The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 85, July 1981 - April, 1982 Page: 357

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Book Reviews

Southern Writers and the New South Movement, 1865-z913. By
Wayne Mixon. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
1980. Pp. x+169. Introduction, notes, bibliography, index. $13,
cloth; $8, paper.)
This brief analytical study uses fiction to analyze the currents of
change that eddied around the New South idea. The essays treat well-
known writers such as Thomas Nelson Page and Ellen Glasgow, and
some less well-known ones such as Will N. Harben and John Esten
Cooke. Whatever their differing merits as artists, all sought to depict
the demands for economic and social change that dominated the late
nineteenth-century generation.
None of these poets and novelists fully embraced the New South
creed. The writers most favorable to industrialization had varied mo-
tives. They wanted to enter the intellectual worlds of the North and
of the world, and to seem modern and a credit to their region. They
also welcomed the wealth that allegedly came with industry as a way
of enlarging southern life and culture. The more skeptical among
them dreaded materialism and a weakening of sectional distinction.
They clearly hoped to retain most of the older order based on varying
kinds of agriculture and small-town life.
The most interesting parts of Professor Mixon's book offer a fresh
reading of Mark Twain and Joel Chandler Harris. Mixon sees Mark
Twain as the preeminent southern writer of the period, and A Con-
necticut Yankee as a dark parable of the New South ideal. He sees
Harris as a social commentator, who lived at Atlanta, the hub of the
new order, but styled it "Lantamatantarum," with tongue well out in
cheek at its pretensions. He clearly blamed whites for the condition of
blacks, and wrote about many marginal elements in society. As with
Mark Twain, the vehicle of humor inhibited a full understanding of
Uncle Remus. Harris wanted a new South based on revitalized agri-
culture, with social mobility for all kinds of successful people rather
than a mindless commitment to economic growth.
This is an interesting and useful book. Its brevity is an asset, for it
compels the reader to think about the implications of a few insights
rather than about a mass of mere facts. It is a lesson for historians, who
should use more fiction to chart social change. There is also doubtless
a wealth of lesser-known writing for the South, and for other sections,
which is the better for being written by people who did not attain
literary fame but who were close to the processes described.


University of Oklahoma


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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 85, July 1981 - April, 1982, periodical, 1981/1982; Austin, Texas. ( accessed October 23, 2016), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; crediting Texas State Historical Association.