Social Concerns / Themes
The Foxes of Harrow, like most of Yerby's novels, concerns itself with specific Southern social issues. Most prominent among these is the importance of social position, which, because of the influence of the aristocratic mentality, must be attained by the protagonist, regardless of personal cost, by fair means or foul. This particular aspect of Southern life takes its roots from the background of the Southern world, in which gentlemen's duels, gallant deeds and lovely ladies tend to predominate. In addition, the decay of Southern social manorial patterns is strongly delineated. In this respect, Yerby is repudiating the notion of the Southern aristocracy, its so-called heroism, its ancestry, chivalry and its sterling character. Stephen Fox, the protagonist of The Foxes of Harrow personifies the hollow, unsavory character of the aristocrat of the South.
The Foxes of Harrow historically covers the years 1825 to 1865. The rakish Stephen Fox is a twenty-one-year-old illegitimate Irish immigrant to Philadelphia who treads the road from rags to riches and back to rags again when Harrow, his Southern plantation, falls on hard times. Naked ambition prompts him at the age of twenty-five to go South where he is befriended by Andre Le Blanc, a French Creole, and by other aristocrats. Fox's ambition is to join the ranks of the local aristocracy, thereby realizing his version of the American Dream. As an outsider, Fox holds no respect for Creole culture. He disapproves of the Creole-black relationships, except in the context of slavery, which he fully exploits to make his fortune. Thus the confidence man/swindler begins his imperial designs. Through connivance and chicanery he marries Odalie Arceneaux, daughter of a Creole aristocrat and acquires two huge plantations replete with slaves. His ill-begotten gains give him entrance to the New Orleans aristocracy. At the peak of his fortune, he has become one of the wealthiest of the Southern plantation owners. However, his marriage proves disastrous and he must seek solace in the arms of Desiree, a New Orleans quadroon. Personal tragedy and unhappiness mar Fox's life and despite his huge wealth, happiness eludes him. His social acceptance has cost him dearly. Thus Yerby debunks the myth of the superiority of the Southern aristocracy.