Literature of the Antebellum South Criticism: Overviews - Essay

Thomas Nelson Page (essay date 1892)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Page, Thomas Nelson. “Authorship in the South Before the War.” In The Old South: Essays Social and Political, pp. 57-92. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1892.

[In the following essay, Page discusses the paucity of a truly Southern literature prior to the Civil War and summarizes the principal Southern novelists, short story writers, and poets of the antebellum period.]

Discussion of Southern literature during the period which preceded the late war naturally resolves itself into a consideration of the causes which retarded its growth, since the absence of a literature at the South during a period so prolific in intellectual energy of a different kind, is...

(The entire section is 8552 words.)

C. Alphonso Smith (essay date 1908)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Smith, C. Alphonso. “Literature in the South.” In Southern Literary Studies, pp. 44-70. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1927.

[In the following essay, originally delivered as an address in 1908, Smith surveys a number of enduring poems by minor pre-Civil War poets and analyzes the reasons for the lack of literary productiveness in the South before the war.]

I should belie the feelings that are uppermost in my heart tonight if I did not at the outset express my sense of appreciation and privilege at being permitted to speak to this audience on so vital a theme as that which your partiality has assigned me. The spectacle of the American people trying to...

(The entire section is 5753 words.)

R. S. Cotterill (essay date 1939)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cotterill, R. S. “Literature.” In The Old South: The Geographic, Economic, Social, Political, and Cultural Expansion, Institutions, and Nationalism of the Ante-bellum South, pp. 293-314. Glendale, CA: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1939.

[In the following essay, Cotterill disparagingly assesses the writing of the Old South, from newspaper journalism to fiction.]

It is more than probable that in the field of literature the people of the Old South deserved to be ranked as consumers rather than producers. It was not that they neglected to cultivate the literary field; they did, with diligence and fine determination. But the net result of the labor which they...

(The entire section is 6769 words.)

C. Hugh Holman (essay date 1970)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Holman, C. Hugh. “Southern Writing, 1800-1865: Introduction.” In Southern Writing, 1585-1920, edited by Richard Beale Davis, C. Hugh Holman, and Louis D. Rubin, Jr., pp. 309-13. New York: The Odyssey Press, 1970.

[In the following excerpt, Holman stresses the economic and cultural grounds for the dearth of accomplished Southern literature during the years 1800 to 1865, seeing Edgar Allan Poe, William Gilmore Simms, and Henry Timrod as the only professional writers of merit in the Old South and Poe as its only artist of genius.]

To understand the literature produced in the South between 1800 and 1865, it is important to keep certain characteristics of the...

(The entire section is 2121 words.)

Lewis P. Simpson (essay date 1973)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Simpson, Lewis P. “The Southern Novelist and Southern Nationalism.” In The Man of Letters in New England and the South: Essays on the History of the Literary Vocation in America, pp. 201-28. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973.

[In the following essay, Simpson considers the development of the myth of the Old South as a spiritually redemptive community.]

The Civil War, Richard M. Weaver says in his essay entitled “The South and the American Union,” confirmed in the South “the feeling that it was in spirit and needs a separate nation.” Weaver continues: “It [the South] might be viewed as an American Ireland, Poland, or Armenia, not...

(The entire section is 9124 words.)

Craig Werner (essay date 1985)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Werner, Craig. “The Old South, 1815-1840.” In The History of Southern Literature, edited by Louis D. Rubin, Jr., pp. 81-91. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985.

[In the following essay, Werner presents an overview of early nineteenth-century Southern literature, arguing that the Old South played a crucial role in the cultural growth of the fledgling United States despite producing few writers of enduring significance during this time.]

Literature written in the South around 1815 shared most of the basic concerns of that written in the North. By 1840 the increasing divergence of economic, political, and social conditions had created a...

(The entire section is 4588 words.)

Mary Ann Wimsatt (essay date 1985)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wimsatt, Mary Ann. “Antebellum Fiction.” In The History of Southern Literature, edited by Louis D. Rubin, Jr., pp. 92-107. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985.

[In the following essay, Wimsatt surveys the mostly romantic prose fiction of the pre-Civil War American South.]

Antebellum Americans, especially in the South, relished the popular romance as it had developed from the mid-eighteenth century onward, given great impetus by the historical novels of Walter Scott; and it is to the romance tradition and its several offshoots, Gothic, sentimental, and domestic, that we may trace the main features of the fiction produced between 1830 and...

(The entire section is 6778 words.)

G. R. Thompson (essay date 1988)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Thompson, G. R. “Edgar Allan Poe and the Writers of the Old South.” In Columbia Literary History of the United States, edited by Emory Elliott, pp. 262-77. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.

[In the following essay, Thompson contrasts the typically regional focus of nineteenth-century Southern writers with that of Edgar Allan Poe, whose work consistently transcends the literary tropes and stereotypes of his contemporaries.]

One of the most striking features of Southern literature is the contrast between writing of the late nineteenth and the twentieth century and that of the long preceding era. Before the war between the states, despite a powerful...

(The entire section is 7201 words.)