The Fugitives: A Critical Account

The Fugitives: A Critical Account

The Fugitives: A Critical Account

The Fugitives: A Critical Account

Excerpt

IN THE FUTURE history of American letters, the Fugitive group almost certainly will occupy a position analogous to that of the Transcendental group of the mid-nineteenth century. Like their New England prototypes, the Southern Fugitives have been rather consistently over- and underrated by their contemporaries on grounds essentially irrelevant to their achievements. The fact that the major Fugitives engaged in the Agrarian movement of the early thirties and the further fact that they have insisted upon defending "reactionary" political positions have led many social-minded critics to condemn them out of hand. They have been called "young Confederates" and "defenders of the faith," scored for "cozy self-satisfaction" in their reactionism and for "anti-intellectualism ... in the interests of tradition." On the other hand, they have been extolled as preservers of American tradition by patriotic regionalists. But these are extraliterary considerations, interesting sociologically and in the "history of ideas," but largely irrelevant to the present study of the specifically literary and critical performances of the group.

The Fugitive penchant for polemics and their dogmatism in critical theory has tended to alienate not only their avowed enemies, but their potential allies as well. Fellow-traditionalist groups, such as the Neo-Humanists and the Chicago Aristotelians, have been attacked by Ransom and Tate with the same vigor they have marshaled against the "positivists." Ransom has severely criticized T. S. Eliot, apparently a natural ally, and even his fellow Fugitives. The result of this individualism has been a gradual narrowing of the circle of eager followers among American critics. Nothing like an influential "Fugitive . . .

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