Our Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, and the Civil War Era

By Stephen B. Oates | Go to book overview

ONE
STYRON'S WAR AGAINST THE BLACKS

I

One of the most disturbing literary storms of our time was that whipped up by William Styron's Confessions of Nat Turner ( 1967), a novel about that prodigious black figure who led the bloody Virginia slave rebellion of 1831. In an "Author's Note," Styron insisted that he had "rarely departed from the known facts about Nat Turner" and advertised his book as less a historical novel than "a meditation on history." Then he went on to depict Turner as a sexually crippled bachelor given to masturbation fantasies about white women. Since the real-life Nat Turner had a wife, black scholars and activists alike cried out in protest. Of course they said the novel violated the historical record. Of course they said it perpetuated the white racist stereotype that all black men are obsessed with white women. Of course they damned Styron for emasculating one of their heroes. Of course they fretted that Styron's grandiose claims —a meditation on history indeed!—would invite both blacks and whites to accept the novel as historically accurate.

But few whites listened. On the contrary, most white reviewers heralded Styron's portrait of Nat as a masterpiece. Eminent white historians like C. Vann Woodward testified to its historical brilliance and integrity. When the book became a runaway best-seller and won the Pulitzer Prize, several black authors had taken all they could stand: they collected their own opinions in a volume called William Styron's Nat Turner:Ten Black Writers Respond ( 1968), edited by John Henrik Clarke. "History's potency is

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Our Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, and the Civil War Era
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • One Styron's War Against the Blacks 1
  • Two God's Stone in the Pool of Slavery 9
  • Three John Brown and His Judges 22
  • Four Modern Radicals and John Brown 43
  • Five the Enigma of Stephen A. Douglas 52
  • Six Lincoln's Journey to Emancipation 61
  • Seven the Long Shadow of Lincoln 86
  • Eight Carl Sandburg's Lincoln 99
  • Nine Ghost Riders in the Sky 112
  • Ten Themes and Variations of a Civil War Trilogy 121
  • References 130
  • Index 144
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