsessive have to shield the South and the oft-noted "rage to provide an explanation for" drove a few inventive writers to proceed to make forays into background and biography on the way to input a extra public sphere the place they can extra decisively impact interpretations of the prior.

In the Romantic background of the 19th century, Mitchell explains, males of letters observed themselves as keepers of reminiscence whose renderings of the previous may possibly aid form the way forward for the kingdom. He explores the old writing of William Gilmore Simms to track the failure of Romantic nationalism within the transforming into cut up among North and South, then turns to Thomas Nelson Page's attempt to resurrect the South as a "spiritual country" with a redeemed heritage after the Civil conflict. Mitchell juxtaposes their paintings with that of William Wells Brown, the pioneering African American historian and novelist who used the authority of heritage to put in writing blacks into the yankee tale.

Moving into the 20 th century, Mitchell analyzes the historic section of the Southern Agrarian venture, concentrating on the strain among modernist aesthetics and polemical goals in Allen Tate's Civil warfare biographies. He then strains a course towards a potential historic imaginative and prescient, Robert Penn Warren's restoration of a sad figuring out, and the production of a compelling old paintings within the paintings of Shelby Foote. all through, Mitchell examines the abnormal issue of southern writers, the altering nature of background and its relation to the area of letters, and the query of public authority, laying off gentle on a number of overlooked texts within the method -- 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 viewpoint on a perennial debate in southern letters, A nerve-racking and Alien reminiscence offers a serious framework for a missed style within the southern literary canon.

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It must be remembered that even while Simms sought to find his place in the highly stratified social structure of Charleston, he remained, as Holman phrases it, “a committed Jacksonian and a consistent Jeffersonian” (xiv). The conflict between the democratic and patrician models of order was by no means peculiar to Simms; the South itself struggled with the potential of Jacksonian democracy and Jeffersonian liberty set against the backdrop of an economy and a social order largely based on chattel slavery.

Simms dwells upon all these experiences as preparation for Smith’s voyage to the new continent, and he portrays Smith as well suited to resist the temptations offered by the new frontier. Simms tells us that Smith, never idle, returned to England: “He was now better prepared than ever to convert these admirable qualities of courage into useful and efficient agencies for the prosecution 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 35 of great designs” (92). Of course, it was an age of great designs, and Simms is careful to distinguish the noble motives of Smith from those of most of his contemporaries.

Simms characterizes his life simply and well: “If it is greatly honorable to found an illustrious family, it is no less meritorious to maintain its character, and finish nobly its career” (6). As much as Simms celebrates the chivalric virtues of Bayard, he is by no means uncritical in his approach to chivalry; Simms carefully qualifies his admiration to suit the standards of a more enlightened age, and he is blind to the incongruity between celebration of the knightly ethos and his strictures on its excesses and contradictions.

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