Summary and Info
In a group of five biographical and critical sketches that cover the period from 1810 to 1861, John M. Grammer explores the process by which "the South" was created as a concept in American culture. Three of the five Virginians Grammer examines were politicians with a literary bent - John Taylor, John Randolph, and Nathaniel Beverley Tucker. The other two, George Fitzhugh and Joseph Glover Baldwin, were fiction writers fascinated with politics. United in their desire to represent the South as a refuge of pastoral and republican order in an America where, as Emerson observed, "the ancient manners were giving way," all of these men aspired to speak for their region; and all of them, sooner or later, found that they had to begin by reinventing it. Grammer relates the debate over southern identity not only to the wish to defend slavery or agrarian life but to the larger search for order in the aftermath of an age of revolution. He also connects it to the long-standing American concern, born of the ideology of republicanism, over the mortality of American society. Southerners' search for a stable identity and their at times fierce defense of slavery were, according to Grammer, a response to what J. G. A. Pocock has called "the Machiavellian moment" in republican cultures - the moment when the republic is made to recognize its finitude in time. He maintains that we can best understand our antebellum southern writers by thinking of them not as the unwitting ancestors of Faulkner, but as the fully self-conscious contemporaries of Emerson and Whitman, the heirs of Jefferson and Hamilton - as citizens of a young republic facing what looked more and more like its imminent demise. With increasing mechanization and westward expansion transforming their formerly stable world, all antebellum Americans lived in a Machiavellian moment, and as Grammer deftly demonstrates, the long effort to mold the South into a symbol of order, like Whitman's search for a suitably symbolic America, must be understood in relation to that condition. A major, innovative contribution to the fields of both southern history and southern literary criticism, Pastoral and Politics in the Old South is a valuable volume for all students of the South.
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