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Twentieth-Century Southern Literature

Twentieth-Century Southern Literature

Copyright Date: 1997
Edition: 1
Pages: 294
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  • Book Info
    Twentieth-Century Southern Literature
    Book Description:

    Authors discussed include: Wendell Berry, Erskine Caldwell, Truman Capote, Ralph Ellison, William Faulkner, Shelby Foote, Zora Neal Hurston, Bobbie Ann Mason, Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O'Connor, William Styron, Anne Tyler, Alice Walker, Robert Penn Warren, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Thomas Wolfe, Richard Wright, and many more.

    By World War II, the Southern Renaissance had established itself as one of the most significant literary events of the century, and today much of the best American fiction is southern fiction. Though the flowering of realistic and local-color writing during the first two decades of the century was a sign of things to come, the period between the two world wars was the crucial one for the South's literary development: a literary revival in Richmond came to fruition; at Vanderbilt University a group of young men producedThe Fugitive, a remarkable, controversial magazine that published some of the century's best verse in its brief run; and the publication and widespread recognition of Faulkner (among others) inaugurated the great flood of southern writing that was to follow in novels, short stories, poetry, and plays.

    With more than forty years of experience writing and reading about the subject, and friendships with many of the figures discussed, J. A. Bryant is uniquely qualified to provide the first comprehensive account of southern American literature since 1900. Bryant pays attention to both the cultural and the historical context of the works and authors discussed, and presents the information in an enjoyable, accessible style. No lover of great American literature can afford to be without this book.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4924-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Editor’s Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    Charles P. Roland
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    At the beginning of the twentieth century, even the most ardent chauvinist would have hesitated to make a case for the existence of a southern literature. The South, in the years before and immediately after the Civil War, had produced competent writers, among them a few whose works continue to bear the scrutiny of discerning readers. Poe was one of these, but for the most part he had ignored the region in his writing. Sidney Lanier had written knowledgeably and sympathetically about the South, but Lanier considered its intellectual climate stultifying and sought for a time to leave. Mark Twain,...

  6. Part One: The Making of a Southern Literature

    • 1 The Development of Modern Southern Fiction
      (pp. 11-37)

      In the difficult years following the Civil War, literature produced in the South continued, as before, to be mainly fiction. Much of that followed the pattern that had been established, or at least anticipated, by John Pendleton Kennedy in his ambivalent celebration of Virginia plantation life,Swallow Barn(1832). Kennedy, writing three decades before the outbreak of war, had portrayed the Virginia planter as the heir to such cavalier virtues as pride in family and land, love of honor, respect for bravery, and courtesy toward women, but Kennedy was also prepared to acknowledge that the planter’s pastoral existence rested upon...

    • 2 Poetry and Politics at Vanderbilt, 1920–40
      (pp. 38-60)

      The most significant preparation for the South’s assumption of a permanent place in American letters at midcentury occurred during the interval between the two world wars at Vanderbilt University, a place where almost no one the time would have predicted extraordinary literary activity. The catalyst much of that activity was a single person, John Crowe Ransom, a luan powerful but inconspicuous charisma, who sparked the imagination of a group of slightly younger men and prompted three developments that were to a shaping effect on the course of southern writing and arguably on the course of American letters as a whole....

    • 3 The New Emphasis on Craftsmanship
      (pp. 61-73)

      If the influence of the Vanderbilt men was important for the future of poetry and criticism in America, it was at least equally so for the future of fiction, especially in the South, where for the rest of the century it would continue to be the field of choice for aspiring writers. Where fiction was concerned, there was virtual unanimity among the writers at Vanderbilt, and they spoke with one voice to a generation of university students in their classrooms. Five of the Agrarians went on to edit literary quarterlies: Brooks and Warren founded theSouthern Reviewat Louisiana State...

    • 4 Two Major Novelists
      (pp. 74-86)

      Looking back it is easy to see that 1928, the year that Vanderbilt’s poets publishedFugitive: An Anthology of Verse,was a banner year for southern letters. Another such year came in 1930, the year ofI’ll Take My Stand: The South and Agrarian Tradition.Arguably more important than either of these was 1929, which saw the publication of William Faulkner’sThe Sound and the Furyand Thomas Wolfe’sLook Homeward, Angel.At the time and for some years thereafter, most readers and reviewers would have placed Wolfe’s novel well ahead of all these. At any rate, there it remained...

    • 5 Southern Playwrights
      (pp. 87-100)

      Literary historians have often noted that America had no indigenous theater until after World War I. Of course, theatrical houses did a flourishing business in all the major cultural centers—New York, Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco—and there were similar establishments in the secondary cities of the South as well as the North. Towns of more modest size usually had at least one multipurpose “opera house” to accommodate shows by local talent and other special events such as traveling musicians, lecturers, and evangelists as well as the occasional traveling troupe of actors. Buildings themselves, however, do not...

  7. Part Two: A Renaissance in Full Swing

    • 6 The Beginning of Recognition
      (pp. 103-116)

      By the end of the 1930s the South had produced an impressive number of writers of fiction, poetry, and criticism who collectively within less than a decade would prompt outside observers to begin speaking of a “Southern Renaissance.” In 1952 Randall Stewart in his foreword to a new anthology of southern literature would note the already widespread use of that term, but fully aware that rebirth at best imperfectly characterized what had happened and was continuing to happen in the region, he compared the situation to that of Elizabethan England and, borrowing a phrase from Samuel Johnson, declared that the...

    • 7 Southern Regionalism Comes of Age
      (pp. 117-136)

      Part of William Faulkner’s popularity among northern and eastern readers after 1950 was due to a residual interest in southern literature as a species of exotica, which in turn was an outsider’s response to the strong regional character of much of it. Regionalism was a significant aspect of Faulkner’s best work, and it would continue to be an important aspect of the work of many, not most, of the writers who would come to prominence in the years following World War II. As the critic R.B. Heilman wrote in 1953, a strong sense of the concrete was from the start...

    • 8 Women Extend Fiction’s Range
      (pp. 137-154)

      In retrospect it is easy to see that by the beginning of the 1940s women writers had assumed a position of dominance in the realm of southern fiction. To be sure, no woman had achieved the stature that at the time was being popularly accorded to Thomas Wolfe or that we now almost unanimously recognize in William Faulkner, but with these exceptions, one of them destined soon to disappear and the other not yet realized, fiction in the South was already well on its way to becoming largely a woman’s province. By 1940 for most readers the work of James...

    • 9 The New Black Writers
      (pp. 155-164)

      Before World War II American readers tended to regard black writing with the same amused detachment they accorded works of local color that happened to be sufficiently removed from their own experience and thus unlikely to cause them private embarrassment. Even when the black author had avoided the stereotypical, readers were likely to read stereotypes into the work before them, and these stereotypes frequently tended to be indistinguishable from those served up by white authors imagining they were writing in a black mode. After the war this situation began to change. Part of the shift was attributable to public pressure...

  8. Part Three: Postwar Development and Diversification

    • 10 The South after World War II
      (pp. 167-175)

      Even before the end of World War II, the South was no longer the Sahara that Mencken back in the twenties had declared it to be. Even so the literary capital of America was still New York, and many of the South’s authors were tempted to set up shop either there or at some hospitable location in the North or East. Accordingly, some of its best writers left the region to spend or part of their careers elsewhere, among them Allen Tate and Caroline Gordon, Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom (though for different reasons), Katherine Anne Porter, Carson McCullers,...

    • 11 Postwar Poetry
      (pp. 176-195)

      As the number of graduate programs in writing increased nationwide after World War II, so did the number of writers with academic credentials in either fiction or poetry. A few found positions in established writing programs, but most simply entered English departments, taught the usual courses in composition and literature, and hoped that courses in creative writing, as it was commonly called, would materialize. The initial result was a modest increase in the audience for poetry, not because of any sudden demand for poetry among the general readership but because of the number of students newly trained to read the...

    • 12 Mainstream Fiction
      (pp. 196-207)

      During the midfifties, as the dislocations of wartime were disappearing, southern writers quickly resumed their modest place in the book lists of commercial publishers, practically all of which were centered in New York. The ancient argument that northern publishers were sectionally discriminatory, if it had ever had much validity, now had virtually none at all. At first, authors who displayed a regional orientation fared best, particularly those who were able to cater to a national taste for fiction with a romantic appeal. A good example of an older author who consistently turned out commercially profitable work, and one whose popularity...

    • 13 The New Major Writers
      (pp. 208-225)

      As has been noted, the newer southern writers of fiction after World War moved in a variety of directions—almost as if, having glimpsed the form’s multitude of possibilities and gained from their predecessors a sense of discipline required to use it effectively, they were eager to experiment. first of them to achieve any real preeminence was William Styron (b.1925), for a time widely regarded, especially abroad, as Faulkner’s legitimate Styron, having been born and reared in Newport News, Virginia, was southern. He had attended several of the better schools in the Christchurch Episcopal (where, however, he did poorly), Davidson...

    • 14 Three Key Figures
      (pp. 226-247)

      Generalizing about any aspect of history is usually hazardous, one generation’s mountain frequently becoming the next generation’s foothill or vice versa. Yet looking back at the development of southern literature, the observer can distinguish a few eminences who seem likely to retain their character and position indefinitely. In the years between the two world wars, Thomas Wolfe and William Faulkner were eminences of this kind, as were three members of the Fugitive-Agrarian group at Vanderbilt—John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren. Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor are two whose reputation for work done before and since World...

    • 15 Robert Penn Warren
      (pp. 248-260)

      Of all the southern writers of the twentieth century—not excluding Faulkner, the one towering genius to emerge during the period—Robert Penn Warren (1905-89) has probably come closest to finding a point of equilibrium between honest portrayals of the various and sometimes contradictory faces of America’s South and the integrity of their collective identity, tension between which had given the literature of this time and region a dynamic life unique in American letters. With one or two exceptions southern literature as we know it had begun shortly after the Civil War, and most authors in that period had taken...

  9. Bibliographical Note
    (pp. 261-270)
  10. Index
    (pp. 271-280)