In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Daughters of Canaan A Saga of Southern Women By Margaret Ripley Wolfe University Press of Kentucky, 1995 281pp. Cloth, $37.50 Reviewed by Judith E. Funston, associate professor of American literature at the State University of New York at Potsdam. She has published HenryJames: A Reference Guide, 197j—1987 and numerous articles on James and Edith Wharton. "Women knew that a land where men were contented, uncontradicted and safe in possession of unpunctured vanity was likely to be a very pleasant place for women to live. So, from the cradle to the grave, women strove to make men pleased with themselves, and the satisfied men repaid lavishly widi gallantry and adoration"—so Margaret Mitchell describes the mythic antebellum Soudi in Gone With The Wind, the novel that for the popular imagination characterized the southern woman as either flirtatious belle or long-suffering angel. Margaret Ripley Wolfe, in Daughters ofCanaan: A Saga ofSouthern Women, reveals the inaccuracy of such stereotypes, arguing that the experience of southern women cannot be neady categorized; indeed, she shows tiiat southern women have often pioneered social change. Wolfe, a professor of history at East Tennessee State University, righdy characterizes her study as "die first serious attempt by a professional historian to synthesize existing scholarship and interpret the experience of southern women across the centuries." Beginning with die women of the Chesapeake settiements and concluding with Janet Reno, Wolfe juxtaposes actual life stories with the work of historians and feminist scholars. Daughters ofCanaan is a saga accessible to both the general reader and the scholar: Wolfe provides for the former a fascinating look at real "steel magnolias"; and for the latter, a synthesis of primary and secondary work on southern women—white, Native American, and African American. Each of the book's seven chapters focuses on distinctive historical periods of the South. Chapter one details die "importation" ofwomen, white and black, to the early settiements in the Chesapeake area. In particular, English women were persuaded by economic hardship or judicial pressure (some ofthese women were convicted criminals) to go to the colonies, where the presence ofwomen would 98 Reviews stabilize the tenuous Virginia settiements. The seventeenth-century woman was essentially regarded as either breeder or servant; by the eighteenth century, however , women were promoted to "republican wives" or "southern ladies," reflecting the revolutionary fervor sweeping the colonies and their increasing prosperity . Chapter two details diis transformation, while chapter three focuses on the mythic southern lady of the antebellum years. Chapter four examines the impact ofthe Civil War on southern women, showing that the war forced them into new and more active roles in southern society and culture. Chapter five surveys the aftermath ofthe Civil War, including its economic disruption as well as the political activism of southern women. Chapters six and seven concentrate on the twentieth century: "New Heavens, New Earth" illustrates the challenges presented by female suffrage, the Great Depression, and World War II, which brought women greater economic and political power; in "A Time to Get, and a Time to Lose," Wolfe shows the impact of the civil rights and women's movements on southern women in the second half of the twentieth century. The strength ofthis study lies in Wolfe's ability to synthesize primary and secondary material to demonstrate that southern women cannot be divided into Scarlett O'Haras and Melanie Wilkeses. In many instances southern women were at the forefront of issues of national concern: consider Rosa Parks of Alabama or Jane "Roe" ofTexas. But Daughters ofCanaan is not without weaknesses. At times, Wolfe's handling of individual women seems somewhat hurried and superficial. It is, ofcourse, in the nature ofa survey that depth is sacrificed to breaddi. Nevertheless , some ofthe biographies raise more questions than they answer. Wolfe's sketch of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald is a case in point. Wolfe notes that "[i]n her heyday [Zelda] represented the very embodiment ofthe flapper, a female persona far removed from the mythical feminine figures of the Old South and equally alienated from most of her contemporaries in Montgomery." Yes!—but from this statement Wolfe moves direcdy to Margaret Mitchell without examining the individual and social consequences of such a removal. Since the...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 98-100
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.