Upon Provincialism: Southern Literature and National Periodical Culture, 1870–1900 by Bill Hardwig (review)
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Upon Provincialism: Southern Literature and National Periodical Culture, 1870–1900. By Bill Hardwig. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013. Pp. 192. $49.50 cloth; $24.50 paper)

As its subtitle suggests, Upon Provincialism provides an account of southern literature during the late nineteenth century, a period when local-color literature came into its own as a form that could be applied to any number of places at the margins of national life. Hardwig argues that in order to understand the early literature of the South, we need to understand, first and foremost, the magazines in which local color appeared, for the writing under consideration “reveals as much about national readers and editors as it does about the region itself” (p. 1). By locating the origins of southern regionalism in the major northeastern monthlies (Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Magazine, The Century), Hardwig locates his own scholarship alongside work [End Page 692] from the past twenty years by critics such as Richard Brodhead, Amy Kaplan, Nancy Glazener, and Stephanie Foote, all of whom privilege the urban reading communities of regionalism as determinants of the literature. The members of these communities sought to define their class status, their relationship to non-white races, and the nature of postbellum American nationality. The scholars agree, more or less, that giving primary place to such concerns of the reading class helps to explain the most salient attributes of literature.

Although the larger frame of the argument will seem familiar to scholars who have followed the recent fate of local color/regionalism within criticism, the interest of Upon Provincialism lies partly in the readings of lesser-known stories by writers such as Mary Murfree, George Washington Cable, Charles Chesnutt, Thomas Page, and Lafcadio Hearn. Hardwig finds stories by these writers that have never been examined with any care or reflection, and his readings tend to bring out qualities that complicate our understanding of southern literature, resisting the easy and expected explanation. Thus, Murfree’s “The Romance of Sunrise” undermined the narrow racialist thinking of the physician outsider character, John Cleaver, while recommending the romantic alliance formed between Appalachian insider Selena and the “urban lawyer turned mountain farmer” Jack Trelawney. Just as such readings trouble the view of Murfree as the party most responsible for associating Appalachia with racial deviance, so too Hardwig’s reading of Page’s “No Haid Pawn” demonstrates that plantation fiction may not cohere so neatly as one thought around nostalgia for the happy days of slavery. In “No Haid Pawn,” the ghosts from slave legends enter into the story, serving as a haunting reminder to the narrator of the system’s violence and the suffering of slaves.

The readings of such surprising stories hint at a number of points that Hardwig makes here. First of all, although readers of the monthly magazines were hungry to experience the region as if they were tourists, that fact in itself may not lead us to any unified idea of the region. From Hardwig’s perspective, local-color fiction forces us to reckon with the decentering of the South in the national consciousness. To [End Page 693] assume that the region is defined by the Lost Cause—a preoccupation with all that was lost during the Civil War—is to privilege the planter class at the expense of marginal populations, which often appear in works of local color unfazed by the Civil War, actors within alternative historical narratives. Equally important, southern literature appears at times in this study as an exceptional form of local color—exceptional because it opens up the possibility of a touristic experience defined not by easily apprehensible difference, but rather by haunting strangeness and resistance. Those elite urban readers might not be the altogether safe and reactionary lot that we had previously believed them to be. Perhaps they did actually have an appetite for conflict, creolization (a term that gains in import in chapter four), and other unsettling encounters with the foreign. That line of argument gets more and more play as Hardwig’s study moves along toward its conclusion, providing perhaps the best justification for looking at southern local color as its own specific literary phenomenon within...


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