Pleasant Hill. Buchan family plantation in Virginia’s Fairfax County. Because author Allen Tate sees people and place as interconnected, his narrator, Lacy Buchan, explains how his father identifies his family as the “Buchans of Fairfax County” to underscore their roots and generational connection to the land. In contrast to magnificent opulence of many antebellum romances, the Buchan family home is depicted more as genteel farmhouse than mansion. From its peeling paint to its tobacco-depleted soil, Pleasant Hill’s elegant shabbiness reflects the Buchan family’s gradual decline in the face of modern mercantile society, which is represented by Lacy Buchan’s brother-in-law George Posey. Tate locates the plantation near the first Battle of Manassas (also known as the Battle of Bull Run)—which is dramatized at the novel’s end—to make it a microcosm of the causes of the Civil War and its long-lasting political, social, and moral effects.
To Tate, slavery is a symptom rather than root of the conflict. Lacy’s father owns some twenty slaves but refuses to sell them, even though his failing fortunes can no longer maintain them. In contrast to this ideal of the Southern paterfamilias, the merchant George Posey sells his own half-brother, Yellow Jim, in order to buy a fancy horse. However, Tate is no simple apologist for slavery. He lays bare the Old South’s delusions of grandeur by juxtaposing a neighboring plantation’s “Tournament of Chivalry” with a pathetic scene of slaves who have been “sold down the river.” He also critiques the casual brutality attendant upon the...
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