J. W. De Forest and the Rise of American Gentility (review)
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BOOK REVIEWS281 age & decay have withered & dried up my affections & sensibilities" (435). In the midst of grief, he found pitiful solace in reports that his son's death "happened on the battle ground, & that it was instantaneous & painless" (436). The war had also devastated his beloved South, and Ruffin bitterly denounced the Reconstruction policies disseminated from the North. In his view, the ruined South was "now prostrated, & trampled in the dust, under the feet of an unlimited & brutal despotism, of the most selfish, unscrupulous, & vile people of Christendom" (941). Utterly despairing, Ruffin wrote in mid-June, "There is no relief or refuge left to me except in death" (942). After writing instructions for his burial, and following some delay caused by visitors to the home, Ruffin ended his life, according to Scarborough, on the afternoon of June 17, 1865. With publication of the concluding volume of the Ruffin diary, Scarborough had completed a monumental editorial task spanning twenty years. Through diligence and craftsmanship in editing the 4,100 pages of manuscript, he has made this important diary significantly more accessible and useful. In recognition of his accomplishment, Louisiana State University Press presented to him the Jules and Frances Landry Award for 1989. Larry E. Nelson Francis Marion College J. W. De Forest and the Rise ofAmerican Gentility. By James A. Hijiya. (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1988. Pp. xi, 177. $13.35.) Although the book under review began as a Ph.D. dissertation, it is not properly a revised dissertation, for Hijiya's original topic, a study of the De Forest family, has here been reduced in scope to a very thorough and elegantly written monograph on John William De Forest (18261906 ), novelist, historian, sometime poet, and author of travel books and essays. Considered by most to be a minor writer, De Forest is remembered for his vaunting ambition to write the "Great American Novel" (this his formulation from an 1868 essay in the Nation), as well as for his longer fiction, of which Miss Ravenel's Conversion (published by Harpers in book form in 1867) is best known. Hijiya's literary acumen gives way to hyperbole when he assesses Ravenel as a "superb novel" (147). His usual posture is scrupulous distance from his subject, whose modest triumphs and great disappointments he charts with perceptivity and wit. The major theme of Hijiya's book is De Forest's devotion to gentility. He argues: "De Forest devoted much of his career to studying gentlemen, depicting their virtues, praising their values, and lamenting their absence. 282CIVIL WAR HISTORY His writings contributed to a cult of gentility that flourished in nineteenthcentury America" (2). It comes as somewhat of a surprise, then, that De Forest was not descended from aristocrats. His father was a farmer who worked his way up to commerce. (The first De Forest to come to America was a dyer and draper in Holland.) Psychologists would interpret J. W. De Forest's desperate attempt to embrace gentility, a phantasm he tried to buttress by researching his family tree, as compensation. Social historians would, however, classify him as a definable post-Trollope type who celebrated gentlemanliness in fiction. Robin Gilmour, in The Idea of the Gentleman in the Victorian Novel (1981), has described men like De Forest who identified with the style and habits of the gentleman: "By the end of the nineteenth century the status of gentleman, as Tocqueville had predicted, was being claimed by those lower down the social scale" (183). In Victorian England the public school furthered the gentleman ideal; but in De Forest's Connecticut, his family, believing itself a member of the elite, inculcated polite values in the writer. (Beyond observing that J. W De Forest did not attend a university, Hijiya is dark on his formal education.) De Forest acted the gentleman: he made journeys of education (one to the "exotic" Deep South), was an officer in the Union Army, served in the Freedmen's Bureau, styled himself a man of letters, and found a patron in William Dean Howells. However, the career of this apostle of gentility would be easier to survey had he maintained a consistent attitude toward democracy. Hijiya traces three phases of De...