Storytelling, History, and the Postmodern South
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
Series: Southern Literary Studies
Introduction: The Liars at the Jung Hotel
On November 5, 1968, the day after a tumultuous election ended with Richard Nixon as president, Ralph Ellison stood before the Southern Historical Association at the Jung Hotel, New Orleans, and called the members gathered there “respectable liars.” The time, place, and audience compelled Ellison to “be a little nasty” about how historians had obscured the “racial situation in the country.” On the subject of race,....
Will Percy and Lanterns on the Levee Revisited
William Alexander Percy’s Lanterns on the Levee: Recollections of a Planter’s Son (1941) remains a memorial to a long-vanished southern culture. In his preface to a paperback edition in 1973, Walker Percy begins a lively and sensitive introduction to the masterpiece written by his “fabled relative.”1 His word for his “Uncle Will,” as he called him, was appropriate. It applied not only to the author but to...
Rewriting American Borders: The Southern Gothic, Religion, and U.S. Historical Narrative
In approaching our common concern, I want to address what many believe to be the most potentially fruitful recent development in scholarship on the U.S. South: its turn to New World or Hemispheric American studies. Scholars working in this area are, I believe, quite right to have us looking south of the South in order to better understand the region’s history and literature alike. Nonetheless, in doing so we should...
The Jack Burden of Southern History: Robert Penn Warren, C. Vann Woodward, and Historical Practice
In November 1968 historian C. Vann Woodward and novelist Robert Penn Warren appeared together at a symposium at the annual meeting of the Southern Historical Association in New Orleans. Their panel was entitled “The Uses of History in Fiction” and included southern writers Ralph Ellison and William Styron, whose controversial new book, The Confessions of Nat Turner, provided the genesis for the gathering....
Marse Chan, New Southerner: Or, Taking Thomas Nelson Page Seriously
The years have not been kind to Thomas Nelson Page. During the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth, Page was a darling of the American literary world. He published a string of successful novels, placed his short stories in every major literary magazine in the country, and won praise from northerners...
Poison Stories: A Rereading of Revolutionary Virginia’s Baptist “Revolt”
The 1792 poisoning of Virginia Baptist minister James Ireland had all the makings of a good story. There was a mystery: everyone from the victims to the district court judges was anxious to determine who put arsenic in the Ireland family’s evening tea. The story had high drama. A roomful of people were sickened and a crowd of friends, neighbors, county officials, and medical specialists rushed to the scene to...
“And Bid Him Bear a Patriot’s Part”: National and Local Perspectives on Confederate Nationalism
Albert Padgett, sixteen years old in 1860, opposed secession. Padgett, a native of Edgefield District, South Carolina, was attending Dickinson College in Pennsylvania when South Carolina seceded. As a college student, he wrote of the men who advocated it that they, “as Milton expresses it—‘Had rather rule in Hell, Than serve in Heaven,’”...
Her Life, My Past: Rosina Downs and the Proliferation of Racial Categories after the American Civil War
I want to begin with a story about a girl who traveled from New Orleans to Philadelphia in the immediate aftermath of the American Civil War. Her story contains fractions of a broken genealogy that have passed through the historical record with scant clues detailing America’s obsession with color. For a brief moment she was a celebrity, and while many of the details of her later life remain unknown, she has over the...
Abjection and White Trash Autobiography
In the eyes of many people, I grew up white trash. Until I was six years old, my family lived in a trailer beside the railroad tracks in a small southern county seat. My mother’s father was the county sheriff, so her family had a claim to middle-class legitimacy, but my father was in prison, which effectively negated that claim. We were poor, below the poverty line, but we were never hungry, and we had the stuff...
The Professional Southerner and the Twenty-First Century
When the Dude flirts with Bunny in The Big Lebowski (1998), she tells him not to worry about the large man passed out on a raft in the nearby swimming pool. “Uli doesn’t care about anything,” she says. “He’s a nihilist.” To which the Dude responds perceptively, “Ah, that must be exhausting.” Indeed, Uli Kunkel, alias Karl Hungus, and his fellow nihilists spend an exorbitant amount of time and...