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The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992

Book Reviews

Subduing Satan: Religzon, Recreation, and Manhood in the Rural South, 1865-1920.
By Ted Ownby. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990.
Pp. xii+286. Preface, introduction, black-and-white photographs, notes,
bibliography, index. $29.95.)
This important book, based upon impressive research and written in lean,
graceful prose, breaks new ground in analyzing and explaining the excep-
tionalism of the American South. Numerous others have pondered the con-
trasting images of "the fighting South" and "the praying South" but none with
the imagination and deftness of Ted Ownby who, unwilling to dismiss the phe-
nomenon merely as evidence of another southern paradox, skillfully and per-
suasively explains the relationships between the two over time. He argues that
the South historically possessed two separate cultures existing side by side that
generated a tension that figured significantly in the distinctive character of the
region: one was the evangelical culture, dominated by women and centered in
the church and home, which emphasized piety, harmony and self-control; the
other was the aggressive, combative culture of men characterized by fighting,
drinking, swearing, self-indulgence, and bravado. According to Ownby, "the
rough male culture and self-controlled evangelical ideal acted against each
other, the strength of each contributing to the extreme nature of the other,"
thereby endowing southern culture with a distinctive character (p. 55).
The first section of the volume identifies and analyzes the South's masculine
culture through perceptive treatments of hunting, drinking, cockfighting, and
other forms of male recreation. The second section dissects the ingredients of
the evangelical culture by focusing on the qualities of the home, the posture of
the church and its disciplining of members for improper conduct, and the sig-
nificance of periodic "revival meetings." Throughout the author emphasizes
the role of race, gender, and cultural hierarchy in the rivalry between mas-
culine aggressiveness and evangelicalism "that gave white Southern culture its
emotionally charged nature" (p. 14).
The isolation of southern rural life, coupled with the success of the church in
keeping the immoral (usually men) away from the moral, the region's two cul-
tures continued an uneasy, precariously balanced coexistence until the end of
the nineteenth century. The breakdown of the isolation and the introduction
of mass culture into the South prompted its evangelicals to abandon private
church disciplinary actions for public campaigns to secure state enforcement of
their values throughout southern society. The prohibition crusade was an early
and influential effort to have the state impose evangelical values on the region.
The clash between the evangelical culture and the culture of masculine sin-
fulness persists today in altered form: it has moved from the private to the pub-
lic arena.
This seminal work is essential reading for all who seek to understand the
South, especially how its disparate cultural strains operate to intensify each
other and how the traditional conflict between them informs contemporary life
in the region.


University of Arkansas


Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. Accessed October 6, 2015.