Superfluous Southerners: Cultural Conservatism and the South 1920-1990

By John J. Langdale III | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
From the New Humanism to Agrarianism

During the fall of 1928, author and native Kentuckian Allen Tate set sail for Europe under the auspices of a Guggenheim fellowship. For Tate and other aspiring artists, the twenties had been an era filled with possibilities and uncertainties. Emerging from the terrors of the Great War, the decade ushered in revolutions in finance, transportation, and communication that drastically altered the American social and cultural landscape. Unbeknownst to Tate during his voyage, the world of the roaring twenties was on the verge of a calamitous global economic depression and the ascendance of totalitarianism in Italy and Germany. At the age of twenty-nine, Tate was an accomplished scholar and had been among the youngest members of the Fugitive poetry circle in Nashville, Tennessee. In his fellowship application, Tate had emphasized his association with The Fugitive magazine, which he deemed “one of the most important literary forces in recent years.” Writing in the third person, Tate styled himself as a self-educated independent writer who had “never been employed by an institution.” Moreover, Tate insisted that he loathed the “reputation of a specialist,” and that, above all else, he “wished to be considered a man of letters.”1 Accompanied by his wife, Caroline Gordon, Tate made his way to London where he was formally introduced to T. S. Eliot at a gathering of writers affiliated with the Criterion. As editor, Eliot had generously published the views of the New Humanists, but now sought to enlist critics who opposed them. In Tate, he found an anxious and willing ally.

Born in Winchester, Kentucky, in 1899, John Orley Allen Tate was educated at private schools and at Vanderbilt University. Founded in 1873 in Nashville, Vanderbilt was the brainchild of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, a northern philanthropist, who hoped that a properly endowed southern university would strengthen what he viewed as “the ties which should exist between all

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