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Mention southern drama at a cocktail party or in an American literature survey, and you may hear cries for “Stella!” or laments for “gentleman callers.” Yet southern drama depends on much more than a menagerie of highly strung spinsters and steel magnolias.

Charles Watson explores this field from its eighteenth- and nineteenth-century roots through the southern Literary Renaissance and Tennessee Williams’s triumphs to the plays of Horton Foote, winner of the 1994 Pulitzer Prize. Such well known modern figures as Lillian Hellman and DuBose Heyward earn fresh looks, as does Tennessee Williams’s changing depiction of the South—from sensitive analysis to outraged indictment—in response to the Civil Rights Movement.

Watson links the work of the early Charleston dramatists and of Espy Williams, first modern dramatist of the South, to later twentieth-century drama. Strong heroines in plays of the Confederacy foreshadow the spunk of Tennessee Williams’s Amanda Wingfield. Claiming that Beth Henley matches the satirical brilliance of Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor, Watson connects her zany humor to 1840s New Orleans farces.

With this work, Watson has at last answered the call for a single-volume, comprehensive history of the South’s dramatic literature. With fascinating detail and seasoned perception, he reveals the rich heritage of southern drama.

Charles S. Watson, professor emeritus of English at the University of Alabama, is the author of Antebellum Charleston Dramatists and From Nationalism to Secessionism: The Changing Fiction of William Gilmore Simms.

"Provides, finally, the first comprehensive survey of the genre. This landmark volume stands as a corrective to the exclusionary politics within the critical enterprise that have long made dramatists ‘the stepchildren of southern literature.’"—American Literature

"The materials extensively uncovered here, and the lines of connection between them, are certainly such as to bear out Watson's claims for southern drama as 'a valuable body of knowledge.'"—American Studies

"Such a volume has not previously existed."—Canadian Review of Comparative Literature

"A valuable resource."—Choice

"Watson has masterfully mixed the history of more than two hundred years of southern drama with a lifetime of careful reading and thoughtful observation."—In-Between

"An indispensable genesis for students of southern culture, high and low."—Journal of Southern History

"Throughout, his arguments are frequently fresh and persuasive. Thoroughly researched and stylishly written."—Library Journal

"It is the first job of literary history to provide such guidance into the past, and Charles Watson's History of Southern Drama provides it with refreshing thoroughness and clarity."—Mississippi Quarterly

"Watson has performed a significant service to drama scholars."—Modern Drama

"Brings to our attention many facts and figures we otherwise might have overlooked."—Nineteenth-Century Literature

"An important contribution to literary history."—North Carolina Historical Review

"Watson's study covers a lot of ground and a great many figures."—Sewanee Review

"The depth of his research, the diversity of his approach, and the wealth of the material he presents make this an invaluable resource for anyone interested in dramatic history and Southern culture."—Southern Register

"The first general introduction to the subject, and the local detail he provides is sharp and revealing."—Year’s Work in English Studies

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Southern drama, American drama, Southern Renaissance


Dramatic Literature, Criticism and Theory

The History of Southern Drama
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