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The Fable of the Southern Writer

Lewis P. Simpson

Publication Year: 2003

“With a breadth and depth unsurpassed by any other cultural historian of the South, Lewis Simpson examines the writing of southerners Thomas Jefferson, John Randolph, Mark Twain, Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate, William Faulkner, Elizabeth Madox Roberts, Arthur Crew Inman, William Styron, and Walker Percy. Simpson offers challenging essays of easy erudition blessedly free of academic jargon. . . . [They] do not propose to support an overall thesis, but simply explore the southern writer’s unique relationship with his or her region, bereft of myth and tradition, in the grasp of science and history.”—Library Journal

Published by: Louisiana State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-11


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pp. xi-13

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pp. xiii-xviii

For a number of years, something like fifty to be more precise, I have attempted to be a historian of American letters. It may be that in moments when the going has been good, I have succeeded in being, more broadly, what it is nowadays so fashionable to be, a cultural historian. If I have learned anything at all...

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Prologue: John Randolph and the Inwardness of History

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pp. 1-12

In his study of John Randolph, Robert Dawidoff suggests that the biography of Randolph by Henry Adams (American Statesmen Series, 1882) displays the author's "unacknowledged yet unmistakable if muted and as yet incomplete aura of identification" with his subject. This became...

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I: The Fable of the Agrarians and the Failure of the American Republic

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pp. 13-23

Around 1850, Roland Barthes says in Writing Degree Zero, classical literature simply "disintegrated," having yielded to the pressure of a cultural situation in which literary order, like social order, had ceased to be hierarchical and had become democratic and pluralistic. In the vacuum left by the loss of the classical...

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II: A Fable of White and Black: Jefferson, Madison, Tate

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pp. 24-53

James M. Cox has said that since the "very idea of autobiography'' grew "out of the political necessities and discoveries of the American and French revolutions," it is "no mere accident that an astonishingly large proportion of the slender shelf of so-called American classics" is claimed...

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III: History and the Will of the Artist: Elizabeth Madox Roberts

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pp. 54-72

I feel myself to be a Kentuckian," Elizabeth Madox Roberts said, "and all my work . . . centers around Kentucky objects."1 Just as her younger contemporary William Faulkner took as his subject the history of the Deep South state of Mississippi, Roberts took as her subject the history of the border state of Kentucky. As...

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IV: War and Memory: Quentin Compson's Civil War

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pp. 73-95

Asked about his indebtedness to Sherwood Anderson, whom he had known personally in New Orleans in the early 19208, William Faulkner replied, "In my opinion he's the father of all my generation—Hemingway, Erskine Caldwell, Thomas Wolfe, Dos Passos." Strictly speaking, Faulkner's sense of literary genealogy...

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V: The Tenses of History: Faulkner

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pp. 96-113

Like Thomas Hardy's Wessex, William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County originated in the imagination of a young writer reared in a provincial community. In both instances a youthful mind endowed with literary genius discovered that the small, remote world of his nativity in its own way represented the major experience...

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VI: The Poetry of Criticism: Allen Tate

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pp. 114-131

During the last twenty-five years of his life Allen Tate was a literary presence both at home and abroad. He served as/a tenured professor at the University of Minnesota (retiring in 1968 as Regents' Professor), filled numerous visiting lectureships, collected several honorary degrees, received various prominent literary...

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VII: The Loneliness Artist: Robert Penn Warren

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pp. 132-154

One morning a few years ago Charles East—the southern editor, journalist, and storyteller, an old friend and near neighbor in the Southdowns section of Baton Rouge—picked me up at my door, and we set forth on a selective journey into the literary past of Louisiana's capital city. Our specific purpose was to see the...

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VIII: The Last Casualty of the Civil War: Arthur Crew Inman

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pp. 155-182

With the brutal actuality of the War for Southern Independence appreciably fading by the i88os, southerners, Robert Penn Warren says, "mystically converted" the "human disorder" of the Confederate States of America into a "City of the Soul," and,...

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IX: From Thoreau to Walker Percy: Home by Way of California; or, The End of the Southern Renascence

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pp. 183-207

Taking his stand as a "reconstructed but unregenerate" southerner, John Crowe Ransom said in the Agrarian declaration of 1930 that in order to survive as a definitive region the South must "reenter the American political field with a determination and an address quite beyond anything she...

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Epilogue: A Personal Fable: Living with Indians

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pp. 208-237

An old-fashioned Hollywood Indian would say that I speak with a forked tongue. My actual personal experience with Indians, at least with plainly identifiable ones, has been mostly incidental to travels in the western states, Alaska, and the Yukon. I recall a conversation one night on an airplane...


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pp. 239-240


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pp. 241-249

E-ISBN-13: 9780807140628
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807129159

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2003