Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

The First Nine Steck-Vaughn Pamphlets

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

The First Nine Steck-Vaughn Pamphlets

Article excerpt

In the beginning God drew up an excellent, if somewhat idealistic, plan for mankind, but then along came Satan and disarranged it all, fortunately leaving it not entirely without hope of amendment. On another plane, the editors of the pamphlets called the Steck-Vaughn Southern Writers Series have witnessed their project experiencing a somewhat similar fate.

Undeniably the planners of the series commenced with a really fine idea. They would bring out a series of pamphlets, each running about forty printed pages, each giving a valuable overall view of a Southern writer or a phase of Southern writing, and each done by a competent scholar in the field. Such a continuing and growing list of studies would prove of inestimable significance, for it could serve to introduce students and the general reader to the major and minor figures in a regional literature which in the last century, as least, has been recognized as perhaps the major current in the mainstream of our nation's intellectual and artistic production.

They--the editors--would be the first to acknowledge that there is already a burgeoning scholarship in this field. Scarcely a month goes by without announcements from both commercial and university presses of several studies of Southern writers and Southern writing. Why, one may ask, should still another addition to this pile of books, journals, and articles be desirable? Isn't the job of criticizing, analyzing, explicating, and evaluating Southern writing already being rather overdone?

The answer is, I think, obvious. With the proliferation of the study of Southern literature, especially in the field of the doctoral dissertation, the writers on Southern subjects have become increasingly specialized and hence increasingly limited in respect to their treatment of these subjects. More often than not, the result is something like a study of the rhetorical devices in the novels of Thomas Wolfe or a painstaking identification of the Asheville residents he used as models, instead of a full-fledged picture of the author and his work as a whole. Of course, there are such inclusive studies, but generally the student of Southern literature must collect bits and pieces here and there and fit them together himself to make an often incomplete and unsatisfactory mosaic.

While the intention of the editors of this series was not to present full-length studies of Southern authors, within the scope of a brief forty pages they could offer a kind of miniature overall study of a writer which would give the reader a rounded picture of that writer, his works, and perhaps his relationship to his Southern milieu. To specialize, to let some scholar ride his particular hobbyhorse--these would, I think, tend to vitiate both the intention and the usefulness of such a series. I remember going to a series of book-length studies of single authors and coming away, not with an overview of T. S. Eliot, but with only some highly specialized conjectures about his debt to Dante, and not with an overview of Eugene O'Neill, but with an interesting but somewhat less than helpful account of his dependence upon transcendental philosophy. Old dissertations, it seems, do not die; instead, slightly warmed over, they pop up as volumes in a series of studies.

In the first nine of these pamphlets (the ones here under consideration, though more are now available), six seem to me to attempt more or less successfully to give overviews of their subjects--a fairly high average. John L. Longley, Jr.'s Robert Penn Warren, Jacob H. Adler's Lillian Hellman, Nancy M. Tischler's Tennessee Williams, Dale Edmonds' Carson McCullers, Cooper R. Mackin's William Styron, and Ladell Payne's Thomas Wolfe consciously seek to present their subjects in toto. With varying degrees of emphasis, the writers of these pamphlets essay to give relevant biographical material, analyses of each author's major or typical works, a consideration of recurring themes, subjects, and techniques, and a general evaluation of each author. …

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