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Witness to Reconstruction

Witness to Reconstruction: Constance Fenimore Woolson and the Postbellum South, 1873-1894

Edited by Kathleen Diffley
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 288
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    Witness to Reconstruction
    Book Description:

    In the wake of the Civil War, Constance Fenimore Woolson became one of the first northern observers to linger in the defeated states from Virginia to Florida. Born in New Hampshire in 1840 and raised in Ohio, she was the grandniece of James Fenimore Cooper and was gaining success as a writer when she departed in 1873 for St. Augustine. During the next six years, she made her way across the South and reported what she saw, first in illustrated travel accounts and then in the poetry, stories, and serialized novels that brought unsettled social relations to the pages ofHarper's Monthly, theAtlantic,Scribner's Monthly,Appletons' Journal, and theGalaxy. In the midst of Reconstruction and in print for years to come, Woolson revealed the sharp edges of loss, the sharper summons of opportunity, and the entanglements of northern misperceptions a decade before the waves of well-heeled tourists arrived during the 1880s.

    This volume's sixteen essays are intent on illuminating, through her example, the neglected world of Reconstruction's backwaters in literary developments that were politically charged and genuinely unpredictable. Drawing upon the postcolonial and transnational perspectives of New Southern Studies, as well as the cultural history, intellectual genealogy, and feminist priorities that lend urgency to the portraits of the global South, this collection investigates the mysterious, ravaged territory of a defeated nation as curious northern readers first saw it.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-026-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-2)
  3. “People Who Remember” The American South and Woolsonʹs Postbellum Sojourns
    (pp. 3-14)
    Kathleen Diffley

    So Constance Fenimore Woolson wrote to Southern poet Paul Hamilton Hayne a decade after the Civil War ended, when she had paused at Goshen, Virginia, during a summer’s travel with her ailing mother.¹ Born and raised in Charleston, Hayne had served on the staff of South Carolina governor Francis Perkins and had been assigned late in 1861 to Fort Sumter; he had good reason to recall the war’s devouring rush. North in Cleveland during those four stirring years, Woolson had been in her early twenties and had spent her days over boxes of supplies for the front as well as...

  4. “This Reserve of the North”: Reconstruction at Home

    • The Balances of Deceit; or, What Does Silver Mean to Me? Woolsonʹs ʺCastle Nowhereʺ and the Money Question during Reconstruction
      (pp. 17-34)
      Michael Germana

      When “Castle Nowhere” was first published in the collection of narratives that bears its name in 1875, critics singled out the novella as an aberration. William Dean Howells called it “the least satisfactory” of the lot, citing its “disagreeable fantasticality.” Another reviewer writing forScribner’s Monthlylamented, “it is a pity it should occupy the first position in the volume, for its inferiority to the others may prejudice an impatient reader.” WhenCastle Nowhere(the volume) was republishedin totoin 1886, however, “Castle Nowhere” (the novella) was no longer dismissed as an anomaly, but praised as an integral part...

  5. “The Daughters of Carolina”: The South Beckons

    • Constance Fenimore Woolson and the Origins of the Global South
      (pp. 37-55)
      John Lowe

      Constance Fenimore Woolson’s attempt to instill a new awareness of American identity, of hemispheric and Atlantic connectedness, is figured in her arresting metaphor for the shape of Florida, a “long, warm peninsula” that she sees “stretching like a finger pointing southward from the continent’s broad palm into the tropic sea.”¹ After years of living in Florida, where two of her novels and many of her short stories are set, Woolson was conscious of the state’s relation to the Caribbean and the polyglot peoples of the Americas. The most obvious import of the peninsula’s “finger” is the directed link with Cuba...

    • Tourism, Imperialism, and Hybridity in the Reconstruction South Woolsonʹs Rodman the Keeper: Southern Sketches
      (pp. 56-72)
      Anne E. Boyd

      At their core, issues of imperialism coalesce around such concepts as center and margin, dominance and subjugation, self and other, binaries at the heart of the ten stories collected in Constance Fenimore Woolson’sRodman the Keeper: Southern Sketches(1880).¹ I am interested not only in excavating these binaries in Woolson’s Southern fiction, but also in examining what happens to the tensions between them. Ultimately, these tensions are not neatly resolved, as they often were in popular postwar reunion romances. As many postcolonial theorists have noted, sooner or later the encounter between cultures and peoples results not only in clashes but...

    • Henry James, Constance Fenimore Woolson, and the Fashioning of Southern Identity
      (pp. 73-89)
      John H. Pearson

      Although Europe remained a fashionable destination of monied Americans in the late nineteenth century, the postbellum South became a popular alternative for increasing numbers of middle-class Americans. Nina Silber explains that many Americans traveled the South for the benefit of sunshine, the slower pace, and the ease with which they could get there. The Old South seemed new again to those arriving by train, travelers who sought “strange and unusual scenes in comfortably predictable tours” that they first read about inHarper’s New Monthly Magazineand other popular magazines and newspapers.¹ Richmond, Charleston, and St. Augustine developed nascent tourist industries...

    • Woolson’s Two Women: 1862. A Civil War Romance of Irreconcilable Difference
      (pp. 90-106)
      Caroline Gebhard

      Constance Fenimore Woolson is not remembered as a poet but, in the decade following the Civil War, her poems captured the imagination of her countrymen and -women. By 1877, she had published close to 50 poems in leading literary magazines such as theAtlantic Monthly,Harper’s Monthly, andAppletons’ Journal. A reviewer for theBoston Globecommented, “There are certainly very few American women who can write both prose and verse as well as she.”¹ Impressed with her poetry, Paul Hamilton Hayne, the best-known Southern poet of the day, praised her poems as “full of ‘grit,’ vigor, and almost manly...

    • Zephaniah Swift Spalding Constance Woolsonʹs Cipher
      (pp. 107-126)
      Cheryl B. Torsney

      Speculation about Constance Woolson’s lovers—their existence, their gender, how they are coded into her writing (or not)—has occasioned both scholarship and fiction. One of Woolson’s earliest commentators, Rayburn Moore, continues to tantalize contemporary readers with his mention of Woolson’s Army of the Republic soldier boyfriend, Zephaniah Swift Spalding (Fig. 1). In a number of her early Civil War poems and stories, I will argue, Woolson’s affection for Zeph Spalding gets displaced onto the Confederate brigadier general John Hunt Morgan, the celebrity soldier with the name recognition of a pop idol. In this guise among others, Zeph haunts Woolson’s...

  6. “A Shady Retreat”: Short Prose

    • Geology and Genre in Woolson’s Southern Travel Sketches
      (pp. 129-146)
      Timothy Sweet

      The rapid growth of tourism in the South during the 1870s was part of a larger national and international trend, as travel became more affordable and accessible to the middle classes. During this era, the tourist industry encouraged, and was encouraged by, a proliferation of travel writing of all kinds, notably guidebooks and illustrated magazine pieces. With the advent of guidebooks came the response that such guides offered merely a set of clichés interfering with the authentic experience of travel.¹ Illustrated magazine writing about the South after the Civil War saw additional generic complications, as the primarily information-oriented journalism of...

    • Reconstructing Southern Hospitality
      (pp. 147-161)
      Anthony Szczesiul

      In a sermon delivered at St. Mary’s Church of Keyport, New Jersey, on January 27, 1867, the Reverend Telfair Hodgson, a Confederate veteran, made an emotional appeal to the Northern congregation about charitable aid for his fellow Southerners. Hodgson’s “A Sermon in Behalf of Southern Sufferers” painted a dire picture of the South in the two years since the war ended, with floods and droughts and impending famines adding to the grim reality of an already devastated economy and defunct social system. With this picture in mind, Hodgson reminded his readers of the Christian imperative of hospitality by citing Matthew...

    • Imagining Sites of Memory in the Post–Civil War South The National Cemetery in Woolsonʹs ʺRodman the Keeperʺ
      (pp. 162-176)
      Martin T. Buinicki

      In a call for the establishment of national cemeteries at the end of the Civil War, a contributor toHarper’s New Monthly Magazinewrites, “We go for closing up the war now, and ending it fitly and nobly.”¹ Such a conclusion, the author argues, could only come once the “scattered dead of the Union army, whether white or black” were gathered into state-sanctioned resting places (321). Rather than bringing closure, however, the writer suggests that these cemeteries might serve an educational function: “This would give a national cemetery to every state affected by the war, on the field of our...

    • Poking King David in His Imperial Eye/“I” Woolson Takes On the White Manʹs Burden in the Postbellum United States
      (pp. 177-193)
      Carolyn Hall

      Early in “King David” (1878, 1880), David King contemplates what he will do in the South as a teacher in a new freedom school. Not surprisingly, his words reveal this white man’s enduring prejudice as well as his abolitionism. More important, his comment reveals the way in which Northerners capitalized on the freedpeople’s situation and lingering sectional distinctions to assume for themselves superior subject positions. David rhetorically acknowledges the common humanity between himself and his black students, but his paternalistic attitude, fueled by the belief that Union victory indicated divine endorsement of Northern progress, keeps him from recognizing that black...

    • Cypresses, Chameleons, and Snakes Displacement in Woolsonʹs ʺThe South Devilʺ
      (pp. 194-212)
      Kathleen Diffley

      Shortly after the sun-drenched opening of “The South Devil” (1880), Woolson’s story of a Florida swamp by that name, musician Carl Brenner takes a plummeting fall. Despite the warning of his stepbrother at work in the nearby orange grove, he has been trying to catch the elusive spirit of the swamp that he hears as song, particularly after climbing to the forest’s treetop canopy and a riotous beauty that the steady Mark Deal never sees. Carl and Mark are happenstance brothers: their widowed parents have just married in Pennsylvania and Mark has taken in hand the consumptive Carl, an itinerant...

  7. “Burned into Us as by a Red-Hot Fire”: Novels of the South

    • The Portrait of a Southern Lady in Woolson’s For the Major
      (pp. 215-231)
      Janet Gabler-Hover

      Traveling South during the 1870s, Constance Fenimore Woolson provided Southern travel sketches, short stories, and novels to popular Northern magazines includingHarper’s MonthlyandAppletons’ Journal. These were lucrative: Northern readers were insatiably curious about the postwar South. Woolson’s motives were more complicated, however. In her Southern novelFor the Major(1882–83), for example, Woolson turns the table on Northerners, subtly indicting them for appropriative perspectives on the South during the post–Civil War period. Woolson’s novel dramatizes types of Northern exploitation of the postbellum South described to a certain extent by Kevin O’Donnell in a recent anthology of...

    • Northeast Angels Henry James in Woolsonʹs Florida
      (pp. 232-248)
      Geraldine Murphy

      While working onThe Master, Colm Tóibín visited Lamb House for inspiration. He found what he was looking for on James’s mantelpieces: in the dining room, a bust by Hendrik Andersen and in the front reception room, a piece of needlework by Constance Fenimore Woolson—salvaged by James, presumably, from her apartment in Venice after her suicide. Noting “the same pride of place” given to these artifacts, Tóibín recognized that Woolson was as important to James as the handsome young sculptor to whom he wrote his most impassioned letters.¹ While Woolson scholars would not dispute James and Woolson’s intimacy, they...

    • The Merits of Transit Woolsonʹs Return to Reconstruction in Jupiter Lights
      (pp. 249-265)
      Sharon Kennedy-Nolle

      In a memorable scene from the late novelJupiter Lights(1889), the heroine Eve Bruce encounters her sister-in-law Cicely Abercrombie. Luring Eve to the Southern mansion’s “disused” ballroom, Cicely compels Eve to dance as she “put her arms round her waist and forced her forward”; she then “seized Eve’s comb,” undoing Eve’s hair.¹ The eerie, sensual scene predates the domestic violence that will follow when Cicely’s absent husband returns and tries to murder the family. Critics like Caroline Gebhard have thus read this erotic moment of homosocial alliance as an alternative to the violence inherent in heterosexual unions.² But what...

    • “Pioneers of Spoliation” Woolsonʹs Horace Chase and the Role of Magazine Writing in the Gilded-Age Development of the South
      (pp. 266-282)
      Kevin E. OʹDonnell

      Constance Fenimore Woolson wrote and published her last novel,Horace Chase, at the end of the Gilded Age.¹Harper’s Monthlycirculated the first chapter in January 1893, and the serial ran for ten months during what would turn out to be Woolson’s last year on earth. Each month that year, as successive installments of the novel appeared on newsstands in railroad stations, the U.S. economy—and, indeed, the global economy—looked more and more precarious. The Panic of 1893 marked the end of the Gilded Age as well as the end of Woolson’s life; she died the next January, probably...

  8. “Shimmering Inlets”: Remembering Back, Looking Forward

    • “A Modern and a Model Pioneer” Civilizing the Frontier in Woolsonʹs ʺA Pink Villaʺ
      (pp. 285-292)
      Annamaria Formichella Elsden

      Fanny Churchill’s pink villa, alluded to in the title of Constance Fenimore Woolson’s 1888 short story, has an almost mystical beauty. Called a “delicious nest” by a visiting Englishman, the villa “crown[s] one of the perpendicular cliffs of Sorrento, its rosy façade overlooking what is perhaps the most beautiful expanse of water in the world—the Bay of Naples.”¹ A central rendezvous point for a circle of British and American expatriates in Italy, the terrace is described as “an enchanting place for lounging, attached as it was to a pink-faced villa that overlooked the sea” (839). Indeed, the villa virtually...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 293-296)
  10. Index
    (pp. 297-304)