- Wild Rose: The Life and Times of Victor Marion Rose, Poet and Early Historian of Texas by Louise O'Connor
As part of Texas A&M University Press's long-running "Clayton Wheat Williams Texas Life" series, Louise O'Connor's biography of her great-great uncle, Wild Rose: The Life and Times of Victor Marion Rose, is intended for a general audience interested in local Texas history and culture. O'Connor's familial ties to Victor Marion Rose (1842–93)—a late nineteenth-century journalist, historian, and sometime poet—are the book's strength and weakness. Her personal connection and access to family records give a sense of intimacy and insight to the narrative; however, she also has a tendency to act as Rose's apologist in an effort to frame him as a sympathetic figure for a contemporary audience. [End Page 456]
The seven chapters are organized chronologically as phases of Rose's life. The first two encompass his boyhood on his family's Texas plantation, his single year of college, and his time as a prisoner of war during the Civil War. Chapters three and four focus on his life after the war—the loss of the family plantation, his two marriages, and the beginnings of his journalistic and literary career. The final three chapters are mainly centered on his work as a poet and an editor of various newspapers in the state, as well as his other published works on the Civil War and local history. While Rose's histories appear to be of some interest to Civil War historians, and his editorial work is engaging as part of a larger window into the political and social landscape of post-Reconstruction Texas, O'Connor's efforts to rehabilitate Rose as a major literary figure generally fall flat.
In her introduction O'Connor provides "A Brief Review of Southern Culture," which she uses to frame the titular "times" of Victor Marion Rose throughout the text. Unfortunately, she depends heavily on dated scholarship, such as W. J. Cash's The Mind of the South (1941), characterizing the Old South as a monolithic plantation culture and promoting concepts of Southern exceptionalism. The Southern context could be better served by more recent scholarship, such as James C. Cobb's Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity (2005), but overall it is a limiting characterization of nineteenth-century Texas that ignores the geographic and social multiculturalism of a liminal space existing between South and West even among the land-and slave-owning families of South-east Texas.
A homogenous representation of the American South necessarily reduces the cultural and social scope of Rose's "life and times" to a singular view of Rose within an elite white masculine framework. This allows O'Connor to cast his post-Reconstruction newspaper editorials expressing dissenting views on the Lost Cause version of the Civil War as exceptional, while his violent behavior toward women, including a former spouse, though acknowledged, is down-played as part of his self-styled "Wild Rose" persona (67).
Rose is an interesting figure, but perhaps more useful outside of the imagined context of the exceptional. As a case study for post–Civil [End Page 457] War Texas and the Southwest he could provide valuable insight into a time of deep anxiety and transition. Far from merely inhabiting the American South, his life and writing could be framed within the context of the Global South and American West—one of his most prolific periods as a writer and editor was his stint at the Laredo Times in Mexico, a country that Rose believed "was in-habited by barbarians" (91). O'Connor determinedly places Rose as a relative political and social progressive in the postwar world with a racial sensitivity ahead of his time but repeatedly turns away from her own evidence that acts to complicate the desired picture. For example, she claims his use of dialect and Jim Crow–type figures within his poetry as...