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First Books

The Printed Word and Cultural Formation in Early Alabama

Philip D. Beidler

Publication Year: 1999

This case study in cultural mythmaking shows how antebellum Alabama created itself out of its own printed texts, from treatises on law and history to satire, poetry, and domestic novels.

Early 19th-century Alabama was a society still in the making. Now Philip Beidler tells how the first books written and published in the state influenced the formation of Alabama's literary and political culture. As Beidler shows, virtually overnight early Alabama found itself in possession of the social, political, and economic conditions required to jump start a traditional literary culture in the old Anglo-European model: property-based class relationships, large concentrations of personal wealth, and professional and merchant classes of similar social, political, educational, and literary views.

Beidler examines the work of well-known writers such as humorist Johnson J. Hooper and novelist Caroline Lee Hentz, and takes on other classic pieces like Albert J. Pickett's History of Alabama and Alexander Beaufort Meek's epic poem The Red Eagle. Beidler also considers lesser-known works like Lewis B. Sewall's verse satire The Adventures of Sir John Falstaff the II, Henry Hitchcock's groundbreaking legal volume Alabama Justice of the Peace, and Octavia Walton Levert's Souvenirs of Travel. Most of these works were written by and for society's elite, and although many celebrate the establishment of an ordered way of life, they also preserve the biases of authors who refused to write about slavery yet continually focused on the extermination of Native Americans.
First Books returns us to the world of early Alabama that these texts not only recorded but helped create. Written with flair and a strong individual voice, it will appeal not only to scholars of Alabama history and literature but also to anyone interested in the antebellum South.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I gratefully acknowledge the help of the following people: Salli Davis, Dwight Eddins, Bert Hitchcock, Fred Hobson, Jeff Jakeman, Malcolm MacDonald, Robert Phillips, Diane Roberts, Johanna Nicol Shields, and Hugh Terry. I would also like to thank especially the staff of The University of Alabama Special Collections Library ...

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Introduction: Literature and Culture in Early Alabama

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pp. 1-13

The title of this book, I hope, truthfully advertises its subject. I mean First Books to be a case study in the forms and processes of cultural mythmaking. At the same time, focusing here on the idea of the production of literature in a new country, I also wish to draw attention to a peculiar instance of the phenomenon, ...

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1. Satire in the Territories: Literature and the Art of Political Payback in an Early Alabama Classic

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pp. 14-22

It is a commonplace of American literary study that the culture has always somehow eluded traditional satire in its broad-scale social dimension. Such impoverishment was once understood to have cast its shadow across the colonial era and the early Republic through at least the whole pre-Civil War period, ...

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2. First Book: Henry Hitchcock's Alabama Justice of the Peace

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pp. 23-31

Regularly affirming a new alliance between culture and mass-print literacy, the first books of early American places nearly always speak volumes about the groundbreaking work of social organization. We find it appropriate, for example, that the first book written and printed in Puritan New England ...

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3. "The First Production of the Kind, in the South": A Backwoods Literary Incognito and His Attempt at the Great American Novel

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pp. 32-46

One of the most remarkable stories in American literary and publishing culture of the Old Southwest can be found in a small, workmanlike volume entitled The Lost Virgin of the South: An Historical Novel, Founded on Facts, Connected with the Indian War in the South, in 1812 to '15. ...

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4. Belles Lettres in a New Country

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pp. 47-62

By the standards of more established cultural jurisdictions, the Alabama country had already in effect, however improbably, become the province of belles lettres in the rather traditional sense of the term when a minor territorial functionary, Lewis Sewall, elected for the publication of mock-epic satire ...

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5. Antebellum Alabama History in the Planter Style: The Example of Albert J. Pickett

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pp. 63-75

The title chosen by David Levin for his groundbreaking study of the great nineteenth-century American historians Bancroft, Prescott, Motley, and Parkman aptly imaged his sense of a new national genre they had helped to create: History as Romantic Art..1 In each case, Levin proposed, as with the American romantic fiction of the era ...

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6. A. B. Meek's Great American Epic Poem of 1855; or, the Curious Career of The Red Eagle

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pp. 76-86

At least three major poetic texts published in 1855 could claim status as original American epics based on the large-scale treatment of native materials. Of these, surely the best-known and most widely appreciated at the time was Henry W. Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha.1...

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7. Historicizing Alabama's Southwestern Humorists; or, How the Times Were Served by Johnson J. Hooper and Joseph G.Baldwin

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pp. 87-101

As a working laboratory of social experiment on the antebellum frontier, early Alabama could hardly have been expected not to prove hospitable literary ground for corresponding developments in the raffish new regional genre of politico-economic realism called Southwestern humor. ...

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8. Caroline Lee Hentz's Anti-Abolitionist Double Feature and Augusta Jane Evans's New and Improved Novel of Female Education

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pp. 102-126

Outshining and outselling in the literary marketplace even the double-barreled contributions of the humorists Hooper and Baldwin to a muscular new genre of vernacular realism, two antebellum Alabama women novelists, both practitioners of a domestic realism enjoying immense popular visibility, ...

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9. Alabama's Last First Book: The Example of Daniel Hundley

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pp. 127-136

In form and theme, not to mention chronology, one could hardly find more fit material for concluding a book on literature and cultural formation in early Alabama than in Alabamian Daniel Hundley's 1860 Social Relations in Our Southern States—itself a conflation of social analysis and imaginative myth ...


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pp. 137-170

Works Cited

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pp. 171-176


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pp. 177-185

E-ISBN-13: 9780817386405
E-ISBN-10: 0817386408
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817357306
Print-ISBN-10: 0817309853

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 1999