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The Edge of the Swamp

A Study in the Literature and Society of the Old South

Louis D. Rubin Jr.

Publication Year: 1999

The flowering of literary imagination known as the American Renaissance had few roots in the South. While Hawthorne, Emerson, Melville, Thoreau, and Whitman were creating a body of work that would endure, the only southern writer making a lasting contribution was Edgar Allan Poe. This failure on the part of antebellum southern writers has long been a subject of debate among students of southern history and literature. Now one of the region’s most distinguished men of letters offers a cogently argued and gracefully written account of the circumstances that prevented early southern writers from creating transcendent works of art. Louis D. Rubin, Jr., brings forty years of critical integrity and imaginative involvement with the history and literature of the South to his informal inquiry into the foundations of the southern literary imagination. His exploration centers on the lives and works of three of the most important writers of the pre-Civil War South: Poe, William Gilmore Simms, and Henry Timrod. In a close and highly original reading of Poe’s poetry and fiction, Rubin shows just how profoundly growing up in Richmond, Virginia, influenced that writer. The sole author of the Old South whose work has endured did not use southern settings or concern himself with his region’s history or politics. Poe was, according to Rubin, in active rebellion against the middle-class community of Richmond and its materialistic values. Simms, on the other hand, aspired to the plantation society ideal of his native Charleston, South Carolina. He was not the most devoted and energetic of southern writers and one of the country’s best-known and most respected literary figures before the Civil War. Rubin finds an explanation for much of the lost promise of antebellum southern literature in Simms’s career. Here was a talented man who got caught up in the politically obsessed plantation community of Charleston, becoming an apologist for the system and an ardent defender of slavery. Timrod, also a Charlestonian native, was a highly gifted poet whose work attained the stature of literature when the Civil War gave him a theme. He was known as the poet laureate of the Confederacy. Only when his region was locked in a desperate military struggle for the right to exist did he suddenly find his enduring voice. Anyone interested in southern life and literature will welcome his provocative and engaging new look at southern writing from one of the region’s most perceptive critics.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press


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p. 1-1


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pp. iii-v


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p. vii-vii


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pp. ix-x

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INTRODUCTION: The Old South and Historical Causality

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pp. 1-11

Recent developments in critical theory have relegated the chronological dimension of literary experience to a position of markedly less importance in the scheme of things than it had once enjoyed. For those of us who concern ourselves with the literary imagination of the ...

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I. THE EDGE OF THE SWAMP: Literature and Society in the Old South

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pp. 12-53

There is an old pleasantry that at the convention in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1850, when the various Southern states met to decide upon a common strategy for the intensifying sectional crisis, resolutions were enacted to the effect that "RESOLVED, that there be ...

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II. THE DREAM OF THE PLANTATION: Simms, Hammond, Charleston

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pp. 54-102

The writings of William Gilmore Simms of South Carolina are little read today. In his heyday as a novelist, however, during the 18305 and 18403, he was one of the best known and most respected of all American authors, with a literary reputation that extended ...

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III. THE ROMANCE OF THE FRONTIER: Simms, Cooper, and the Wilderness

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pp. 103-126

I have sought to show how William Gilmore Simms's life and career were very much a middle-class American affair, and how his ardent pursuit of the status of respected and honored man of letters within the politically obsessed planter community of antebellum South ...

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pp. 127-189

In the January, 1836, issue of the Southern Literary Messenger there was published a review of William Gilmore Simms's novel The Partisan, the first of the novelist's historical romances of the American Revolution. Simms had dedicated the book to a Charleston ...

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pp. 190-225

If Edgar Poe was by all odds the most accomplished and important of all the writers of the antebellum South, the only Southern author whose writings are read today for reasons other than scholarly interest (not that there is anything disgraceful about that), then it must ...


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pp. 227-234

E-ISBN-13: 9780807153635
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807124338

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 1999