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REPORTING TRIUMPH, SAVING A NATION: "INTERESTING JUXTAPOSITIONS" IN JOHN W. DE FOREST'S CIVIL WAR Wade Newhouse Bentley College More than perhaps any other fiction of the American Civil War, John W. De Forest's 1867 novel Miss Ravenel's Conversion from Secession to Loyalty depicts warfare as an indispensable component of domestic prosperity, with veterans and civilians collaborating to realize the war's potential for social uplift. Scenes of combat show De Forest's reader what the Union veteran endured and survived for the sake of the new nation, while the central narrative of courtship, marriage , and sexual betrayal extends the cultural trauma of civil war— the perpetual threat that meaningful social structure can be lost to a domestic, internal enemy—to the comfortable world of the reader's own recognizable personal space. Writing home front and battlefield as mutually supportive rhetorical locations rather than distinct and separate narrative subjects, De Forest militarizes the postwar American family and turns the epistemology of war into a domestic commodity . Published only two years after Appomattox, De Forest's Civil War signifies neither a struggle for racial justice nor a rejuvenated federalism but a crisis of individual responsibility to complementary ideals of family and nation. For De Forest, reading and writing the war is the logical extension of fighting it, as reading and writing embody a necessary personalized reaction to the event. In such acts of introspection, however, individuality becomes an illusion, surrendered to an imaginary political collective in the service of postwar American nationalism. Personal and national destiny are linked in Miss Ravenel's Conversion from the novel's opening sentence, which aligns the beginning of the war with the first stirrings of a love story: "It was shortly after the capitulation of loyal Fort Sumter to rebellious South Carolina that Mr. Edward Colburne of New Boston made the acquaintance ofMiss Lillie Ravenel ofNew Orleans."1 The first meeting ofthe novel's protagonists is chronologically marked by the start of the war; not surprisingly, their eventual union in marriage happens only after the war has been satisfactorily concluded. In between their meeting and their marriage, these lovers—like the nation they represent—endure the tribulations of betrayal and bloodshed, family division and sacrifice . The resolution of the love story explains the parallel triumph of 166Wade Newhouse the Union victory: the once-separated lovers and the warring elements of their nation have "sailed separately over stormy seas, but now they are in a quiet haven, united so long as life shall last" (467, emphasis added). While De Forest was by no means the first or only novelist to use the creation of an American family as a metaphor for the Civil War (or perhaps to use the war as a metaphor for the nationalist potential inherent within the American family),2 he was the first to support such a metaphor with detailed descriptions of what actually happened on the battlefield based on personal combat experience. He saw a causal relationship between the war he had fought with the army and an upper middle-class stability based on the expansion of free labor that the Union victory represented to him—what James A. Hijiya calls a pursuit of New World "gentility."3 The American future, De Forest predicts, will be marked by "peaceful industry, as ennobling as [Colburne's] fighting" (468). From the opening lines quoted above, the novel establishes a narrative scheme in which the dramatic possibilities oflove and war, both readily available to the popular imagination of 1867, are comparable ways to organize knowledge and understanding across broadly symbolic political lines.4 "It was unquestionably," the narrator continues, "the southern rebellionwhich brought Miss Ravenel and Mr. Colburne into interesting juxtaposition" (3). The remainder of the novel will show that "interesting juxtaposition"—ofLillie and Colburne, ofNorth and South, of morality and vice, and ultimately of war story and love story—drives De Forest's vision ofthe war and its legacy. These juxtapositions reveal a Civil War whose themes offreedom and union must be painstakingly constructed'by fiction, not merely recorded and preserved by writers as self-evident lessons after the fact. Moreover, the novel's most basic juxtaposition, of love story and...


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pp. 165-183
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