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Reviewed by:
  • Southern Sons: Becoming Men in the New Nation
  • Ehren K. Foley
Southern Sons: Becoming Men in the New Nation. By Lorri Glover (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007. x plus 250 pp. $50.00 cloth).

In Southern Sons: Becoming Men in the New Nation Lorri Glover examines the construction and performance of masculine identity among elite southern men in the Early Republic. She is specifically interested in the first post-Revolutionary generation that came of age in the period between 1790 and 1820. The book traces the maturation of these young men as they moved from the lessons of boyhood through marriage and the beginnings of their professional lives. Throughout, Glover remains focused on the values, imparted by family and by peers, that marked an individual as a man as well as the actual public performances necessary to claim full manhood. Glover situates her work as an attempt to move beyond Bertram Wyatt-Brown's 'honor thesis', which has dominated the historiography of southern manhood, by importing a discussion of masculinity and gender studies into southern history. While Glover admits that honor was an important component of southern male identity, she also argues that elite southern manhood was both more broadly constituted and more dynamic than historians focusing solely upon honor have understood. Ultimately, she argues, the male identity constructed by elite southern boys in the Early Republic, one predicated on manly independence, reputation, refinement, and defined in contrast to slavery, created a cohort of elite southern men whose obsession with autonomy helped foment secession and Civil War.

Glover divides her work into three parts, with the first outlining the values of autonomy and duty taught in childhood. Here, Glover's most important point, and one that she emphasizes throughout the book, concerns the contradictions faced by elite southerners who hoped to raise 'self-willed' sons but who also wanted to shape the actions of their offspring so that they would reflect well upon the reputation of the family. Even as parents grew anxious over wayward sons, the value placed upon autonomy often resulted in parental leniency. While the suggestion that independence was an important value for elite southerners is certainly not a new one, Glover does offer an interesting examination of how those values affected the child-rearing process. [End Page 821]

In the second part Glover follows these elite southern youths as they headed off to school at Harvard or Yale and later Chapel Hill or South Carolina College. Here again 'manly independence' and concerns about reputation emerge for Glover as the hallmarks of southern masculinity. Glover shows how boys who often felt superior to their teachers and who also shared a contempt for authority acted out, sometimes violently, on college campuses. Students drank, gambled, stole faculty members' horses, and, in at least once instance, even hurled a chair at a university president. Though college was not where elite southerners first encountered the premium placed upon independence and personal reputation, Glover argues that it did provide an arena where those values, inculcated since childhood, found their full expression. Her focus on the college experience also suggests that peer culture was central to defining the exact parameters of southern male identity in the Early Republic.

Beyond the cultural values of manhood, Glover also shows the importance placed upon performing the role of a southern man. Glover discusses the attention paid by southern elites to British etiquette manuals, particularly Lord Chesterfield's Letters to His Son, and cites multiple examples where southern parents invoked Chesterfield's lessons in cautionary letters to their own children. The common theme in those letters was that social reputation was the most important value and something that a young man neglected at his peril. In everything from epistolary conventions to bodily appearance concerns about reputation remained paramount and all served as markers of true manhood.

In the third part Glover concludes by arguing that the way a man used his body was even more important than its appearance. Through the highly choreographed rituals of courtship, the display of sexual self-mastery, and the choice of one's profession, southern men asserted their masculinity. Her interrogation of the actual process of becoming a man...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 821-823
Launched on MUSE
2009-03-21
Open Access
No
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