- The Oxford Handbook of the Literature of the U. S. South ed. by Fred Hobson and Barbara Ladd
Over the last two years, southern studies has experienced a dizzying array of edited collections, special issues, and solicited features that seek to define, challenge, and change the field. From Keywords for Southern Studies (U of Georgia P, 2016) to PMLA's 2016 feature on "The Changing Profession," which included manifestos on the future of southern literary studies, and from Sharon Holland's relaunch of the Southern Literary Journal into the interdisciplinary south to the Mississippi Quarterly issue featuring position papers from the Society for the Study of Southern Literature's newly formed Emerging Scholars Organization, southern literary and cultural studies has undergone serious self-interrogation. These works have put the field's senior scholars in productive dialogue with junior and contingent faculty as well as graduate students, creating conversations from across the academy and beyond. Amid this robust conversation appears one of the field's most anticipated critical collections: The Oxford Handbook of the Literature of the U. S. South, edited by luminaries Fred Hobson and Barbara Ladd. Coming in at over 500 pages and twenty-seven chapters plus the Introduction, the collection is as impressive in scope as it is in attention to historical and textual specificity. Undoubtedly, the Handbook's publication is timely, and with a selection of contributors that reads like a who's who of the field, this volume will prove invaluable in the coming years.
Hobson and Ladd organize the collection chronologically, moving from "Contact to the Civil War" to "The Civil War and Beyond," "Southern Modernisms," and closing with "After Southern Modernisms: Writing in the Late-Twentieth-Century and Contemporary South." Such a linear temporal approach, however, is deceptive as the volume's individual articles all seem to move productively across these period divisions. For example, in his contribution "Locality and the Serial South," Lloyd Pratt links the southwestern humor of the nineteenth century to The Beverly Hillbillies (1962–1971). Similarly, Leslie Bow offers a compelling reading of contemporary [End Page 111] Asian-American literature from the South, tying together an earlier twentieth-century legal rendering of Asian Americans as "colored" in Gong Lum v. Rice (1927) and the contemporary discourse (some of it self-produced) surrounding then-South Carolina governor (and now United Nations ambassador) Nikki Haley. One of the real achievements of the collection is how each chapter, despite the temporality of its archive, works to demonstrate the profoundly recursive ways that the U. S. South and its literature create meaning across the heuristics of traditional periodization.
In addition to the historical links within and between each chapter, the volume also does an excellent job of balancing chapters featuring broad textual and cultural archives with those that illuminate new meanings in specific texts. For instance, John Lowe composes a convincing reading of Florida's centrality to southern literary studies, ecocritical discourse, and the theoretical sublime through his impressive analysis and synthesis of a wide variety of authors ranging from the father and son Bartrams to Constance Fenimore Woolson. Robert Brinkmeyer, however, zeros in on seeming opposites Richard Weaver and Lillian Smith to illustrate the specific functions of "the South" within the 1930s and 1940s political and cultural landscape. Both of these methodological approaches, the broad and the particular, yield original insights to the material in question. No chapter in this book, even the ones that might seem to tread more familiar ground, such as the work of William Faulkner (Owen Robinson), Mark Twain (Harilaos Stecopoulos), or Tennessee Williams (Gary Richardson), rehearse received wisdom. Similarly, the chapters that take the time to illuminate less frequently studied authors, such as Michael Bibler's analysis of William Gilmore Simms, E. D. E. N. Southworth, Caroline Lee Hentz, and Baron Ludwig von Reizenstein, reach original and significant contributions to the field's theoretical and methodological stakes beyond simply the novelty of their archives. The Handbook's ability to balance the variety of approaches speaks to its...