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Southern Women Novelists and the Civil War

Trauma and Collective Memory in the American Literary Tradition since 1861

Sharon Talley

Publication Year: 2014

During and after the Civil War, southern women played a critical role in shaping the South’s
evolving collective memory by penning journals and diaries, historical accounts, memoirs,
and literary interpretations of the war. While a few of these writings—most notably Mary
Chesnut’s diaries and Margaret Mitchell’s novel, Gone with the Wind—have been studied in
depth by numerous scholars, until now there has been no comprehensive examination of
Civil War novels by southern women. In this welcome study, Sharon Talley explores works
by fifteen such writers, illuminating the role that southern women played in fashioning
cultural identity in the region.

Beginning with Augusta Jane Evans’s Macaria and Sallie Rochester Ford’s Raids and
Romance of Morgan and His Men
, which were published as the war still raged, Talley offers
a chronological consideration of the novels with informative introductions for each time
period. She examines Reconstruction works by Marion Harland, Mary Ann Cruse, and
Rebecca Harding Davis, novels of the “Redeemed” South and the turn of the century by
Mary Noailles Murfree, Ellen Glasgow, and Mary Johnston, and narratives by Evelyn Scott,
Margaret Mitchell, and Caroline Gordon from the Modern period that spanned the two
World Wars. Analysis of Margaret Walker’s Jubilee (1966), the first critically acclaimed Civil
War novel by an African American woman of the South, as well as other post–World War
II works by Kaye Gibbons, Josephine Humphreys, and Alice Randall, offers a fitting conclusion
to Talley’s study by addressing the inaccuracies in the romantic myth of the Old South
that Gone with the Wind most famously engraved on the nation’s consciousness.

Informed by feminist, poststructural, and cultural studies theory, Talley’s close readings
of these various novels ultimately refute the notion of a monolithic interpretation of
the Civil War, presenting instead unique and diverse approaches to balancing “fact” and
“fiction” in the long period of artistic production concerning this singular traumatic event
in American history.

Sharon Talley, professor of English at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi, is the author
of Ambrose Bierce and the Dance of Death and Student Companion to Herman Melville. Her
articles have appeared in American Imago, Journal of Men’s Studies, and Nineteenth-Century

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page, Quote

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pp. ix-xxii

The United States Civil War of 1861–1865 is often characterized as the most traumatic event in American history. Only recently, however, as a result of new theories about cultural trauma and collective memory, have we begun to probe and articulate the full implications behind this designation. Originally associated...

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pp. xxiii-xxiv

Writing is often a solitary task, but projects such as this are never possible to develop in isolation. Because of its scope, this book, at times, has been a somewhat daunting undertaking. Thankfully, I have had the generous support and encouragement of many people at all stages of the research and writing process...

Part 1. Novels from the Civil War Period (1861–1865)

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pp. 3-10

The southern urge to explain, interpret, and defend the South has long been observed and analyzed by both historians and literary critics. Fred Hobson traces the origin of this impulse in southern writers to the antebellum period, “when the region first became acutely self-conscious” (3). Although to some extent...

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Chapter 1. Augusta Jane Evans’s Macaria; or, Altars of Sacrifice

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pp. 11-28

Augusta Jane Evans was the foremost woman novelist of the South during the last half of the nineteenth century, reportedly earning more than $100,000 from her novels.2 She, nevertheless, experienced both wealth and poverty in her childhood. The eldest child of an aristocratic southern family, Evans was born...

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Chapter 2. Sallie Rochester Ford’s Raids and Romance of Morgan and His Men

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pp. 29-48

In contrast to the anticipation of the future that Augusta Jane Evans registers in Macaria, Sallie Rochester Ford stays firmly focused on the war itself in Raids and Romance of Morgan and His Men, which was first published in June 1863.2 Both novels champion the southern cause; however, unlike her contemporary...

Part 2. Novels from Reconstruction (1865–1877)

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pp. 51-60

If southern women writing Civil War novels during the war experienced uncertainty about their future, they at least still wrote without the bitter knowledge of defeat that accompanied the end of armed conflict between North and South. As a result, they could fashion hopeful conclusions to their narratives...

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Chapter 3. Marion Harland’s Sunnybank

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pp. 62-78

Throughout her long life of ninety-one years, Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune considered herself a southerner. In introducing her autobiography, which was published in 1910 under her long-time pseudonym of Marion Harland, she called herself the last of the South’s antebellum storytellers, claiming, “I am...

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Chapter 4. Mary Anne Cruse’s Cameron Hall: A Story of the Civil War

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pp. 79-96

Born in 1825, Mary Anne Cruse grew up in urban affluence in Huntsville, Alabama, rather than on a rural plantation. Her family did not own slaves; however, “their income, local political participation, and their affiliation with the local Episcopalian Church placed the family in the center of Huntsville society”...

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Chapter 5. Rebecca Harding Davis’s Waiting for the Verdict

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pp. 97-112

Born on 24 June 1831, during a visit to the home of her maternal aunt and uncle in Washington, Pennsylvania, Rebecca Blaine Harding Davis spent the early years of her life in Big Spring (now Huntsville), Alabama. The Hardings moved to the newly chartered steel manufacturing town of Wheeling, Virginia, in...

Part 3. Novels from the “Redeemed” South and the Turn of the Century (1877–1914)

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pp. 115-122

As Walter Sullivan has observed, “Lost causes lend themselves to romantic revision” (“Fading Memory” 249). After Reconstruction formally ended with the withdrawal of Federal supervision in 1877, southern white women continued to write about the Civil War and to revise and elaborate the interconnected...

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Chapter 6. Mary Noailles Murfree’s Where the Battle Was Fought and The Storm Centre

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pp. 123-140

In the words of one biographer, “Mary Noailles Murfree was to the manor born” (Cary 13).2 Her great-grandfather, Colonel Hardy Murfree was awarded a land grant in Tennessee as a result of his service in the Revolutionary War. Establishing a plantation thirty miles from Nashville, he moved there from...

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Chapter 7. Ellen Glasgow’s The Battle-Ground

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pp. 141-158

In 1938, Ellen Glasgow published a critical preface to The Battle-Ground in which she explained that her intent in writing her only Civil War novel had been “to portray the last stand in Virginia of the aristocratic tradition.” With her admission, Glasgow acknowledged that “this inherited culture possessed...

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Chapter 8. Mary Johnston’s The Long Roll and Cease Firing

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pp. 159-178

Ellen Glasgow and Mary Johnston enjoyed a close personal friendship, and they had much in common to sustain their relationship. Both were children of southern Reconstruction who sprang from affluent Virginian backgrounds and grew up listening to family stories of the Civil War; both were largely selfeducated...

Part 4. Novels from the Modern Period (1914–1945)

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pp. 181-190

The experience of World War I revived interest in the Civil War. During this period, white southern women continued to be tenacious in safeguarding the region’s public memories of the war and the Old South, but their influence gradually declined as state and federal governments increasingly took a role in...

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Chapter 9. Evelyn Scott’s The Wave

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pp. 191-208

Evelyn Scott lived a thoroughly unorthodox life. Born Elsie Dunn on 17 January 1893, in Clarksville, Tennessee, she was the only child of Seely Dunn and Maude Thomas Dunn. In a South that still clung to the remnants of its aristocratic past, the Dunns claimed inclusion by virtue of Scott’s maternal lineage...

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Chapter 10. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind

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pp. 209-230

The Wave and Gone with the Wind both emphasize the experiences of southern women during the Civil War. The women in both novels show impressive strength and courage in defending their homes and families during a time of traumatic crisis; however, their representations are emphatically different. Perhaps...

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Chapter 11. Caroline Gordon’s None Shall Look Back

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pp. 231-254

Caroline Gordon’s life includes interesting parallels with that of her contemporary, Evelyn Scott. Both called Clarksville, Tennessee, their hometown, having spent their formative years on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, where they were shaped by their southern heritage. Both had tense relationships with their...

Part 5. Novels since World War II (1945–present)

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pp. 257-266

During the second half of the twentieth century, the postmodern era emerged as a result of the increasing sway of poststructural theories that reject the conception of culture as a systematic structure organized by binary oppositions. Fredric Jameson explains that “[p]ostmodernism as it is generally understood...

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Chapter 12: Margaret Walker’s Jubilee

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pp. 267-288

Inherent in the concept of cultural trauma is the cyclical process of generational memory that makes direct experience of the traumatic event unnecessary. As Ron Eyerman explains, “It is through time-delayed and negotiated recollection that cultural trauma is experienced, a process that places representation...

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Chapter 13: Kaye Gibbons’s On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon

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pp. 289-304

The daughter of a tobacco farmer, Charles Batts, and his wife, Alice, Kaye Batts Gibbons was born on 5 May 1960, in rural Nash County, North Carolina. Her southern ancestry extends back to “Nathaniel Batts, the first-known permanent white settler in North Carolina, who built a home in coastal North Carolina in...

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Chapter 14: Josephine Humphreys’s Nowhere Else on Earth

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pp. 305-320

Both Kaye Gibbons and Josephine Humphreys use a first-person female narrator writing a retrospective account of her life experiences as the framing device for their Civil War novels. Gibbons’s protagonist is a fabricated figure who writes from the position of white southern affluence. In Nowhere Else on Earth...

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Chapter 15: Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone

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pp. 321-336

Much like Josephine Humphreys and Kaye Gibbons, Alice Randall presents her Civil War novel in the form of a retrospective diary account of the female protagonist’s life experiences. In addition, like Margaret Walker’s Jubilee but much more directly, Randall’s The Wind Done Gone, as the title clearly suggests...


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pp. 337-376

Works Cited

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pp. 377-410


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pp. 411-432

E-ISBN-13: 9781621900849
E-ISBN-10: 1621900843
Print-ISBN-13: 9781621900139
Print-ISBN-10: 1621900134

Page Count: 456
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: First edition.

OCLC Number: 883632341
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Southern Women Novelists and the Civil War

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Subject Headings

  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Literature and the war.
  • American fiction -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • American fiction -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • American fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Historical fiction, American -- History and criticism.
  • War stories, American -- History and criticism.
  • War and literature -- United States -- History.
  • War in literature.
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