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Counterfeit Gentlemen

Manhood and Humor in the Old South

John Mayfield

Publication Year: 2009

Counterfeit Gentlemen is a stunning reappraisal of Southern manhood and identity that uses humor and humorists to carry the reader into the very heart of antebellum culture.

What does it mean to be a man in the pre–Civil War South? And how can we answer the question from the perspective of the early twenty-first century? John Mayfield does so by revealing how early nineteenth-century Southern humorists addressed the anxieties felt by men seeking to chart a new path between the old honor culture and the new market culture. Lacking the constraints imposed by journalism or proper literature, these writers created fictional worlds where manhood and identity could be tested and explored.

Preoccupied alternately by moonlight and magnolias and racism and rape, we have continually presented ourselves with an Old South so mirthless it couldn't breathe. If all Mayfield did was remind us that Old Southerners laughed, he would have accomplished something. But he also offers a sophisticated analysis of the social functions humor performed and the social anxieties it reflected.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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Title Page

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Front Matter


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pp. ix-xi

This book might have started in many ways. It could have begun, for example, in Mrs. Florence’s English class when I was in the sixth grade. She assigned a book report but specifically outlawed anything from the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew series, so I went rummaging through my mother’s Book-of-the-Month Club selections and came up with the shortest ...

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Introduction: Negotiating Manhood in the Old South

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pp. xiii-xxviii

This is a book about values and identity in the Old South. It uses ideas about manhood to examine those values, and it uses humor to explore manhood. It is not, strictly speaking, a book about the comic tradition in the South, a subject that has been thoroughly and skillfully explored.1 ...

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1. The Conception and Estimate of a Gentleman

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pp. 1-24

BEFORE THERE WAS Sut Lovingood or Ransy Sniffle or Simon Suggs or the Big Bear of Arkansas, there was the Virginia gentleman. All models of Southern manhood and masculinity had their reference point, their high ground, in this single figure, which went by several names: squire, the quality, country republican, aristocrat, Washington, Lee. Even his more ...

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2. Georgia Theatrics, Georgia Yankees

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pp. 25-47

AT ABOUT THE SAME TIME Kennedy was finishing Swallow Barn, a lawyer from Augusta, Georgia, decided (for no recorded reason) to write down accounts of some of the stranger characters he had met riding circuit as a judge. The stories first appeared in local newspapers, then in 1835 as a book, Georgia Scenes. The author, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, wrote them off as a “literary bagatelle,” a mild attempt at social history. ...

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3. Counterfeit Presentments

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pp. 48-66

IN 1833 JOHNSON JONES HOOPER informed his mother that he was tired of working menial jobs “without any hope of going to college.”1 He left Charleston to join an older brother in Alabama. Four years later, up in the Shenandoah Valley, Joseph Glover Baldwin threw a few law books into his saddlebags and headed off in the same direction. ...

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4. Useful Alloys

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pp. 67-82

THERE IS A MOMENT NEAR THE END OF Thomas Bangs Thorpe’s only novel, The Master’s House, when the hero, Graham Mildmay, gathers up his rifle and tries to slip away, as if going off on a hunt. His wife stops him for an awkward moment, looking at the gun. “I could not have the ...

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5. Swamp Fevers

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pp. 83-104

Henry Clay Lewis, physician and humorist, once stole a baby—a “dead nigger baby,” to use his exact terms. He did it because anatomy fascinated him, and he wanted his own specimen “to while away the tedious hours with” while he waited for dinner. He also stole it simply because it was ...

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6. Notes from the Underground

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pp. 105-122

THE SOUTHERN MAN OF HONOR may have been pitifully equipped for dealing with the changing marketplace, but he was a powerful ally in the coming war over who would control the expansion of slavery. The gentleman’s paternalistic benevolence and his domestic values of family and home-centered responsibility were far more effective apologies ...

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pp. 123-128

WHEN WAR BROKER OUT, John Pendleton Kennedy was an elder statesman with plenty of spare time in which to reflect and opinionate. In the 1850s he had made a final attempt at obtaining national prominence, serving as secretary of the navy under Fillmore, and then had largely settled into his role as gentleman patron of Baltimore’s mixed Southern and Northern elites. He dabbled in nativism, as did so many displaced ...


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pp. 129-139


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pp. 141-155


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pp. 157-173

About the Author

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Series List

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813045375
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813033372
Print-ISBN-10: 0813033373

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 610447311
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Counterfeit Gentlemen

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Masculinity -- Southern States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Sex role -- Southern States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Patriarchy -- Southern States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Men -- Southern States -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.
  • Social values -- Southern States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Southern States -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.
  • Masculinity in literature.
  • Southern States -- In literature.
  • American wit and humor -- Southern States -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- Southern States -- History and criticism
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