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RecentSouthernStudies: FromRomanceto Ritual DanielJoseph Singal. The War Within:From Victorian to Modernist Thought in the South, 1919-1945. Chapel Hill: Universityof North Carolina Press, 1982.453+xvi pp. MarcelleThiebaux. Ellen Glasgow. NewYork: Frederick Ungar, 1982. 222+xiii pp. LindaW.Wagner. Ellen Glasgow: Bevond Convention. Austin: U~iversityof Texas Press, 1982. 150 + x pp. FloydC. Watkins. Then and Now: ThePersonal Past in the Poet,y of Robert Penn Warren. Lexington: University Press ofKentucky, 1982. 184 + xii pp. Mark Royden Winchell Asa native Midwesterner who has lived half his life below the Mason-Dixon Line, I have often wondered why my present home claims an indigenous regionalliterature and my old one does not. Although it frequently has been contended that the South has produced a disproportionately large number of gifted modern writers, that boast does not hold up to scrutiny. Of the figures included in Jackson R. Bryer's Sixteen Modern American Authors, six(Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dreiser, Anderson, Hart Crane and Eliot) spent theirformative years in the Midwest, and six(Frost, Stevens,Pound, Williams, O'Neilland Robinson) in the Northeast. With only two writers (Faulkner and Wolfe),the South is tied with the Far West (Steinbeck and Cather) for last place. Even if we enlarged and updated Bryer's consensus list, it is doubtful that the relative position of the South would improve. Some readers might regard the foregoing exercise as a trifle absurd on the quite sensible grounds that one's place of origin has little if anything to do with whether one is a good writer. Once we get beyond the boosterism of Dixiepatriots and the condescension of those Yankees who regard a literate Southerner with the sort of amazement Dr. Johnson reserved for women preachers and performing dogs, what we are left with is the notion that a "Southern" writer-be he good, bad or indifferent-is the product of a culture which gives him identifiable themes and values. Clearly, this is what scholars mean when they speak of a "Modem Southern Renascence" (even if Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 16, Number 1, Spring 1985,73-82 74 Mark Royden Winchell the term itself is as much a misnomer as "Holy Roman Empire"). Because that culture no longer exists (some would contend that in the strictest senseit never did), such themes and values are no longer accessible to the Southern writer. Consequently, those who once enthusiastically celebrated the Renascence are now mournfully proclaiming its demise. (Indeed, Walter Sullivan's 1976collection of Lamar Memorial Lectures is entitled A Requiem for the Renascence.) Although virtually no one believes that the Renascence is still with us, not everyone is singing its funeral dirge. Several younger critics (the most vocal of whom are Thomas L. McHaney and Noel Polk) contend that the very notion of a Southern Renascence has caused us too often to evaluate the literature of the South according to its regional orthodoxy rather than its esthetic excellence. According to such a view,the "Renascence" has been at best a wrong-headed and at worst a baneful concept. While it is not the purpose of this essay to resolve the debate between old-guard Agrarians and their young Turk adversaries, it is worth keeping that debate in mind when examining books which- like the four under consideration here-deal with issues raised by the ferment which transformed Southern culture between the two world wars. Although neither Linda W. Wagner nor Marcelle Thiebaux is primarily concerned with the Southernness of their subject, Ellen Glasgow's career tells us a good deal about the state of Southern letters in the first half of this century. Born in 1873,Glasgow published nineteen novels and several other books between 1897 and 1943. She was certainly among the most highly respected Southern writers of her time (she won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1942,four years before Robert Penn Warren and thirteen before William Faulkner). Thus, one would think that Ellen Glasgow would be regarded asa leading light of the Renascence. Instead, even so sympathetic a critic as Louis D. Rubin, Jr., has relegated her to the status of a "transitional figure." According to Rubin, Glasgow stands "midway between those writers of the South...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 73-82
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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