Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Blood and Irony: Southern White Women's Narratives of the Civil War, 1861-1937

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Blood and Irony: Southern White Women's Narratives of the Civil War, 1861-1937

Article excerpt

Blood and Irony: Southern White Women's Narratives of the Civil War, 1861-1937. By Sarah E. Gardner. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. Pp. x, 341. Acknowledgments, introduction, illustrations, epilogue, notes, bibliography, index. $39.95.)

Sarah Gardner has examined an impressive array of documentary evidence to demonstrate the central role that southern white women played in constructing a suitable southern understanding of the meaning of the Civil War. Among the countless sources she has consulted are diaries, articles, novels, short stories, correspondence, published interviews, and the papers of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). She ably illustrates change over time in the telling of the southern story by devoting separate chapters to discrete time periods. A sense of contingency pervaded wartime writing, while absolute devotion to the myth of the Lost Cause characterized the early decades of the twentieth century. Drawing on well-known authors such as Ellen Glasgow and Margaret Mitchell as well as less famous writers, Gardner provides a thoughtful explanation of white women's efforts to shape the story of our nation's past.

The turning point in the narrative comes with the founding of the UDC in the mid-189Os. Gardner finds greater variety in the stories and interpretations propounded by white southern women prior to that time. The UDC worked to impose its version of the Lost Cause myth upon the national memory. The organization laid out principles and "truths" by which to study the war: it was God's plan that white southerners should suffer; the war was fought for states' rights; civil war and rebel are terms that should not be used. The UDC's Textbook Committee approved some books and banned others. World War I provided the UDC with opportunity to assure its standing as a patriotic organization. …

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