Defining Southern Literature: Perspectives and Assessments, 1831-1952

Defining Southern Literature: Perspectives and Assessments, 1831-1952

Defining Southern Literature: Perspectives and Assessments, 1831-1952

Defining Southern Literature: Perspectives and Assessments, 1831-1952


"Defining Southern Literature delineates several phases in the story of Southern literature. Debate over what makes Southern literature different - or even Southern - goes back many decades, and among the answers has been the debate itself, a uniquely pervasive regional self-consciousness over what makes Southern culture different. Certainly no other American region has been so distinctly "marked" as the South has. Attempts to delineate the special mission, nature, problems, and virtues of Southern writers can be traced back at least to the 1830s, when editors called - with only slight success - for a sectional literature and more supportive Southern readers." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


This project grew out of years of studying and teaching Southern literature and history and reflecting on the South’s identity as the most clearly “marked” region in the United States. Several years ago during a conference in Chapel Hill on “What Is Southern about Southern Literature?” I took the position that even if we could not ascertain specific internal traits common to and limited to writings from the South, there was certainly a remarkable amount of self-consciousness about being significantly Southern that connected most Southern writers. In exploring that position I set out to determine when and how Southern literature became a clear subcategory of American literature and how much literary issues about the South have intersected with or been governed by political issues of sectional conflict, Reconstruction, the New South, and so forth. Making available to students of the South a wide range of nineteenth- and twentieth-century articles addressing the place of Southern writing in American culture, along with an overview of the issues raised by critics along the way, seems the most useful product of the research.

In selecting articles I not only used the standard checklists but also searched through numerous important American magazines and quarterlies. These publications yielded surprises along the way. Many articles, of course, were left out in pruning the text to a manageable length. The remainder are a fairly representative collection that also includes statements on Southern culture by several significant American writers, scholars, and critics.

Only a handful of book reviews are included, and those serve partly as a reminder of the role played by reviews in critical discourse about the South and American literature in general. In covering the twentieth century, moreover, I have had to be far more selective because of the mass of critical commentary. Originally, the anthology was to come up to 1970; but the length of recent articles—as well as their more general availability in other collections—led to my decision to stop at 1952, following Hugh Gloster’s argument for the need to include African American writers within our vision of Southern writing and Robert Heilman’s lead essay “The Southern Temper” in the important collection The Southern Renascence.

Among the items that may well have been included had the next two decades been included are the following: Walter Blair, “Traditions in . . .

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