In the Midst of a Noisome Swamp: The Landscape of Henry Clay Lewis

By Watts, Edward | The Southern Literary Journal, Spring 1990 | Go to article overview

In the Midst of a Noisome Swamp: The Landscape of Henry Clay Lewis


Watts, Edward, The Southern Literary Journal


The town, the forest, and the river served as the primary settings in the vast preponderance of stories and anecdotes written by the humorists of the Old Southwest. Each setting is associated with its own specific characteristics and implications which are among the most accessible devices at the disposal of these writers. The humor of their stories, from Augustus Longstreet's town in "The Fight," to Alexander McNutt's "A Swim for a Deer," to Solomon Smith's river in "Slow Traveling by Steamship," is usually generated by the application or the inversion of these expectations to certain colorful characters or circumstances. The town is where the greenhorn or outsider is conned and the local competitors compete; the forests hold the astounding doings of the wild animals and the wilder men; and the steamboat on the river serves as a travelling epicenter of con-artistry and confrontations between certain semi-civilized types.

The relationship between setting and subject in this literature is thus rather static: for the most part, these writers were content to employ these generic frontier settings tacitly and utilize them as fully constructed stages onto which to cast their conmen and characters. As such, in much of the humor of the Old Southwest, there is little or no interest in the manipulation of landscape as a contributory device in the establishment of a scene or environment. The stages set for these anecdotes often seem as hastily prepared as one of Solomon Smith's must have been. In many cases, the simple environments are the quite appropriate settings for rather simplistic anecdotes in respect to moral or structural complexity. Whether this omission is on account of a lack of technical skill, an intentional utilization of easily accessible locales with which the reader was familiar, or, most likely, a lack of primary concern with contextualization, the almost exclusive employment of generic locales suggests an intentional avoidance in this literature of the thematic complexity made available through the construction of ambiguous settings. (1)

In many of his stories, Henry Clay Lewis is content merely to place his stories in the generic frontier town, forest, or river. For example, "The Mississippi Patent Plan for Pulling Teeth," "The Indefatigable Bear-Hunter," and "A Rattlesnake on a Steamboat," respectively, could be easily removed to the town of Longstreet, the steamboat of Smith, or the forest of McNutt. In these stories and many others, Lewis, too, employs the facility in exposition provided by the generic settings that was the standard among this group of writers. However, these stories are among the least interesting of his collection, Odd Leaves from the Life of a Louisiana Swamp Doctor. This is not because these stories are not fine examples of the norms of this tradition. In them, Lewis demonstrates the literary dexterity he carefully fostered as a young man in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Rather, it is because the stories in which the generic settings are abandoned achieve a complexity often unavailable in the standard settings.

In stories such as "Seeking a Location," "Valerian and the Panther," and "A Struggle for Life," Lewis sends his often transparently autobiographical persona, Madison Tensas, M.D., out into the mixture of land and water that composed the bayous of northern Louisiana. The bayous are neither land nor water: they are a constantly changing, darkening, and threatening bog. Moreover, these bayous had, before Lewis, never been described and explored as a literary device as they would be later in the fiction of such writers as Mark Twain, William Faulkner, and Flannery O'Conner. In each of these stories, Tensas travels from the stability of a generic setting, where he practices his art with all the characteristic frontier resourcefulness and integrity of Joseph Baldwin's Ovid Bolus or Johnson Jones Hooper's Simon Suggs, and into the bayou where the conventional (a)morality of Southwestern humor becomes wholly inapplicable. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

In the Midst of a Noisome Swamp: The Landscape of Henry Clay Lewis
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.