T(homas) S(igismund) Stribling Robert Herrick - Essay

Robert Herrick

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["The Forge" is] an honest and altogether intelligent effort to accomplish … [a] "study" of Alabama during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Every page of "The Forge" bears ample evidence to its author's preparation for his task, to his intimate knowledge of the people concerned as well as of events and issues involved; moreover, to the possession of certain qualities of humor, irony, and objectivity that have hitherto been wanting in the reactions of Southerners to their tragic inheritance. Yet the novel remains less a story than a "study," less a dramatic presentation of credible characters suffering in a coil of calamity than the informed commentary of a benevolent observer. All the necessary features of the picture are conscientiously enumerated and delineated: the aristocratic Lacefields and their baronial plantation, the ruder Vaiden yeomanry, the trader BeShears and his kind (who inherit the earth!) the negro slaves, black and mulatto, the mountain whites; also the familiar attitudes and class conflicts involved—slavery, miscegenation, emancipation, the brutality and ruthlessness of the invader, southern "chivalry" (that did not prevent license and cruelty), the Ku Klux expedient, the perplexing problem of negro readjustment not yet completed, etc., etc. There is a full assortment of parts and scenes, yet the piece fails to live and move as a mass. The characters are manipulated hither and yon to bring out the tragic and humorous implications of the subject, but—alas!—they are "manipulated" with an alien insight, not inspired of themselves. Thus the brittle structure of their lives falls apart from the commencement and the whole makes a chronicle rather than a history.

Oddly enough the detached attitude succeeds best with the negro. Mr. Stribling is happiest in his humorous, tolerant understanding of the black people about whom (nominally) the crisis arose. He is alive to the anomalies and perplexities created by their presence, both slave and free.

Mr. Stribling's animated charade of Alabama, ironically interpreted, is an interesting and intelligent version of what happened in the South seventy years ago.

Robert Herrick, "Civil War Alabama," in The Saturday Review of Literature (copyright © 1931 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. VII, No. 37, April 4, 1931, p. 708.