In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Yet Maria for all her chattiness shows a cool reserve in regard to her own affairs . She veils much ofher own story, including the events that led up to each of her marriages, the first a union ofwhich her parents apparently did not approve. Thus, the reader is surprised when the letter writer almost laughingly records a neighbor's judgment of herself: "'Maria,' said she, 'is a very good girl—but I think she courts attention rather too much.'" Amidst the terseness and reserve, Maria does admit some of the trials of womanhood that she experienced. Throughout much of her life, Maria was the dutiful daughter who tried to smooth family relations. After her first husband's death, she returned to live with her parents and strove for the resignation that her Presbyterian piety and even her beloved sister enjoined upon her. There she cheerfully taught her nieces and nephews and took on the responsibilities of managing that household after the death of her mother. In the end she found the life ofa southern matron hard. Upset when the overseer beat a slave, leaving her face "bloody and swelled," Maria told her sister "Oh! how great an evil is slavery." Yet in that case, as with her father's desires to migrate westward, Maria apparendy saw herself as unable to exercise power over male decisions. Similarly, she only hints at the unhappiness that editor Bleser believes existed in the second marriage. Neither confessional nor self-justifying, Maria Bryan's letters are a window onto her society and help to build a complex and nuanced understanding ofwomen's roles in it. They carry us back to a small world full ofits own tragedies and triumphs. Country People in the New South Tennessee's Upper Cumberland ByJeanette Keith University ofNorth Carolina Press, 1995 xi + 293 pp. Cloth, $45; paper, $18.95 Reviewed by Michael Uenesch, Bowman and Gordon Gray Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Lienesch is the audior of New Order oftheAges: Time, the Constitution, and the Making ofModern American Political Thought and RedeemingAmerica: Piety andPolitics in the New Christian Right. He is currendy at work on a study of die political causes and consequences of the Scopes "monkey" trial. 78 Reviews As southern cultures go, we may know least about the largest: the millions ofrural white people, many of them poor, whom Frank Owsley called "plain folk." Historically they have been an elusive population: celebrated by Jeffersonians as sturdy and virtuous yeomen, denigrated by conservative elites as "crackers" or "rednecks," embraced by progressives as backward victims of an oppressive social system and by populists as heroic protesters against it. But especially in the twentieth century, poor rural whites all too often have been forgotten or at least pushed to the margins of the picture, portrayed as the people who remained when others moved to the Sunbelt cities and suburbs. In the New South, they are the ones, to use Hal Baron's phrase, "who stayed behind." In her thoughtful and thought-provoking Country People in the New South, Jeanette Keith describes some ofthese plain folk and discusses some of the ways they responded to the changing character ofsouthern society at the beginning of the twentieth century. Her focus is on the Upper Cumberland, a region ofeleven counties in northeastern middle Tennessee between Nashville and Knoxville that consists mostly ofhill country, much ofit divided by steep-sided ridges and shallow rivers. The land has always been poor, capable ofproducing field crops and some tobacco, but unsuitable for plantation production. Even in the late nineteenth century, when Keith takes up her study, the area remained sparsely settled, primarily by poorwhites who lived on farms along the creeks and at the crests of the ridges, or in tiny crossroads towns with names like Difficult and Defiance. They lived in crude cabins or simple frame houses, usually without indoor plumbing and sometimes not even an outhouse. Most of them were not educated beyond the fifth grade; some had not traveled as far as the county seat. Keith describes these country people with care and considerable sensitivity, steering clear ofboth stereotypes and nostalgia. Her scholarly task is by...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 78-81
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.