A Southern Foison

In the Introduction to the first of these two volumes, Clyde Wilson allows, after a few paragraphs of justified complaint against the wholesale academic and political assault on Southern identity as well as Southern culture, that it was not always thus.  “Southerners were seen as different and perhaps a little quaint, but tolerated as Americans.”

Quite right, except that historically Southerners were more than tolerated.  As late as the 1960’s, when I was an adolescent in Minnesota, one learned that Lee and Stonewall Jackson ranked among the greatest Americans and that the Confederate soldier was far superior to the Yankee variety.  Proving the latter, which impressed even bookish boys who excelled studying history, was the fact that it took more than twice as many Billy Yanks to beat Johnny Reb—and four years to do it.

Since that teenage history maven was also enamored of literature, he knew that the South was then a literary powerhouse, in which dwelt, if not always physically but at least imaginatively, the best American novelist (Faulkner), the best American playwright (Williams), the best American short-story writer (Welty), and the most important clutch of American poets who stayed at home instead of absconding to Europe (the Fugitives).  And oh, yes, the best American film critic (Agee).  Southerners were also prominent in the forefront of younger American writers—McCullers, O’Connor,...

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