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A distinguished southern historian we know tells the story of being asked to name the diree greatest southern novels. It was a high-brow cultural gathering and die glare from the leading literary lights was practically blinding. Everyone leaned forward to hear the wise man's answer. Who would make it to the winner's circle? Who in the audience would guess the same combination of Warren and Percy, Faulkner and O'Connor? Wouldn't die second-guessing be delicious at die ensuing reception? Tension mounted as the professor furrowed his brow. Finally the words came, and dumbfounded everybody. "The diree greatest southern novels," the historian pronounced, "are Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Clansman by Thomas Dixon, and Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell." Recovering from shock, the literary lions let out a roar. Who invited this guy, anyway? How could he bring up such trash around serious people? That Stowe woman wasn't even southern, thank goodness. Can we now hear from somebody widi literary sensibilities? Please? above: Mammy andScarlett in a scenefrom Gone with the Wind, the David O. Sel^nickfilm released in ¡9)9. From the Museum ofModern Art Film StillsArchive. The historically minded professor had not been gauche on purpose, though he must have had an inkling of how his choices would be received. He named diree titles that have done more than any others, he thought, to shape die way soudierners and nonsoutherners have actually thought about the South. For him, that was a legitimate way to approach the question of a "great" novel, and defined in diat way, who could disagree with him? Abraham Lincoln said that Harriet Beecher Stowe had incited die Civil War. And when Dixon's Clansman was turned into the movie classic Birth ofa Nation, Woodrow Wilson called it "history written with lightning." The rest of us remember it as the novel diat reinvented cross burning and inspired the revival of the Ku Klux Klan—hardly an admirable record, but certainly an influential one. Today, Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Clansman are more often read in the classroom than on the sofa, but the very opposite is true of Gone with the Wind. Margaret Mitchell's classic has never gone out of print since its publication in 1936 and continues to sell about a halfa million copies a year. Gwrwhas even inspired afaux sequel and continues to enthrall new generations ofreaders who are steadfasdy indifferent to the massive disapproval ofhistorians and literary critics alike. Indeed, Professor Drew Gilpin Faust tells us that "more Americans learn about the Civil War from Margaret Mitchell than from any other single author," even though academics studiously ignore the book and almost never include it in serious anthologies or bibliographies of southern writing. What does all this mean? The four leading essays in diis issue seek to answer that question. During the 1998 meeting of the Southern Intellectual History Circle in Chapel Hill, Drew Gilpin Faust presented her analysis of the enduring power of gwtw. Following her talk, Patricia Yaeger, Anne GoodwynJones, andJacquelyn Dowd Hall—diree outstanding scholars of southern women's literature and history—responded widi dieir comments. All four authors kindly agreed to share their thoughts witii Southern Cultures and we hope you diink their ideas are as intriguing as we do. Faust points out what lovers of gwtw can never forget, that Scarlett O'Hara was a rebel against the Rebellion. Mitchell's heroine was a southern girl who had no patience with the Civil War, who refused to be a lady, and who struggled to profit in the New South when everyone around her was bemoaning the Lost Cause. Did this make her a liberated woman? No, says Faust. In the end, Mitchell could not imagine Scarlett's liberation because she could not imagine the liberation ofsouthern blacks. Race and gender are bound together, Faust suggests, and soudiern white women have been prisoners of racial conventions as much as the gender pedestal. They cannot be fully free of the stifling conventions that bound Scarlett until they figure out ways to support the freedom of their black sisters and brothers as well. Echoing a theme ofher...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 1-4
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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