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ESSAY Reimagining the North-South Reunion Southern Women Novelists and the Intersectional Romance, 1876—1900 by Jane Turner Censer t one point in the novel Across the Chasm, the heroine Margaret Trevennon meets an awkward, though handsome, Confederate veteran and immediately classifies him as a "familiar type of Southern man, but not a favorable one." She finds "a sort of aggressive selfconfidence in his bearing, which was unpleasant. . . . He belonged to a class she knew well—men whose range of vision had been limited, but who were possessed of a feeling of superiority to others in general, and an absolute conviction ofsuperiority to the best Yankee that ever lived." Virginia novelist Julia Magruder penned this indictment of the arrogant southern man not in 1925, when the modernist movement brought self-criticism to the South, but in 1885. Yet the unappealing Confederate veteran is only part of the story she told. Magruder chose a time-tested genre, the North-South romance that in its union of a southerner and a northerner could also symbolize national unity and reconciliation. In this "romance ofreunion," she combined both older and more recent notions afloat in her culture. Moreover, her willingness to criticize the South and southern men placed her among a small but vocal group of southern women writers who were creating new stories about the South and the men and women there. Only recendy have readers begun to mine novels by southern women as sources for the cultural history ofthe postwar South. Traditional literary histories of the period generally overlook southern female writers, often justifying this omission by suggesting such women produced only mediocre Confederate apologias . Not until the 1980s did even the best-selling nineteenth-century southern women authors receive much attention or study.1 Yet southern women wrote widely for publication, and their productions are an important source for the ideas circulating in the postwar South. Examining women's fiction can help to construct a chronology of southern cultural history after the Civil War and give us insights into the authors' ideals. While chivalric Confederate soldiers were never completely absent from the fiction produced by postwar southern men and women and would come to domi64 The southern heroine must choose between two suitors, both Yankees, inJulia Magruder's A Sunny Southerner, 1899. nate it by the 1 890s, this earlier period presents a variegated picture. At the end of Reconstruction, some women experimented with novels that redefined southern men and women and criticized aspects of southern culture. The use that southern women novelists made of the "reunion romance," especially compared to their male counterparts North and Soudi, shows this diversity of thought in the late-nineteenth-century South. While some critics have recendy argued that postwar southern women concentrated on bolstering the self-image of their defeated menfolks,2 these stories suggest that some women wished to reconstruct ideals of masculinity and considered a more influential role for females in society. The North-South reunion story is so revealing because ofits gender and sectional elements. By its very nature, a romance explores the interactions of men and women and their appropriate gender roles. Bringing together an "ideal" man and woman and contrasting them to less admirable types along the way, this genre gives an especially interesting view of expectations. Moreover, the story of romantic reunion also joins North and South, treating each as a distinct region with its own virtues or vices. Reimagining the North-South Reunion 6 5 weddings in Such imagined unions ofNorth and South through the InteVSectionülmarriage offictional characters formed an important and ubiquitous theme in nineteenth-century American writings . As sectional rivalries and antagonisms grew in the VeuniOn TOJM(MCeS antebellum period, writers wishing conciliation between 77.the sections often resorted to this genre. Elizabeth Varon,·/?· Elizabeth Moss, and others have shown that southern the mendinQOj d women in the 1850s wrote novels that attempted to 7 » , . smooth over North-South disagreements by emphasizing broken nation., , ... , , c t ,/ · shared qualities and mutual forbearance. Virginia women ........................ such as Mary Virginia Terhune and Martha Butts were adept at penning such stories that showed a northern acceptance of slavery and sealed this new understanding with a wedding. Indeed, Terhune...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 64-91
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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