Dear Appalachia

Dear Appalachia: Readers, Identity, and Popular Fiction since 1878

Emily Satterwhite
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 396
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    Dear Appalachia
    Book Description:

    Much criticism has been directed at negative stereotypes of Appalachia perpetuated by movies, television shows, and news media. Books, on the other hand, often draw enthusiastic praise for their celebration of the simplicity and authenticity of the Appalachian region.

    Dear Appalachia: Readers, Identity, and Popular Fiction since 1878 employs the innovative new strategy of examining fan mail, reviews, and readers' geographic affiliations to understand how readers have imagined the region and what purposes these imagined geographies have served for them. As Emily Satterwhite traces the changing visions of Appalachia across the decades, from the Gilded Age (1865--1895) to the present, she finds that every generation has produced an audience hungry for a romantic version of Appalachia.

    According to Satterwhite, best-selling fiction has portrayed Appalachia as a distinctive place apart from the mainstream United States, has offered cosmopolitan white readers a sense of identity and community, and has engendered feelings of national and cultural pride. Thanks in part to readers' faith in authors as authentic representatives of the regions they write about, Satterwhite argues, regional fiction often plays a role in creating and affirming regional identity. By mapping the geographic locations of fans, Dear Appalachia demonstrates that mobile white readers in particular, including regional elites, have idealized Appalachia as rooted, static, and protected from commercial society in order to reassure themselves that there remains an "authentic" America untouched by global currents.

    Investigating texts such as John Fox Jr.'s The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1908), Harriette Arnow's The Dollmaker (1954), James Dickey's Deliverance (1970), and Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain (1997), Dear Appalachia moves beyond traditional studies of regional fiction to document the functions of these narratives in the lives of readers, revealing not only what people have thought about Appalachia, but why.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3011-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction: Best-Selling Appalachia
    (pp. 1-26)

    For many Americans, Appalachia conjures up toothless hillbillies in overalls on sagging front porches. Coal mining. Poverty. Moonshining. Incest. And of course, the strains of “Dueling Banjos” from the filmDeliverance. For other Americans, however, a far less grim set of associations overtakes these impressions. Scenic mountains and close ties to nature. The Appalachian Trail. Bluegrass music. Quilts. The simple life. Salt-of-the-earth country people. Pioneer fortitude and self-sufficiency. As novelist Silas House has aptly put it, “People have one of two stereotypes about this place: they think it’s either ‘beautiful and simple’ or ‘stupid and simple.’”¹

    In mass media’s visual...

  6. Chapter 1 Charm and Virility, circa 1884
    (pp. 27-54)

    On 4 March 1885,Atlantic Monthlyeditor Thomas Bailey Aldrich was shocked to discover that longtime contributor “M. N. Murfree” was not, as he had assumed, a man, but the “delicate looking lady” standing before him in his Boston offices. TheBoston Herald’s account of the meeting claimed that Aldrich “would have been better prepared” to learn that the popular local-color writer was “a Strapping Six-foot Tennessean” than Miss Mary Noailles Murfree (1850–1922), a young-looking woman who walked with a slight limp. TheHeraldreported that Aldrich “could hardly have been more astounded had the roof fallen in, and...

  7. Chapter 2 Tonic and Rationale, circa 1908
    (pp. 55-88)

    In 1917, author John Fox Jr. (1862–1919) received a handwritten letter from a student at Stonewall Jackson College for Young Women in Abingdon, Virginia.¹ The topic of Una M. Crawford’s fan mail was Fox’s second best seller, published almost ten years earlier and set in southwestern Virginia. “Ever since Ive read your book ‘Trail of the Lonesome Pine’ I’ve felt there was some one who really understood my feelings of my mountain home,” Miss Crawford wrote. A self-proclaimed “mountain girl of North Carolina,” Crawford identified with Fox’s Pygmalion-like character June. She saw inThe Trail of the Lonesome Pine...

  8. Chapter 3 Country to City, circa 1949–1954
    (pp. 89-130)

    Harriette Simpson Arnow (1908–1986) once said that she envisioned her first three novels—Mountain Path(1936),Hunter’s Horn(1949), andThe Dollmaker(1954)—“as a record of people’s lives in terms of roads.” “At first,” Arnow recounted, there was “only a path, then a community at the end of a gravel road that took men and families away, and finally, where gravel led to a highway, the highway destroyed the hill community.” Arnow had been “aware that nothing had been written on the Southern migrants” who left the South in search of work, “of what was actually happening to...

  9. Chapter 4 City to Country, circa 1967–1970
    (pp. 131-176)

    In the twenty-first century, two pop culture touchstones continue to shape national perceptions of the Appalachian region perhaps more than any other fiction since John Fox’sThe Trail of the Lonesome Pine(1908). Catherine Marshall’sChristyand James Dickey’sDeliverance, novels published originally in 1967 and 1970, respectively, have had great staying power in the American imagination.Deliverance’s lasting influence came as a result, largely, of its 1972 film version (found regularly on cable television throughout the 1990s) and the haunting refrain of its signature music, “Dueling Banjoes.”Christy, about a young girl who leaves her comfortable life in Asheville,...

  10. Chapter 5 A Sweet Land That Never Was, circa 1994–2001
    (pp. 177-210)

    “When I attended a conference on Appalachia,” wrote a customer on in 1999, “I asked the speaker, ‘What is the definitive book about the Appalachians?’ The answer was, ‘Fair and Tender Ladies,’ without hesitation. Now I have read all of Lee Smith’s books.” About ten years later, singer-songwriter Caroline Herring, upon returning home from the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival, posted a message for her festival audience to her online Facebook page: “Thanks for making me feel so incredibly welcome. Time for Appalachian Studies 101! What are the iconic books?” Her fans recommended a book on fiddles, theFoxfirefolklore...

  11. Conclusion: The Production of Region and the Romance with Whiteness
    (pp. 211-228)

    Each of the epigraphs above gestures toward distinct but overlapping sets of interests and concerns regarding the conclusions to be drawn from my examination of fans’ responses to popular Appalachian-set fiction. Douglas Reichert Powell’s quote speaks to the creation of place. In the first section below, “The Production of Regional Identity,” I discuss the relationship between regional fiction and the construction of region and regionalism along lines that will be particularly useful, I hope, for those interested in literary regionalism. I claim that readers’ responses demonstrate that a primary function of regional fiction has been to produce regional subjects.


  12. Appendix: Methodological Essay
    (pp. 229-248)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 249-330)
  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 331-352)
  15. Index
    (pp. 353-379)