Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Realism and Romance in Simms's Midcentury Fiction

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Realism and Romance in Simms's Midcentury Fiction

Article excerpt

The intermingled artistic traditions that mark Simms's mature writing spring largely from conditions in his literary milieu. (1) The years in which he wrote (roughly 1825-1870) saw the triumph and then the decline of the historical romance that he favored, which after its heyday from the 1820's through the early 1840's was driven out of fashion by the emerging realistic novel. Simms's work naturally reflects the pressures of these contending literary movements, as critics from his time to ours have sensed. The appearance of both realism and romance in his fiction has been a subject of scholarly commentary from his biographer William P. Trent onward; it is the leading point of Vernon L. Parrington's chapter on Simms in Main Currents, and it is central to the work of Hampton Jarrell, Edd Winfield Parks, and other writers influenced by Parrington's claim that "in taste and temperament Simms was a pronounced realist, but his career took shape from a generation given to every romantic excess." (2)

Partly because of such statements, and also because of the bias of our age toward realism as a literary method, the notion persists in the academic mind that Simms was "good" or "right" when he wrote in the realistic manner and "bad" or "wrong" or "boring" when he used the romance vein. Yet this complex issue, which has never been satisfactorily treated, cannot be resolved so simply; in fact, it cannot be resolved at all unless we are willing to discard our prejudices in favor of realism, examine without blinders the conventions of romance, and assess the assumptions behind both traditions, as these underlie artistic procedures. To accomplish this obviously complicated task, we should draw on the postulates of literary theory in order to study how cultural and literary history affected the development of Simms's mature fiction. We should, in other words, explore modern conceptions of realism and romance as literary modes, fix the particular strains in the realist tradition that Simms fitted into romance structures, note how the South Carolina low country that is the main setting for his books treated in this essay gave him material for work in both forms, and observe how time and his personal fortunes worked some changes in his literary methods. Such an approach, taking due account of his debts to both realism and romance, seems essential if we are to make any real sense of his midcentury fiction and continue with any success the reappraisal of his life and writing now going on.

At the outset, it is necessary to stress that, however much Simms's twentieth-century readers may admire the realistic aspect of his writing, his fundamental bent--at least as his literary structures express it--was toward romance. From the beginning to the end of his career, the romance was his dominant form for long fiction; romance structures and values affect much of his short fiction as well. Because throughout his life he was a professional author catering to the book market, most of his long works employ the conventions of popular romance established by generations of writers as described by modern literary theory. These volumes show a commitment to the ideals of the aristocratic or ruling class, in Simms's case the planting class of the colonial and antebellum South; they express the conflict of those ideals with forces threatening them through a two-sided or dialectic structure revealed most obviously in their love plots, symbolic constructions where comely heroes and heroines representing the ideals battle villains representing the anti-ideals; they resolve this conflict through insistently happy or "wish-fulfillment" endings that dramatize the triumph of ruling-class values as heroes defeat villains and marry heroines; and they employ as a major setting a natural or "green" domain wherein the Southern agrarian system and to some extent the wooded Southern countryside assume a pastoral shape. (3)

Simms, who theorized about romance throughout his life, knew its traditions well through the work of many authors--Malory, Shakespeare, Sidney, Spenser, Maturin, and Scott among others, whom he mentions in letters, criticism, the Yemassee Preface, and miscellaneous writings. In addition, his Celtic temperament, with its fondness for the exciting, the fanciful, and the dramatic, would perhaps have inclined him to write romances even had he had no models for the form. At any rate he insisted, from early in his career to nearly the end of it, that his works were "romances, not novels"; (4) and he strenuously maintained that they should therefore not be judged by the standards of realistic fiction, toward which he occasionally showed some aversion. Thus, claiming that his romance employed broad strokes, bold characterization, elevating morals, and wild adventures, he stressed that it was by no means to be confused with "the domestic novel," which centers on the depiction of "common and daily occurring" scenes, or with "the social life novel," which is "a very inferior school" of writing, where the "ordinary events of the household, or of the snug family circle, suggest the only materials." (5) Though the evidence of his fiction indicates that Simms was somewhat friendlier to realism than these remarks imply, we should nevertheless keep before us the fact that, in his official theory as in his literary structures, he was firmly on the side of romance.

The peculiar conditions of historical romance, however--that complex genre which emerged in the early nineteenth century--caused Simms, like other writers, to make some modifications in romance forms. The chief modification, as I see it, was the creation of what may be called an enveloping or a framing action grounded in history that establishes the major values of the novel in a particular historical moment. Central to the framing action is the perspective that develops out of the passage of time between the era shown in the novel and the author's own period. By means of this "time perspective," the author imposes the interpretation of his era upon the events of the past and thus suggests his sense of the teleology, so to speak, of history by references to an action whose shape is completed and whose pertinence to the present is clear. In much historical fiction (6) the framing action incorporating the time perspective is the chief, or at least the most immediate, source of the dialectic structure stemming from the portrait of forces in conflict.

Like romance, and especially perhaps like historical romance, literary realism is a broad and complicated phenomenon with many different origins and manifestations. Unlike romance, however, it does not depend on a standardized shape or structural pattern; in fact, since it undertakes to trace the unique outlines of individual experience, it glories in the absence of standard patterns. Centering more in content than in form, it may inhere in the proliferation of concrete details, in the solid depiction of a social milieu, in the scrutiny of various forces that mold human destiny, in a study of random individuals caught up by these forces, or in an emphasis on the common occupations and customs of ordinary people. Though realism did not become a dominant literary mode until the nineteenth century, it has been present in most genres since their inception. Among its pre-nineteenth-century manifestations were the comedy and novel of manners with their detailed, lively, often satiric portraits of individuals against a richly-textured social fabric. It is this kind of realism-with-a-manners slant as it flowers in Simms's mature fiction that concerns us in this essay.

Simms, who was steeped in the literature of many eras, and who had a strong temperamental bent toward the realistic tradition in both its "earthy" and its "manners" phases, knew it through the work of Cervantes, the British comedy and the early novel of manners, the writing of Fielding, Smollett, and Dickens, and a variety of other sources, but in its "social life" stages, he knew it most directly, perhaps, through the books of silver-fork novelists like Bulwer-Lytton and Disraeli and searching portraitists of manners like Thackeray, who, themselves in debt to the eighteenth-century comedy and novel of manners, were pushing British fiction toward social criticism, social realism, and satiric studies of upper-class conduct. Simms discussed these and kindred novelists in articles published in the 1840's and 1850's in The Magnolia and The Southern Quarterly Review; he praised their pictures of "the absurdities, the frivolities and the vices of fashionable life"; and he drew on their methods and attitudes for his fiction of the 1850's when it ventured into the elegant city social sphere. (7) So, although he was prone to denounce "social life" realism when it undermined the reception of his romances, he was equally prone to use it, within certain limits, in his mature novels and novelettes.

Cooperating nicely with these strains in Simms's literary heritage was the South Carolina low country, the cultural matrix of his fiction treated in this essay, which gave him material in abundance for both romance and realism. All his long fiction set in the low country is historical; and he found in various aspects of the history of his native state the bases for the framing actions of his stories, their dialectic structures, their aristocratic social values, their highborn leading figures, and their pastoral or "green" dimensions. At the same time the low country, particularly Charleston, gave him subjects for social realism as it issued in both his gently humorous and his biting studies of manners. This fact will be clearer if we look at what were, to Simms, both the good and the bad sides of Charleston life. From an early point in its history the city had been, as he knew, a charming, fancy, snobbish little place with pronounced patrician leanings fostered by the conditions of its settlement, its immigration patterns, its ties to British and Barbadian aristocracy, and its connection with plantation gentry. In the eighteenth century "the hub of the Low Country universe," in the nineteenth the epitome of Southern sophistication, it was the locus of both the polish and the provincial haughtiness of low country living. (8)

Simms's knowledge of Charleston history, which was broad and generally accurate, was complicated by his personal feelings about the city, which ranged from resentment to proud defensive love. The son of an Irish immigrant whose wife had some ties to Virginia gentlefolk, he was born into a family of relatively modest social standing; and, though he married into the family of a well-to-do planter, he was never really part of patrician Charleston circles, despite occasional efforts of his present-day defenders to claim the contrary. This situation was one source of his hostility toward his native city; another was his sense, in the main just, that Charleston with its love of wealth and ease and pleasure scorned the life of letters which he valued. His pronouncements on this problem resound through his writing: he charges, for example, that in Charleston "a literary man is obnoxious," that the city, "full of assumption, conciet [sic] and ignorance," takes "little interest in anything that requires thought," and that all which he has done "has been poured to waste" there. (9) At the same time, however, he loved and admired the town, as some essays he published near the middle of the century reveal. Here, although he scolds Charleston for her pursuit of the "fashionable and foolish," he also commends her proud past, her role in national history, "the refinements of her society ... the polish of her people." (10) Such comments shed light on the city scenes of his mature novels, where he shows both the snobbish and the cultivated sides of Charleston life.

These literary, historical, and personal factors combine in complex manner in the fiction that is the concern of this essay--a novelette The Golden Christmas (1852), two Revolutionary War romances Katharine Walton (1854) and Eutaw (1856), and a colonial romance The Cassique of Kiawah (1859), Simms's last novel published in book form during his lifetime. (11) In these works Simms, with a bow toward each part of his literary heritage, chose for his major genre either romance or the genial comedy related to it and fitted social realism and satire into the formal structures these literary modes provide. As already indicated, he drew on low country culture for his romance features and on Charleston for many of his sequences in fashionable life. According to his needs in particular books, he used either the "good" or the "bad" side of Charleston society, sometimes both sides together in the same piece. We can see these elements clearly in The Golden Christmas, a charming little volume virtually unknown to the general academic reader, which of all Simms's fiction reveals his strongest debt to the classic structure of comedy. (12)

The portraits of upper-class behavior in The Golden Christmas relate it to the comedy of manners, while its love narrative and the values expressed in its woods and plantation episodes relate it to romantic comedy and its relative, romance. To understand how Simms could bring together such apparently disparate conventions within a single work, we should look again for aid to literary theorists, perhaps particularly to Northrop Frye, a careful analyst of comic form. He says that the typical plot in stage comedy, from which prose fiction comedy derives, involves a young man who wants a young woman, whose desire is resisted by some opposition, usually parental, and who gets his way through an unexpected twist in the plot. Since the opposition to the hero's match is often paternal, comedy usually turns, says Frye, "on a clash between a son's and a father's will." And since "the curious feature of doubled characters ... runs all through the history of comedy," both hero and heroine may have an oppressive or what he calls a "heavy" parent. At the end of the comedy the new society formed by the union of hero and heroine is usually announced, he observes, by a party or festive ritual (AC, pp. 163-64, 181).

What determines the direction in which comedy moves, Frye notes, is the relative emphasis accorded the lovers and the blocking figures. If the main stress is on their reconciliation and the happy ending of the love narrative, it moves toward romantic comedy; if on the blocking figures, who are usually dominated by a humor that demands correction, it turns toward "satire, realism, and studies of manners" (AC, pp. 166-67). But if, it appears, the emphasis is almost equally divided between lovers and their "heavy" opponents, then we get what we find in The Golden Christmas--a graceful combination of romance sequences and manners portraits, where the satire is held in check by the essential goodness of the blocking figures, who are associated with the romance, which, in Simms, is the plantation side.

That romance and realistic-satiric elements are so closely linked in The Golden Christmas is in large measure due to Simms's deft management of comic structure, from the lovers and the relatives to the reconciliation scenes and final pageant. His narrative, which abounds in paired or doubled figures, centers on two young men who want young women, on "heavies" who oppose the matches, and on a clash between a son's and a father's will. Dick Cooper, the narrator, loves Beatrice Mazyck, while his friend Ned Bulmer loves Paula Bonneau. But Ned's marriage is opposed by Paula's grandmother, a snooty old Frenchwoman who hates the English, and by Ned's father, an ardent Anglophile who hates the French and schemes for Ned to marry Dick's girl, Beatrice. Like other such characters in comedy, Madame Agnes-Therese Girardin and Major Bulmer are dominated by humors or ruling passions--Madame by her proud social standing, the Major by old English customs which, he says, are" `sacred as the practice of my ancestors'" (p. 35). With considerable flourish, Simms dramatizes the follies of these blocking figures against the city and plantation settings that suggest the derivation of his story from both social comedy and romance.

The action of the first part of The Golden Christmas takes place in Charleston, where fashionable behavior is displayed in the kind of sophisticated urban milieu that had been a common setting in British manners comedy and fiction from Congreve and Sheridan to Bulwer-Lytton and Thackeray. In this lighthearted novelette Simms is not disposed to criticize his native city harshly; hence his satire on upper-class conduct is mild rather than severe. To stress the need for moderation and good sense in social judgments, he chooses as his spokesman Dick Cooper, a mediating figure between the two warring families--well-bred but not patrician, a friend to both French and English. Dick accompanies Madame Girardin on a shopping tour of King Street, thronged with elegant ladies and "crowded with carriages" (p. 20), where he narrowly observes her behavior. She, he says slyly, "was a sort of social barometer, exactly telling by her manner, what sort of blood flowed in the veins of each to whom she bowed or spoke. To some few she unbent readily, with a spontaneous and unreserved and placid sweetness"; but to others, "her look was vinegar and vitriolic acid" (p. 20). Thus she bows to a smirking, sniggering, doddering old gentleman who Dick says had "`wasted his means like a fool'" because she says his family is "`in the highest circles'" (pp. 23, 22). Yet she snubs as a parvenu one of Dick's particular friends, "`a fine-looking, cheery lady'" whose grandfather had the misfortune to sell shoes by sneering, "`A vulgar creature! ... what a coarse voice,--what a fat vulgar face she has'" (p. 21). She spurns Dick's suggestion (p. 22), which reflects Simms's view, that families with wealth and talent will eventually develop aristocratic graces; and she likewise spurns Major Bulmer's claims to gentility by insisting, "`[Y]ou can never make a gentleman of an Englishman'" (p. 78). (The Major, for his part, snorts, "`None of your French kickshows for me'" [p. 34].) Saucy and sprightly, Simms's Charleston episodes in The Golden Christmas, with their emphasis on the delusions, pretensions, and conceit of aristocrats within an intricate social framework, relate his work to the realistic strain in his literary heritage.

Simms's ridicule of patrician manners and prejudices continues in the rural section of this story, though here it shares the stage with the plantation-pastoral background, the intertwined love narratives, and the defense of the Southern agricultural system that is part of his romance-related procedure. To show this system at its finest, he displays all the trappings of a Golden Christmas, Carolina style--stately visits, family feasts, a deer hunt after "`a fine old buck that haunts the wood down by the ... bottom field'" (p. 42), a boar hunt to furnish the Boar's Head for Christmas dinner, and a visit of"Father Chrystmasse" to the slave quarters (cf. L, III, 486). Since Madame and the Major are associated with the plantation, as Simms sees it their values are essentially sound, though their social principles may require rebuke. Therefore, through a series of clever twists in comic structure, he makes the blocking figures see their follies, reconciles them to each other, and also reconciles them to the lovers. Hence Ned and Paula, Dick and Beatrice finally get together against the background of a lavish Christmas pageant which supports Frye's claim that in comedy the new society formed by the lovers is generally announced by a festive rite. (13) "`The golden period had come round again as so long promised,'" Dick sighs happily (p. 146); and the double climax of love story and plantation pleasures serves to reinforce Simms's propaganda for the planting system and the Carolina aristocracy in a decade when both were under increasingly sharp attack. With its intermeshed plots, its happy endings, its patrician-pastoral values, and its careful merging of realistic episodes with a romance framework, The Golden Christmas brings us to the threshold of Simms's long romances, the Revolutionary War novels and Cassique.

Because the Revolutionary volumes establish the standard romance pattern which Simms would modify, with some originality, in Cassique, it will help to survey them fairly swiftly before moving on to the later work. Save for Woodcraft and Joscelyn, all his Revolutionary War novels closely conform to the conventions of popular romance as we have outlined them; in these volumes, his passionate commitment to the American cause issues in what are perhaps the keenest moral contrasts and the sharpest dialectic of his fiction. These features are especially plain in his love stories, whose function in his novels has been almost universally misunderstood. Few critics have seen the symbolic dimension of his typical plot, and fewer yet have related his method in it to the methods of the literary tradition behind him; (14) yet his plots are nearly perfect replicas of the kind of romance narrative construction we have outlined. With the exceptions noted, each of the Revolutionary volumes shows a brave, virtuous, idealized partisan hero and heroine contending with a British or loyalist villain who wants to destroy the hero and marry the heroine; at the end of a novel or its sequel, the partisans have defeated their enemies and are about to marry each other. Thus to take two examples, in Katharine Walton partisan Major Robert Singleton and his fiancee Katharine fend off the lustful British colonel Nesbitt Balfour, while in The Forayers and Eutaw, patriot officer Willie Sinclair and his fiancee Bertha Travis defeat their tory enemy Captain Inglehardt. The situation in the love story echoes the situation in the framing action where, either actually within a novel or implicitly through its references to history completed, partisans likewise defeat their enemies and possess their country free of foreign threat. Hence the structure and resolution of the Revolutionary War Romance love plot, the most nearly "ideal" of such narratives in Simms's fiction, mirrors what he saw as the ideal resolution of the Revolutionary cause.

Within this governing romance system, Simms's Revolutionary War novels show generous amounts of what we now call realism--in the abundance of specific detail drawn from history and in the plentiful number of straight-speaking figures from the lower social orders. In addition, the Revolutionary novels of the 1850's show a persistent interest in the social scene, which Simms uses to slant his romance dialectic in favor of patriots and against tories and Britons. Thus in Katharine Walton, as I have discussed in detail elsewhere, (15) he paints the beleaguered patriots in British-occupied Charleston as the real aristocrats of the Carolina colony who uphold the values for which the war is fought, while, employing the methods of manners comedy and fiction, he shows their British and loyalist foes as shallow socialites preoccupied with rich houses, fancy manners, and showy parties. And in Eutaw he makes Nelly Floyd, a wild girl of the woods who is straight from the heart of the romance tradition, fall hopelessly in love with Sherrod Nelson, an essentially decent loyalist officer tainted by the influence of the fashionable world; he also zeroes in on that world through his little fable of Sam Peter Adair, a bedecked, bejeweled, posturing old fop who is murdered for his money by a band of lower-class tory marauders. (Interestingly enough, Simms's comments on Adair--"`Fool! this night shall thy soul be required of thee!'" (16)--reflect the Christian affinities of popular romance in his time by indicating that he modeled his fable on a well-known New Testament story.) Simms's attack on social folly in Katharine Walton and Eutaw, kept firmly within his overarching romance framework, sharpened his talent for his onslaughts on such folly in Cassique.

That neglected novel is a story of the Carolina low country whose especial focus is Charleston. (17) It has the main elements of Simms's other long fiction set in the coastal region--a historical framing action, a dialectic construction, and a double love plot that communicates its major values. It has also the elements of social realism as he had refined them by this point in his career--though here, to a greater extent than in his earlier fiction, he gives that realism a satiric slant. For the framing action of his novel, set in 1684, he employs the clash, well-documented in seventeenth-century history, between England and Spain over their New World possessions. Earlier in the era, Charles the Second of England had commissioned privateers like Simms's hero Harry Berkeley to prey on Spanish ships. The treaty of Madrid, however, had brought peace, and had guaranteed to England the safety of her American holdings; hence royal decree now brands privateers as pirates and outlaws. Pirates, as readers of Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson know, are a long-standing component of romance; Simms's use of piracy as a subject allows him to exploit the charm and danger of a picturesque occupation, to hint at crime, and yet to stress that his hero is, at bottom, far more virtuous than the government which condemns him.

Simms's leading characters in Cassique embody features of his framing action--piracy, English/Spanish relations, the proprietary government of the colony, and its developing class configurations. They reflect also his point, made in chapter after chapter of his story, that his potentially ideal romance world has been marred by meddling socialites, as the involutions of the love story dramatize. There Simms tells the connected tales of two ill-matched pairs, the conventional "dark" and "light" couples of popular romance--the privateer Harry Berkeley, now called Harry Calvert, his wife, the black-haired Spanish-Moorish beauty Zulieme, his older brother Edward, the philanthropic Cassique of Kiawah (a title borrowed from the Indians) who is a nephew of the Lord Proprietor Sir William Berkeley, and Edward's fair-haired, melancholy wife Olive, who was once engaged to Harry. All four of these creations are straight from the realm of romance, but their fortunes have been harmed by a creature from the realm of social comedy--Olive's caste-conscious, money-hungry mother, Mrs. Masterton, who has forced her daughter to marry Edward, whereupon Harry, in despair, wed Zulieme. Making this bad situation worse are the antics of figures from the Charleston social sphere who try to spoil romance fortunes further--most notably Mrs. Perkins Anderson, a nouveau riche lady who wants to seduce Harry and, when he will not have her, tries to get her friend Keppel Craven to seduce Zulieme, who will not have him.

As this description indicates, the shape of Simms's narrative in Cassique shows a view of human existence that can scarcely be called ideal. The situation in the book may reflect his personal experience while writing it: Cassique was hammered out during a particularly trying phase of his life, when he was troubled by family illnesses and deaths, plantation problems, poverty, conflicts with publishers, and worry about the approaching Civil War. (18) It was probably the weight of personal care combined with his growing awareness, expressed through his midcentury journalism, of the steady growth of realism in contemporary fiction that led him to intertwine the methods of realism and romance so closely in the novel that the one qualifies the other at nearly every level. We will trace this intertwining first through the manners sequences and then through the romance structures of Cassique, the major elements of its dialectic system.

Throughout the novel Simms stresses that the Carolina colony from its beginning harbored two kinds of people, the "landgraves, cassiques, barons" created by the Lords Proprietors who are associated with the emerging plantation system, and the "fashionables" or "wealthy parvenues" of the town who have "no entree," he says, "into the baronial seats" (pp. 134, 137). Predictably enough, given the heritage of his fiction, he depicts the aristocrats according to the idealizing methods of romance; he develops their fashionable rivals, however, by the methods of satiric social realism. A chief tool of that realism is his narrative voice, which has no exact counterpart in his earlier novels, though certain passages of social criticism in Eutaw look forward to it. Its characteristic tones are sounded early in Cassique, where Simms is describing--with a swipe at contemporary Charleston--the conditions of infant Charleston:

      Of course, there are lusts, and vanities, and human passions; many
   vices, and perhaps some goodly virtues, scattered broadcast among the
   goodly people of the town, even as at the present day. And of this stuff,
   we must even make what we can in our present history. But, also, almost of
   course, there was a struggling upward of individuals and circles, just as
   now; striving feebly, according to a poor idiotic fashion, after wisdom,
   virtue, religion, and money. And these, too, will have their uses in our
   sober narrative. These are just the very elements, mixed and warring, of
   which all worlds are made; and, whatever moralists and philosophers may
   think, it is not for the artist to quarrel with the very material out of
   which his proper wares are to be fabricated.... (p. 94)

In such passages Simms, a mature author still at odds with the city of his birth, strikes the pose of a slightly jaded observer of the values and pursuits of Charleston since its founding in the seventeenth century. For this pose he draws on Thackeray, whom he had met in Charleston in the 1850's and whose writing he regularly reviewed during the decade, noting its hits at "society in its most ridiculous attitudes" (SQR, 24: 266). (19) Thackeray in some of this writing--most noticeably, perhaps, in Vanity Fair--had created a narrator who makes cutting comments from a realist's perspective on the fashionable follies of the day. (20) This figure mingles in the social circles he portrays, gossips about their members, and uses fanciful descriptive names that recall the names in Restoration comedies. He says, for example, "`I remember one night being in the Fair myself, at an evening party. I observed old Miss Toady there also present, single out for her special attentions and flattery little Mrs. Briefless, the barrister's wife.... What, I asked in my own mind, can cause this obsequiousness on the part of Miss Toady ...?'" He soon learns that Mrs. Briefless' father is about to become a baronet: "`And Toady asked Briefless and his wife to dinner the very next week.'" (21)

Especially when Simms is describing the vanities of socialite Charleston, his method is close to Thackeray's, and like Thackeray he shows a fair amount of dislike for the society he is portraying. Sinewing this dislike were his feelings about the similar society of his day, which he felt had snubbed him and his literary productions. Thus he criticizes the pretensions of colonial Charleston--and, by direct reference, those of contemporary Charleston--through a narrative persona who mingles in the circles he portrays, uses fanciful descriptive names, and makes caustic comments on fashionable folly:

   [Charleston had] its castes and classes, its cliques and aristocracies; in
   which, people, insisting upon their rights of rank, grew rank in doing
   so.... There were people who were "in society" then as now; who turned up
   their noses so high, that their eyes failed to recognize the existence of
   their nearest neighbors. And there were very excellent people, who, in
   spite of virtues and talents, were dismissed from all regard ... for the
   simple but sufficient reason that they were not "in society." ...

      And so, Charleston had its Lady Loftyhead and Lady Highheels, Lady
   Flirtabout and Lady Fluster, and no small number of a class besides, whom
   these good ladies universally voted to be no ladies at all. (pp. 108-109)

Mixing with these socialites and addressing them in Thackeray's manner, he observes, "You are to-day, Mrs. Frill, but a development of Mrs. Perkins Anderson. The tail is longer and broader, and there is something more of fullness about the pin-feathers; but you are birds of the same feather. I do not see that Mrs. Loftyhead, of 1684, differs in much from Mrs. Furbelow, whom I met last week nightly in all the four fashionable sets of the present city" (p. 429).

Largely through such passages of satiric commentary, Simms shows how deeply human corruption has penetrated his romance world. England and Spain are officially at peace, yet privately at war; King Charles encourages piracy and then because of political motives bans it; the greedy governor of the colony, Robert Quarry, is sworn to hang Harry Calvert but secretly welcomes him and his Spanish gold; and wealthy city socialites like "Ladies Loftyhead, Highheels, Flirtabout, and Fluster" are "all satisfied to enjoy the gallantries of the rover without asking to see too closely the color of his hands" (p. 109). Meanwhile, Mrs. Perkins Anderson, the most lubricious of these socialites, is stalking Harry. This lady, pretty, wealthy, witty, and calculating, epitomizes the vices Simms sees in colonial Charleston: the essence of a false aristocrat, the quintessence of a sophisticated hypocrite, she is able, he says, "to disguise a passion of very doubtful quality so dextrously, that it passes current as a virtue among half of the fashionable circle in which she moves and has her being" (p. 316). Through heavily ironic praise he condemns her procedures: it is "beautiful to see ... the meekness" with which she bears the "annual ten months' absence" of the husband she despises; "admirable to see how happily she contrive[s] to console herself under her privation" (pp. 137-138) by chasing Harry. When she loses him, in revenge she tries to ruin Zulieme by pushing her into the arms of Keppel Craven. That gentleman, a mixture of the Restoration stage fop and the English courtier, boasts purple small clothes, an elegant lisp, and long perfumed hair. Zulieme, who persists in calling him "`a most funny little fellow'" (p. 435), unequivocally rejects him; and so both Mrs. Anderson's bedtime stratagems come to naught. In an action which reveals the victory of ideals in a world beset by lust and greed, Simms's leading romance figures therefore triumph over his leading manners socialites.

The other part of Simms's blended realism-and-romance scenario, the characterization and structure in the love plot, moves in the direction of dark romance and, through its techniques, toward a sober realistic utterance. To appreciate how both elements operate, we should probe more narrowly his character types and the outlines of his love story against the background of some well-established conventions in the fiction of his time. Except perhaps for Leonard Voltmeier in his last novel, the hero of Cassique, dark-haired Harry Calvert, is the major example in Simms's fiction of what we may call, in a paraphrase of Leslie Fiedler on Scott's Di Vernon, (22) the "good-bad" guy--a compound of the conventional "straight" or pure-hearted hero of romance and the equally conventional dark, wild, temperamental, or violent figure who in certain of his phases earns the appellation "Byronic" or "Satanic." An essentially noble person, Harry--made miserable by the loss of Olive--sulks, broods, rages at the ship's crew, and nearly strikes Zulieme when she interrupts his work. His saucy little Spanish bride is also a compound, though of a different sort: a combination of the Victorian child-wife figure and the romance dark lady whose essential chastity is never seriously in question, (23) she torments and defies Harry, flirts with his lieutenant, dances with the ship's crew, and deftly eludes Keppel Craven. She also ministers to Olive, who is dying from madness and grief brought on by her loss of Harry and the machinations of her mother.

Simms's treatment of these characters, it can hardly be said too plainly, shows some major innovations in the romance formulas of his time. These are all the more significant when we recall that, for the most part--in Scott, in Cooper, in Hawthorne, and in other writers--it is the dark or unconventional figures who are vanquished and the pure or straight ones who triumph and live to enjoy the typical happy or "wish-fulfillment" ending. In Cassique, however, it is the mismatched Harry and Zulieme who finally find a muted happiness that is the closest thing to a wish-fulfillment movement in the narrative, while it is the likeable, unlucky Edward and Olive who, at least in terms of the marriage story, fail. Strange as it may seem, this reworking of romance formulas is also Simms's major gesture toward realism in the novel, the glitter of his social sequences notwithstanding. For through the love plots, with their romance trappings, he acknowledges the force of the ruinous social world that has defeated Edward and Olive and done its best to defeat Harry and Zulieme. He acknowledges, in other words, that an ideal once lost may never be recovered, and that human beings, in this case his four lovers, must cope or try to cope with the conditions that result from its loss. Mrs. Anderson, Mrs. Masterson, Keppel Craven, and the other creatures from the tradition of social realism who loom so large in this late work are cleverly-drawn representatives of a snobbish, slanderous society that has made considerable inroads into Simms's standard romance milieu. It is a relief to notice, then, that at the end of the book Harry and Zulieme--reconciled, expecting a child, and reasonably happy--sail away from the vain little city of Charleston to work out their destiny in an orthodox romance realm, the free-flowing, halcyon sea.

One final glance at Simms's fiction of the 1850's shows the several ways in which he wove realism and romance together. In The Golden Christmas he mocks silly snobberies through a classic comic pattern related in its emphases to both literary modes; in Katharine Walton and Eutaw he uses social criticism to denigrate his loyalists and praise his partisans; in Cassique he pictures the assaults, both successful and unsuccessful, of socialites upon romance figures, and while doing so makes his romance plot reflect the pressures of the real, which is also the corrupt, human world. The romance-realism split which earlier critics find in his work is, according to the terms of this study, less a split than a means of adjustment to the pressures of two great literary traditions that were colliding in the fiction of his era. Simms attempted this adjustment through confining the methods of realism within the formal structures of romance; it is therefore hardly true, as Parrington claims (II, 136), that he was a thwarted realist benumbed by Carolina's social and economic unreality. Instead, although he was intrigued by the newest trends in the realistic tradition, he was basically a romancer who tried to accommodate these trends to the conventions of his major genre. An understanding of that genre, together with a knowledge of the kind of fiction challenging it, can help us appreciate the range of his efforts in blending the different yet not incompatible visions of realism and romance.

(1) An early version of this study was read at the 1978 meeting of the South Atlantic Modern Language Association in Atlanta, Georgia.

(2) For comments before Parrington on Simms's realism and romance, see William P. Trent, William Gilmore Simms, American Men of Letters Series (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1892), p. 315, and John Erskine, Leading American Novelists (New York: Henry Holt, 1910), pp. 163-66, 175. The quotation from Parrington is from Main Currents in American Thought, one-vol. ed. (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1930), Part II, p. 126. Parrington's influence is apparent on Jarrell, whose 1932 Duke Univ. dissertation is entitled "William Gilmore Simms: Realistic Romancer"; on Parks, who in Ante-Bellum Southern Literary Critics (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1962), calls his chapter on Simms "William Gilmore Simms: Realistic Romanticist"; on Van Wyck Brooks, who in The World of Washington Irving (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1944), p. 314, claims "it was his realism that kept the work of Simms alive"; and on Clement Eaton, who in The Mind of the Old South, rev. ed. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1967), p. 252, says--in what seems a direct echo of Main Currents--"the popular taste of the period, both North and South, forced [Simms] to compose in the romantic style, but his natural bent was toward realism."

(3) This understanding of romance derives from Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1957), esp. pp. 186-203, hereafter cited within the text as AC, and The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1976), a discussion of popular fiction of the sort Simms produced. See also the illuminating comments on romance by Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg in The Nature of Narrative (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1966), pp. 66-69, 226-29.

(4) The Letters of William Gilmore Simms, ed. Mary C. Simms Oliphant, Alfred Taylor Odell, and T. C. Duncan Eaves (Columbia: Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1952-1956), III, p. 388, hereafter cited as L.

(5) See L, I, pp. 153-54; III, p. 388; the Preface to The Yemassee: A Romance of Carolina, ed. C. Hugh Holman (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961), pp. 5-6; and Views and Reviews in American Literature, History and Fiction, ed. C. Hugh Holman (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 1962), p. 259.

(6) This type of literature has been studied by Georg Lukacs in The Historical Novel, trans. Hannah and Stanley Mitchell (1962; rpt. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1978).

(7) See, for example, Simms's remarks on Bulwer-Lytton in "Bulwer's Genius and Writings," The Magnolia; or Southern Apalachian, NS 1 (December 1841), 329-37 (the quotation in the text is from 333); on Disraeli in "Spirit of the Age," Southern Quarterly Review, 7 (April 1845), 341-49 (hereafter cited as SQR); and on Thackeray in SQR, 24 (July 1853), 266 (see also note #20 below). The ascription of the last item, a brief review, to Simms is not certain, though in his letters (e.g., III, p. 120, p. 219) he indicated he wrote most of the review notices in the SQR during the time he edited it, from 1849 through 1854. I follow the volume numbering system in the AMS reprint of the journal.

(8) On Carolina history of the colonial period, with particular reference to Charleston, see M. Eugene Sirmans, Colonial South Carolina: A Political History 1663-1763 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1966), Chs. i-v; Carl Bridenbaugh, Myths and Realities: Societies of the Colonial South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1952), Ch. ii; Frederick P. Bowes, The Culture of Early Charleston (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1942), and George C. Rogers, Jr., Charleston in the Age of the Pinckneys (Norman, Okla.: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1969). The quotation in the text is from Bridenbaugh, p. 59.

(9) See, respectively, L, I, p. 5; II, p. 434; and Trent, p. 239, quoting from Simms's personal memoranda. See also Simms's remarks on Charleston in his poem Charleston, and Her Satirists: A Scribblement (Charleston: James S. Burges, 1848).

(10) Father Abbot, or, The Home Tourist: A Medley (Charleston: Miller and Browne, 1849), p. 146; "Charleston: The Palmetto City," Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 85 (June 1857), 1.

(11) The Golden Christmas was issued first in three semi-weekly supplements to the Southern Literary Gazette, NS 1, during January and February 1852 and then was brought out in book form the same year by Walker, Richards, and Co., which published the Gazette. The publication date given in the text for Katharine Walton, which had appeared in other versions earlier, is that of the volume in the Redfield (the author's uniform) edition. Eutaw and The Cassique of Kiawah appeared for the first time in this edition.

(12) The Golden Christmas: A Chronicle of St. John's Berkeley (Charleston: Walker, Richards, 1852), hereafter cited within the text. Simms complained that the publishers printed the volume without arranging for its circulation; its reception was mixed and its sales apparently poor, since it was remaindered in 1858 (see L, III, 212-13 and n.). It is now rare, although it was brought out in 1960 by the Lost Cause Press as part of the series "Nineteenth Century American Literature on Microcards."

Because the novelette is obscure, critical commentary on it is sparse and tends to be brief. It is mentioned by Trent, p. 195, who admires its social satire; by Jarrell, pp. 45, 46; by Edward Wagenknecht, Cavalcade of the American Novel (New York: Henry Holt, 1952), p. 36; by Eaton, p. 263; by John L. Wakelyn, The Politics of a Literary Man: William Gilmore Simms (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1973), pp. 158, 169, who uses it to discuss Simms's defense of slavery while slighting its literary dimensions; by Robert Bush in the Introduction to As Good as a Comedy in The Writings of William Gilmore Simms. Centennial Edition, ed. by John Caldwell Guilds (Columbia: Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1972), III, x, who sees its social elements but does not note its relationship to romance; and by Jay B. Hubbell, The South in American Literature, 1607-1900 (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1954), who thinks it "good enough to suggest that if Simms had got any real encouragement to write novels of contemporary Carolina life, he might have continued to explore an extraordinarily rich field" (p. 589).

(13) In light of the book's strong ties to comedy, it is interesting to note that a manager of the Charleston Theatre wanted to have The Golden Christmas dramatized; see L, III, 161 and n.

(14) Writers who mention the symbolic aspect of Simms's plots without locating the origins of this symbolism in romance procedures include L. Moffitt Cecil, "The Design of William Gilmore Simms's The Kinsman," Mississippi Quarterly, 29 (Fall 1976), 520-23, and Bruce T. Harper, "The Narrative Techniques of Simms's Revolutionary War Romances," Diss. Duke Univ. 1976, p. 160. In "Simms's Porgy, the Romance, and the Southern Revolutionary Militia," Southern Humanizes Review, 13 (Winter 1979), 2, I note the derivation of his plots from romance.

(15) "Simms as Novelist of Manners: Katharine Walton," Southern Literary Journal, 5 (Fall 1972), 68-88.

(16) Eutaw, in The Revolutionary War Novels of William Gilmore Simms, with Introductions and Explanatory Notes (Spartanburg, S.C.: The Reprint Company, 1976), p. 441. Simms is paraphrasing Luke 12:20, a fact not mentioned in the annotations.

(17) As already mentioned, Cassique appeared in 1859 in the Redfield edition, though there are indications in Simms's letters that it was published by someone else than Redfield. It was not included in editions of Simms's novels printed from the Redfield plates. While it had a generally favorable critical reception, its sales, like those of The Golden Christmas, were harmed by troubles among Simms's publishers (for information on these matters see L, IV, 152n, 269, 518-19, 575 and n.). According to The American Catalogue 1884-1890, comp. by A. I. Appleton et al. (New York: Peter Smith, 1941), it was reissued in 1884 by Dodd, Mead and Co. It is cited hereafter within the text.

Like The Golden Christmas, Cassique is rare, and the critical attention accorded it is sparse. It is briefly mentioned by standard commentators on Simms--e.g., by Erskine, p. 170; Van Wyck Brooks, p. 312; and Alexander Cowie, The Rise of the American Novel (New York: American Book Company, 1951), p. 236. It is praised by Trent, pp. 240-42; Jarrell, pp. 177-86; Van Doren, p. 55; and Thomas L. McHaney, "William Gilmore Simms," in The Chief Glory of Every People: Essays on Classic American Writers, ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1973), pp. 184-85; it is criticized by Arthur Hobson Quinn, American Fiction: An Historical and Critical Survey (New York: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1936), p. 120; J. V. Ridgely, William Gilmore Simms (New York: Twayne, 1962), p. 125; and, in its literary dimensions, by Wakelyn, pp. 228-30.

(18) Simms's letters of the period 1857-1860 abound with descriptions of these matters; see, for example, L, IV, 77, 108-109, 113, 128, 136.

(19) Simms's friendship with Thackeray, though apparently nearly forgotten, is a noteworthy feature of his literary life in the 1850's. It is described by James Grant Wilson, Thackeray in the United States, 1852-53, 1855-56 (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1904), I, 274, who, drawing on a letter from one of Simms's sons, says Simms was "among those with whom Thackeray became acquainted, and often met in Charleston" when he lectured there during the decade. As editor of the SQR, Simms requested a review article on Vanity Fair (see L, II, 529) and published a piece on "The Genius and Writings of Thackeray," 19 (January 1851), 74-100. Additionally, he probably wrote the notices of Thackeray's books scattered through the SQR during his editorship; these include treatments of Barry Lyndon, Pendennis, Henry Esmond, and several minor works. See, for example, 22 (October 1852), 545; 23 (April 1853), 515, 521-22; 24 (July 1853), 266, 271; 24 (October 1853), 541. He reviewed The Newcomes in the Charleston Mercury of February 26, 1856 and (at some length) The Virginians in the Mercury of January 5, 1860.

(20) On this point see Lionel Stevenson, The English Novel: A Panorama (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960), p. 265.

(21) Vanity Fair. A Novel without a Hero (London: Bradbury and Evans, 1848), p. 134 (Ch. xv).

(22) Love and Death in the American Novel, rev. ed. (New York: Stein and Day, 1966), p. 178.

(23) Unlike that of many dark ladies, such as Hawthorne's Hester or George Eliot's Hetty Sorrel. Zulieme is a type of the dark yet innocent heroine whose foreign blood, as Simms makes clear, explains and excuses her unconventional behavior. On this type, see Ralph P. Boas, "The Romantic Lady," in Romanticism in America, ed. George Boas (1940; rpt. New York: Russell and Russell, 1968), p. 67, who does not, however, mention Zulieme.

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