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Few inhabitants of the South in 1800 thought of it as a “region” or of themselves as “southerners.” In time, the need to defend the entire southern way of life became obsessive for many writers, too often precluding efforts at originality in form or style. Especially after the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, southern identity and southern nationalism emerged as the grand themes, and literature became subservient to regional interests. The devastation of the Civil War and the collapse of the Confederacy, instead of pointing southern writers in new directions, only intensified their preoccupation with a now-dead past.
The popular genres of the time—historical romance and “local color” writing—became tools to voice this preoccupation and have been important influences on America’s view of the South and on American literature in general. The myth of the idyllic plantation South has had an extraordinary pervasiveness in the American consciousness. J.V. Ridgely speculates on the ways in which this tarnished but durable myth helped to produce the powerful Southern Renascence of the twentieth century in this concise survey of the literature of America’s most distinctive region during a crucial formative period.
J.V. Ridgely is professor of English at Columbia University and the author of books on William Gilmore Simms and John Pendleton Kennedy.
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
Southern literature, Southern identity, Southern Renaissance, Plantation South
Ridgely, J. V., "Nineteenth-Century Southern Literature" (1980). American Literature. 5.
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