Dueling Sentiments: Responses to Patriarchal Violence in Augusta Jane Evans' St. Elmo

By Johnson, Bradley | The Southern Literary Journal, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Dueling Sentiments: Responses to Patriarchal Violence in Augusta Jane Evans' St. Elmo


Johnson, Bradley, The Southern Literary Journal


In Louisa May Alcott's Little Women (1868), after Jo March realizes that she can earn money by writing "a sensation story," her principal concern becomes "whether the duel should come before the elopement or after the murder" (312). Alcott's jab at the standardized plots and exaggerated themes of much sentimental fiction runs against the literary current of the 1860s.(1) Only a year earlier Augusta Jane Evans had published St. Elmo, a sensational novel that would become one of the best-selling works of the nineteenth century (Fidler 129). Evans' novel, replete with duels and seductions, confirms Alcott's view that such literature was financially successful. The reformation of Evans' rakish hero, St. Elmo, led to the appropriation of his name for plantations, schools, thirteen towns, and a recipe for punch (Calkins 3).(2) St. Elmo, however, simultaneously refutes Alcott's charge of superficiality as Evans uses the rhetoric of the sentimental mode to criticize the complicity of men in power structures, such as the formalized violence of the duel, which threatened the domestic sphere.

Joanne Dobson argues that the authors of sentimental fiction employ stock themes and characters such as abandoned wives, orphans, and widows who, rather than becoming "reductive narrative cliches," actually serve as "evocative metaphors for a looming existential threat" and "as vehicles for depictions of all-too-common social tragedies and political outrages" (272). As a writer of sentimental fiction, Evans uses the same metaphors in her works; as the southern writer of St. Elmo, she also presents duels, not simply as dramatic plot devices, but as metaphorical representations of masculine violations of legal, religious, and familial codes, St. Elmo resonates with the language of the duel, and the social chaos that the novel attempts to resolve is brought about by dueling. Furthermore, Evans uses dueling to indicate the relationship between patriarchy and sexual predation. Before proceeding to Evans' critique of dueling, some remarks about the code of honor as well as Evan's allusive rhetorical style are necessary.

To understand the importance of the duel in Augusta Jane Evans' South, one need only look to the list of politicians, intellectuals, and folk heroes who participated in "affairs of honor." Men like Sam Houston, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, Jim Bowie, John Randolph, and Alexander Stephens fought duels and believed in their expediency for resolving questions of honor. Others, such as Mark Twain, Jefferson Davis, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and Stonewall Jackson resolved their challenges before shots were exchanged. Southern men fought duels to defend and enhance honorable reputations. As a set of formal regulations, the "code of honor" dictated that antagonists (the principals) attempt to settle their differences through the negotiation of representatives (the seconds), and the duel was intended as the final term of an irreconcilable conflict. Adherents to the code also emphasized that duels should only be conducted by gentlemen of the same class, with horse-whipping and caning reserved as the punishment for insolent poor whites and slaves. In essence, the formality of the duel allowed upper-class white men to regulate acceptable and unacceptable forms of violence, thereby strengthening their hold on the southern patriarchy.(3)

Resistance to the duel fits neatly into the form and purpose of the sentimental mode. Nina Baym argues that this mode involves clear patterns in which a girl "is deprived of the supports she had rightly or wrongly come to depend on to sustain her throughout life and is faced with the necessity of winning her own way in the world." When her actions and values prevail, she "ensures the reconstruction of a beneficent social order" (11, 12). With specific reference to Augusta Jane Evans, Mary Kelley adds that these writers sought to improve their own roles in the domestic sphere, rather than remain "social functionaries of gentlemen's lives" (304). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Dueling Sentiments: Responses to Patriarchal Violence in Augusta Jane Evans' St. Elmo
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.