Time and the Tide in the Southern Short Story

Perhaps since the War Between the States itself, and certainly since the literary Southern Renascence became conscious of itself in the 30's and 40's, educated Southerners, and Southern writers especially, have taken their sense of history as a point of pride. Now, as the end of the century approaches, one may be tempted to wonder whether this pride has degenerated into mere vanity—declining from the deadliest of sins to a mere venal one. That special Southern historical sense may have become no more than a conventional piety of a style of Southern literary criticism, which, as the novelist Madison Jones was heard to mutter in the audience of a critical panel five years ago, has long since passed "beyond refinement."

In any event, the deep sense of history is less likely to be associated with short Southern stories than with big Southern novels: Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha opus, Robert Penn Warren's excursion to the regional past, Roots even, or George Garrett's Elizabethan trilogy; those last two works carry a sharpened awareness of history into other regions altogether. Short stories, on the other hand, are not expected to express the long continuum from past into present, although they very well can, and sometimes still do.

The two surviving elder statesmen of the Southern short story, Eudora Welty and Peter Taylor, have moved in quite drastically different directions in their...

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