Julia (Mood) Peterkin Harlan Hatcher - Essay

Harlan Hatcher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Julia Peterkin's work offers an entertaining ethnology of the Gullah Negroes who live by the hundreds on the Peterkin cotton plantation near Fort Motte in the center of South Carolina. As seen by "Cap'ns wife," it is a romantic survival into the modern age of an old and exotic group of Negroes. They are untouched by the mechanized and changing world; they belong somewhere in the golden days of happy servitude before the Slavery War.

In complete contrast with T. S. Stribling's point of view, Julia Peterkin has remained thoroughly objective, with the interest of a painter rather than of a moralist or sociologist. Instead of exclaiming, How unjust! How cruel!, she has observed, How quaint the Gullah Negroes are! and has proceeded to exhibit them in the spirit of a Southern hostess on a large plantation showing her northern guests her unique collection. She has lived intimately among these people, she has doctored and judged and cared for them, and she knows them in all their moods…. There is no spirit of criticism or reform, there are no social problems which extend beyond the plantation. The people, for the most part, are reasonably, happy and content, and at the farthest remove from the "new," educated, assertive Negro of T. S. Stribling and New York. The mode is realistic, and the structure of the novels is just tight enough to make a narrative of separate episodes which she has taken directly from the life. She simplifies the dialect so that it can be understood but without actually falsifying it, and she catches the easy, relaxed pace of the life she describes. The Julia Peterkin novels, particularly Black April, are a definite part of American fiction. (pp. 146-47)

Harlan Hatcher, "Exploiting the Negro," in his Creating the Modern American Novel, Farrar & Rinehart Incorporated, 1935, pp. 140-54.∗