From Nationalism to Secessionism: The Changing Fiction of William Gilmore Simms

From Nationalism to Secessionism: The Changing Fiction of William Gilmore Simms

From Nationalism to Secessionism: The Changing Fiction of William Gilmore Simms

From Nationalism to Secessionism: The Changing Fiction of William Gilmore Simms

Synopsis

Like many Southerners before the Civil War, William Gilmore Simms changed from a nationalist to a secessionist. Charles Watson illustrates this transformation through a step-by-step examination of Simms' literary works, which express the changing attitudes of other, more inarticulate Southerners, who found a voice in Simms' fiction. In the first half of his career, from 1825 to 1848, Simms wrote as a national author, composing patriotic romances. But, when the political conflict over slavery worsened, starting with the Wilmot Proviso, which prohibited the westward expansion of slavery, Simms became an uncompromising proponent of Secession.

Excerpt

In 1832, William Gilmore Simms championed the Union and was mobbed at the editorial office of the Charleston City Gazette. Writing to his fellow secessionist Nathaniel Beverley Tucker in 1850, he repudiated the Compromise of 1850: "I have no hope, and no faith in compromises of any kind" (L, ii, 8). These diametrically opposed positions highlight Simms's transformation from nationalism to secessionism. How do his literary works reveal the stages and consequences of this dramatic change? the answer to that question is the subject of my book.

As the leading writer and a major cultural figure of the antebellum South, William Gilmore Simms has received serious study over an extended period of time. His fiction, the most important body of his literary work, as well as his public career have called forth book- length studies, initiated by William P. Trent's controversial biography, published in 1892. in recent decades there have appeared literary studies by J. V. Ridgely and Mary Ann Wimsatt; an analysis of his political career by Jon L. Wakelyn; a collection of essays edited by John Caldwell Guilds, and a biography by the same author; six volumes of his letters edited by Mary C. Simms Oliphant, Alfred Taylor Odell, and T. C. Duncan Eaves; my modern edition of Woodcraft; and scholarly editions of his writings, including the poetry by James Everett Kibler, Jr. Nonetheless there has not been a systematic study of the political ideas in his fiction. Guilds, while contributing valuable biographical material, disregards the political . . .

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