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Writing Reconstruction

Writing Reconstruction: Race, Gender, and Citizenship in the Postwar South

Sharon D. Kennedy-Nolle
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 428
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  • Book Info
    Writing Reconstruction
    Book Description:

    After the Civil War, the South was divided into five military districts occupied by Union forces. Out of these regions, a remarkable group of writers emerged. Experiencing the long-lasting ramifications of Reconstruction firsthand, many of these writers sought to translate the era's promise into practice. In fiction, newspaper journalism, and other forms of literature, authors including George Washington Cable, Albion Tourgee, Constance Fenimore Woolson, and Octave Thanet imagined a new South in which freedpeople could prosper as citizens with agency. Radically re-envisioning the role of women in the home, workforce, and marketplace, these writers also made gender a vital concern of their work. Still, working from the South, the authors were often subject to the whims of a northern literary market. Their visions of citizenship depended on their readership's deference to conventional claims of duty, labor, reputation, and property ownership. The circumstances surrounding the production and circulation of their writing blunted the full impact of the period's literary imagination and fostered a drift into the stereotypical depictions and other strictures that marked the rise of Jim Crow.Sharon D. Kennedy-Nolle blends literary history with archival research to assess the significance of Reconstruction literature as a genre. Founded on witness and dream, the pathbreaking work of its writers made an enduring, if at times contradictory, contribution to American literature and history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-2109-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. 1-24)

    With this statement, W. E. B. Du Bois concludedBlack Reconstruction in America, his brilliant reexamination of the post–Civil War era. He sought to reconstruct the common, pernicious perceptions most Americans held about the era. Lamenting their apparent inability to grasp that Reconstruction was a problem pertinent to “the very foundations of American democracy,” Du Bois wistfully added that if this understanding had been achieved, “we should be living today in a different world.” Writing during the depths of the Depression and influenced by the rise of fascist dictatorships across Europe, Du Bois was appropriately pessimistic, but his conclusion...

    (pp. 25-75)

    Northern white writer Constance Fenimore Woolson’s travel sketches and stories about Florida, written from 1873 to 1879, showed readers different possibilities for reconstructing the South. A decade earlier, many white southerners worried that freedpeople would not work hard for their former white masters, now employers. This vexing concern, as well as anxiety over freedpeople’s place in American society more generally, permeated the genre of tourist literature, which grew after the Civil War. One such publication was Oliver Martin Crosby’sFlorida Facts Both Bright and Blue. The guidebook’s appendix of essays by “Resident Experts” specifically addressed “The Productive Capacity of Florida...

  6. Chapter 2 SEWING ON THE BADGES OF SERVITUDE: Albion Tourgée v. North Carolina
    (pp. 76-122)

    While it may be argued that Constance Woolson, indeed all Reconstruction writers, were as summoned to the pen as was Albion Winegar Tourgée in writing his first novel,Toinette, his postwar experience remains unique. Bringing to bear his formidable legal and journalistic expertise on the tumultuous events unfolding around him, Tourgée was hardly a touristic bystander. A combat veteran, carpetbag jurist and politician, he was a leading actor in Reconstruction’s violent drama as it played out “in the very theater of its enactment.” His passionate commitment to social justice helped shape the course of Reconstruction in the Second Military District....

  7. Chapter 3 AFRICAN AMERICAN LITERARY ACTIVISM IN A DIVIDED DISTRICT: Storer College and the Pioneer Press of West Virginia
    (pp. 123-177)

    On 3 January 1867 prominent northern journalist Mary Clemmer Ames heralded a new year and a new era for black and white West Virginian women. Her controversial column welcomed the arrival of “Yankee Teachers in the Valley of Virginia.” These women of “elegance, beauty, and wit” had arrived with “jaunty hats and natty jackets” to “brighten the lot of the lowly, to deliver from ignorance and vice the victim race.” They came to teach at Storer College, the new freedmen’s school in the mountain pass that John Brown had made famous. Yet the narrative of the Yankee teachers, upon whose...

    (pp. 178-229)

    In the opening chapter of George Washington Cable’s novelThe Grandissimes(1880), one of the characters taunts “Cityoen” Agricola Fusilier, the novel’s fire-eating Creole. “Ah! mo piti fils,” he cries, “to pas connais to zancestres? Don’t you know your ancestors, my little son!” Ventured at a quadroon ball at which everyone is disguised so well that they have difficulty recognizing each other, this jab resonates on several levels of representation. Cable intended to makeThe Grandissimes“as truly a political novel as it has ever been called.” Its plot is propelled by the life-and-death consequences of representation, especially for slaves...

  9. Chapter 5 IOWA’S AMERICAN GOTHIC IN ARKANSAS: The Plantation Fiction of Octave Thanet
    (pp. 230-280)

    Alice French’s 1890 novel,Expiation, written under the pen name Octave Thanet, opens in Arkansas in the Civil War’s final year. However, the novel dwells on the blighted landscape to comment on postwar conditions, just as the 1803 setting of Cable’sThe Grandissimeswas a foil to comment on Reconstruction. Within Military District Four, confused identities and displaced property predominate, and neighbors are hard to distinguish from robbers on the prowl. Dead bodies in the mist add to the landscape’s violent harshness. Fairfax “Fair” Rutherford, the craven protagonist, travels on a road that is flooded, gnarled, and rarely straight, yet...

    (pp. 281-302)

    On 12 December 1889, in his “Race Problem of the South” speech,Atlanta Constitutioneditor Henry Grady asserted that the power of the “white people of the South” to prevent the “tremendous menace” of black voting helped southern Democrats resume political control and shaped the region’s future. White American southerners, he told a Boston audience, could solve their political and social problems without a renewed federal intervention. The answer lay in a New South program that included crop diversification, the protective tariff, industrialization, and reconciliation, with black southerners in inferior positions. Grady’s wildly popular speech was immortalized by his sudden...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 303-342)
    (pp. 343-376)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 377-412)