The South in American Literature, 1607-1900

The South in American Literature, 1607-1900

The South in American Literature, 1607-1900

The South in American Literature, 1607-1900

Excerpt

No one can make a sectional list of the men and women who have achieved distinction in [American] literature, and fail to see that, whether in prose or poetry, fiction or essay, there is a special sectional quality in each, a reflection of the region's common interests and soul. Our American literature is not a single thing. It is a choral song of many sections.

FREDERICK J. TURNER, The Significance of Sections in American History (1932), p. 329.

The literature of the South has long occupied a somewhat anomalous place in our literary histories. For many years those Southerners who wrote about it were less concerned with appraising its literary values than with using it to refute the Abolitionist notion that the South was a semibarbarous region with no claim to cultural importance. In books and articles which prejudiced many scholars against any sectional approach to the study of our literature they not only overrated Southern writers, but they also charged Northern critics and literary historians with deliberately neglecting them. Neglect there undoubtedly was forty years ago, but it was seldom intentional. The earlier Northern literary historians, it is true, were definitely influenced by the Abolitionist conception which they had unconsciously absorbed; and some of them may be said to have mistaken the literature of New England and New York for the literature of the United States.

In the twentieth century the chief reason why some Northern historians have treated the Southern writers inadequately has been the difficulty of finding materials. And these, until about 1920, Southern scholars had done little to provide. The literature itself was in many instances to be found only in rare books, magazines, and pamphlets; and good biographical and critical studies of most of the writers were nonexistent. It was far easier to discuss intelligently the writings of Cotton Mather or Jonathan Edwards than it was the work of Henry Timrod or William J. Grayson, whose name is not, strangely enough, included in the Dictionary of American Biography. Even today it is more difficult to find adequate materials for many a South-

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