Book Reviews -- the Romance of Reunion: Northerners and the South, 1865-1900 by Nina Silber and Edited by Gary W. Gallagher
Litwicki, Ellen M., The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
The Romance of Reunion: Northerners and the South, 1865-1900. By NINA SILBER. Civil War America Series. GARY W. GALLAGHER, Series Editor. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1993. xii, 257 pp. $34.95.
As Edward Said argued so eloquently in Orientalism, our view of the "other" reveals more about our own culture than about the reality of the "other." In her provocative new book, Nina Silber applies this insight to northerners' images of the South after the Civil War, which, she argues, evolved in tandem with their anxieties and ambivalence about the social and economic transformation of their own society.
Silber sheds new light on the conundrum embodied in the cliche that the North won the Civil War but the South won the peace; that is, How do we explain the seeming embrace by the North of the Lost Cause myth created by the defeated South? She contends that northerners did not so much accept the Lost Cause ideology as pick elements of it that offered solutions to their own problems.
Silber traces the development, in travel literature, plays, novels, and minstrel shows, of a northern "culture of conciliation," which began during Reconstruction with the creation of sympathy for the suffering of planters and their wives and extended even to former Confederate soldiers. By the 1890s, this sympathy had been transformed into admiration of the sincerity of southern patriotism, despite its misguidedness.
Of course, as northerners' compassion for the suffering of their former enemies increased, their sympathy with the struggle of African Americans waned. Indeed, northerners anxious about class and ethnic conflict in their cities came to appreciate the Lost Cause visions of happy slaves and the necessity of white control over the black working class. The travel literature that transformed the South into an anti-modern refuge from industrialization also reduced African Americans to just another "colorful" tourist attraction.
Not so the southern belle, another part of the Lost Cause mythology embraced by northerners. At first this belle was a misguided Confederate partisan to be subdued by the firm but loving hand of a northern man, but as fears of independent, activist northern women increased, the southern belle became the exemplar of true womanhood. …