Augustus Baldwin Longstreet

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 118

Although Augustus Baldwin Longstreet’s unquestioned masterpiece is Georgia Scenes, he also published a variety of books, pamphlets, letters, and other materials, most of which deal with politics, religion, or the South, and often with the intersection of the three. Perhaps the most significant is Letters on the Epistle of Paul to Philemon: Or, The Connection of Apostolic Christianity with Slavery (1845), a closely reasoned defense of slavery on biblical grounds. A Voice from the South, Comprising Letters from Georgia to Massachusetts (1847) vehemently sets forth antebellum southern political positions. Late in life he published a long-contemplated didactic novel on the folly of indulging youth, Master William Mitten: Or, A Youth of Brilliant Talents Who Was Ruined by Bad Luck (1864).


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 163

Augustus Baldwin Longstreet is best known for his collection of humorous tales, Georgia Scenes. His use of the tall-tale form, vernacular speech, and the setting of the Georgia frontier (then considered part of the “southwest”) marks him as foremost among the Southwest humorists. In a form known for its combination of oral folklore with more traditional forms such as the sketch, Longstreet’s contributions are marked for their polished, literary quality. Like the border region that comprises his settings, Longstreet’s stories reveal a literary territory that combines genteel prose with raucous renderings of local scenes and characters. He often uses an Addisonian-type gentleman narrator who describes the less civilized, more outrageous behavior of the “locals.” Later writers such as Mark Twain and William Faulkner make similar use of the contrast between exaggerated storytelling and vivid, even cynical, realism. Longstreet’s renderings of unique Georgia characters, who speak in uncensored and often hilarious voices, place him firmly within the tradition of southern literature.


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Blair, Walter. Native American Humor, 1800-1900. New York: American Book, 1931. This classic in American humor studies provides a general discussion of nineteenth century humorists, an extensive bibliography (which is outdated but useful in its listing of “Individual Writers of Native American Humor”), and more than one hundred selections from a wide range of authors. The chapter on “Humor of the Old Southwest” discusses Longstreet among his contemporaries.

Brown, Carolyn S. The Tall Tale in American Folklore and Literature. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987. Brown traces the origins of the popular tale in both folklore and literature. Chapter 3, “Flush Times: Varieties of Written Tales,” has an extended analysis of Longstreet’s Georgia Scenes. Brown does not oversimplify in her discussion of Longstreet’s sketches but rather explores the complexity of his work within the tall-tale tradition.

Fitzgerald, Oscar Penn. Judge Longstreet: A Life Sketch. Nashville: Methodist Episcopal Church, 1891. Bishop Fitzgerald’s biography covers Longstreet’s life and work in eloquent terms—and at times does little to dispel some of the reigning legends surrounding Longstreet. Exaggerations aside, this biography distinguishes itself by the inclusion of many letters to and from Longstreet, allowing a more personal glimpse into the life of a complex and talented man.

King, Kimball. Augustus Baldwin Longstreet. Boston: Twayne, 1984. King’s study provides an excellent general discussion of Longstreet’s life and work. Much of the book discusses Georgia Scenes, Longstreet’s major work of short fiction, and gives a wealth of background material on both the writing and subject matter of Georgia Scenes. The annotated list of secondary sources is a very useful component of this book.

Rachels, David. “Oliver Hillhouse Prince, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, and the Birth of American Literary Realism.” The Mississippi Quarterly 51 (Fall, 1998): 603-619. Shows that Longstreet published “The Militia Company Drill,” a work by Prince, as his own; claims that because Prince did not receive recognition for the work, his role in the founding of American literary realism has been ignored.

Romine, Scott. “Negotiating Community in Augustus Baldwin Longstreet’s Georgia Scenes.” Style 30 (Spring, 1996): 1-27. Argues that rather than simply asserting and justifying class privilege, Longstreet undertakes a complex negotiation of class roles. Lyman Hall, the primary narrator, initially demonstrates a socio-narrative style—that is, a social style reflected in narrative stylistics—that keeps the lower class at a social and moral distance; by the end of the text he is able to negotiate with the lower class a mutual perception of class roles.

Wade, John Donald. Augustus Baldwin Longstreet: A Study of the Development of Culture in the South. New York: Macmillan, 1924. This engaging biography of Longstreet, the result of Wade’s extensive research, tells about the life of a literary man whose interests and activities ranged far beyond that of writing humorous sketches. Wade refers not only to the Georgia Scenes but also to Longstreet’s career as a lawyer and judge, his religious and political interests, and his terms as president of several leading universities in the South.

Wegmann, Jessica. “‘Playing in the Dark’ with Longstreet’s Georgia Scenes: Critical Reception and Reader Response to Treatments of Race and Gender.” The Southern Literary Journal 30 (Fall, 1997): 13-26. Claims that Georgia Scenes advocates theories of a paternalistic, God-ordained slavery. In many of the stories in the text, an African American or a white woman attempts to exert authority and, using humor as a vehicle to trivialize, Longstreet subdues them, bringing them back under white patriarchal rule.

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