The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 74, July 1970 - April, 1971

Book Reviews
JIM B. PEARSON, Editor
The Myth of Southern History: Historical Consciousness in Twentieth-
Century Southern Literature. By F. Garvin Davenport, Jr. (Nash-
ville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1970. Pp. xi J+ 212. Bibliogra-
phy, index. $7.95.)
Scholars have begun to seek the key to the enigmatic South in what
historian George Tindall has called "the new frontier of mythology";
they are exploring the viable myths that have shaped and unified
southern society. This fine interdisciplinary study by F. Garvin Daven-
port, Jr., focuses on what he calls the "myth of Southern history"--
the idea that what is unique in the South's past, the presence of the
Negro and the Civil War defeat, gives the region a mission to the rest
of the nation. Examining fictional and nonfictional works of histori-
cally conscious white southerners from 1903 to the 196o's, Davenport
finds two branches of this myth, chiefly distinguished by their attitudes
toward segregation.
The racist novelist Thomas Dixon and the twelve southern agrarians
who contributed to the 1930 symposium, "I'll Take My Stand, cele-
brated an agrarian South, a mythical "White Garden," and opposed
"Industrialism" and any tampering with the race caste system. How-
ever, it is Davenport's thesis that during the 193o's the myth of south-
ern history underwent a significant transition in William Faulkner's
novels. Faulkner believed that man's past failures could be atoned for,
if at all, only by forgiveness, humility, and love. The crime against
the Negro must be righted; the South must put its own house in order.
Robert Penn Warren, an agrarian, also came to see the South's history
as a baptism of fire through which the tempered individual learns to
assume responsibility for his own and his society's actions. In the 195o's
historian C. Vann Woodward argued persuasively that the South's
mission rested upon the "irony of Southern history"; from the ironic
perspective of its own tragic experience, the South might better un-
derstand both itself and the nation and might improve communications
between America and the world.
Davenport's book is profoundly disturbing for it suggests that

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 74, July 1970 - April, 1971. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101200/. Accessed October 22, 2014.