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

Book Reviews 129 Book Reviews Nina Silber. The Romance of Reunion: Northerners and the South, 18651900 . Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1993. Pp. xiv + 257, bibliography and illustrations. Almost fifty years ago, C. Vann Woodward unearthed evidence for what he called the Compromise of 1877, part of the drama that ended Reconstruction and laid the basis for sectional reconciliation. It was a backroom deal that allowed Republican Rutherford B. Hayes to occupy the White House and in return promised southerners home rule and a share in federal largesse for railroads and other improvement schemes. Negotiators on the southern side were mainly former Whigs, practical men of affairs, who shared much of the world view of their business-oriented northern Republican counterparts. In this masculine world (one can almost imagine the cigars and brandy) of hardnosed businessmen and politicians the foundations of a reunified nation were laid-or so we might have assumed until the appearance of Nina Silber's sometimes brilliant, sometimes exasperating, but always provocative new book. Here gender becomes the central category for analysing the course of reconciliation, as viewed from the North, between 1865 and 1900. Silber does not deny the importance of economic and political factors in reuniting the country, but she chooses to focus on reunion as a cultural process . Northern anxieties, she argues, about social changes in their own society were sublimated into an image of an idealized South in which traditional Victorian values and a sense of order and hierarchy still held sway. By the last two decades or so of the century, the South's presumed social harmony, supported by rural and aristocratic values, contrasted markedly with the labour unrest, unassimilable immigrants, and urban disorder that seemed to pervade the North. In particular, northern middle- and upper-class men found in a refined and feminized South an escape from anxieties about their own manhood caused by the growing assertiveness of modern, more independent women seeking to escape the confines of the domestic sphere. Novels and plays in which aYankee husband was paired with a southern wife "offered the northern man a symbolic vehicle for reasserting authority .... 130 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue canadienne cf etudes americaines He was once again victorious, not only over the South, but also over womankind" (10). Eventually, however, the resurgence of an American patriotism that culminated in the Spanish-American War, and effectively read African Americans out of the national community, led to the reintegration of the South into a common imperial project in which both southern and northern manhood could be tested and proven. Full justice can hardly be given here to the scope of Silber's research. She shows, among many other things, how promoters of tourism helped transform the idea of the South from a land of backwardness and treason into a romantic haven where tourists could leave behind the hustle and bustle of city life and recover their health and peace of mind in balmier climes and opulent landscapes. African Americans became just another picturesque element in the scenery, recalling simpler days on the old plantation. Silber claims to uncover the feminine imagery in which the promotion of tourism was couched and finds an analogy between travel in a domesticated South and escape from the workaday world into the feminine, domestic sphere. The problematical aspects of this book lie precisely in such a reading of symbol and metaphor in the literary sources. Metaphors can certainly be suggestive of how language structures perceptions and thus serves an ideological function, but Silber's analysis of language, as suggestive as it is, simply bears too heavy a burden of argument. For instance, since she proffers little evidence that many northern men actually perceived a problem in gender relations, it becomes a moot point whether holiday brochures describing the South in sensual and seductive terms really had anything to do with resolving a crisis of manhood. Conceivably, such language appealed more to women who sought to restore a romantic glow to relationships that the growing demands of shop and office had begun to tarnish. Moreover, could not the concern about a new breed of independent women actually have been felt more acutely...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 129-131
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.