Cover art

from Southern Local Color: Stories of Region, Race and Gender

Edited by Barbara C. Ewell and Pamela Glenn Menke, with notes by Andrea Humphrey
Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2002.


NOTE: The following text is the manuscript version of the introduction to our anthology of nineteenth-century southern local color fiction, published by the University of Georgia Press; please cite appropriately.  --Ewell & Menke.

MLA Citation:
Ewell, Barbara C. and Pamela Glenn Menke, eds. "Introduction." Southern Local Color: Stories of Region, Race and Gender. By Ewell and Menke. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2002. xii-lxvi. Online version, July 2004. [Date of Access] <http://www.loyno.edu/~bewell/LocalColorIntro.html>

Introduction
       

In 1870, Bret Harte signed a contract with the Atlantic Monthly for $10,000: literary gold had been discovered in the frontier mining camps of California.The bawdy (but mostly good-hearted), rough-neck gamblers, drunks, and prostitutes of Harte’s stories titillated a northeastern reading public curious about the West, hungry for entertainment, and eager to fashion a national identity from the regional fabrics that the Civil War had nearly rent. Other writers soon followed Harte’s cue, and the tradition of local color, a fashion that captivated the reading public in the 1880s and 1890s, was established.   
    A burgeoning new magazine market encouraged a stream of short fiction portraying unfamiliar customs and ordinary folk and affirming a renewed sense of unity in the nation’s rich diversity.  The country’s distant reaches drew closer in the short stories, travelogues, and sketches of hundreds of writers, including Sarah Orne Jewett, Celia Thaxter, and Mary Wilkins Freeman of New England; Harte and Mark Twain and later Sui Sin Far, Mary Austin and Jack London of the West and desert Southwest; and Edward Eggleston, Octave Thanet, and Hamlin Garland of the Midwestern prairies.  But it was the South whose sectional differences were perceived most acutely and which, for the sake of national unity, most required the country’s imaginative comprehension.  Although stories with New England and Midwestern locales were popular, those with western and especially with southern settings dominated the market in the last two decades of the nineteenth century.  Scribner’s Monthly declared in 1881:  “New England is no longer king.  Her great literary school is dying out . . . .The South and the West are hereafter to be reckoned upon in making up the account of our literary wealth” (Hubbell 724).    
    This anthology offers a representative collection of these nineteenth-century stories set in the southern United States, known both in their own time and in literary history as “local color.” Apart from their intrinsic interest as effective and varied fiction, the precipitous decline of these stories in the next century from extraordinary popularity to a "minor" place in literary history raises provocative questions about literary fashion, about shifting canons of taste and value, about definitions and persistence of genre, and about the cultural purposes literature can serve. As recent scholars have recognized, local color is a far more complex phenomenon than has generally been appreciated.  Moreover, its southern expression is particularly relevant in comprehending the critical role of the South in the cultural development of the United States.  To understand the reformulation of the South and of the nation that southern local color both reflected and engendered is to apprehend more fully the inherently fluid, interdependent, and unsettling cultural identities that comprise American literary expressions and realities.  The following discussion explores some of these questions as it positions southern local color within its contemporary socio-historical and literary contexts, outlines its principal characteristics and forms, and, finally, assesses its shifting significance in literary history.  

Section One: The Precursors

The precursors of American local color and its southern forms appeared during the early nineteenth century as part of a general effort in the 1830s to find specifically “American” literary expressions.  Among the relevant developments of that formative period were the early experiments of Washington Irving and later Nathaniel Hawthorne in writing short prose tales, and the shapely stories of Edgar Allen Poe, collected in 1840 as Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque.  John Pendleton Kennedy inaugurated the plantation literary tradition, while Caroline Hentz became the first to adopt the popular tropes of northern domestic fiction to southern settings.  Within the same decade, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet won acclaim for his irreverently funny Georgia Scenes, and William Gilmore Simms published his romances of Georgia and South Carolina, replete with colorful outlaws, low-class mountaineers, and aristocratic heroes.  A growing abolitionist movement encouraged the first published slave narratives, establishing influential formal models for black fiction.  And, beginning about 1830, minstrel shows sprang up throughout the South, promulgating lively characters and an expressive language that drew heavily on African American oral traditions and proved a fertile resource for much later southern writing.  The ingredients for southern local color were beginning to take shape.

An American Form: The Short Story   
Growing out of the eighteenth-century English sketch, the legends of Washington Irving’s internationally successful Sketch Book published in installments beginning in 1819 are generally acknowledged to have inaugurated the American short story.  Irving transformed older European material, particularly German folk tales, into legends of the “fairy mountain” Catskills and the “drowsy, dreamy” Hudson Valley in “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”  Even though Irving’s art is much indebted to his European sources, four of his thirty-two Sketch Book entries employed native settings.  Irving’s professed interest in the “familiar and faithful exhibition of senses in common life” and “the half-concealed vein of humor” influenced his contemporaries Kennedy and Longstreet, whose own southern stories echoed Irving's comedy and detailed portraits of local customs and characters (1824 letter, Current-Garcia and Hitchcock 6).  
    Fellow New Englander Nathaniel Hawthorne also drew on Irving’s work.  Frustrated by publishers’ rejections, Hawthorne burned his first collection, Seven Tales of My Native Land, but his fascination with his Puritan past resulted in such stories as “Young Goodman Brown,” eventually collected in Mosses from an Old Manse (1846), and provided the backdrop for other tales and novels, including his classic The Scarlet Letter (1850).  Expanding the dimensions of the short story, Hawthorne was more interested in inner motivations than in the realistic surfaces of character and place, and while his literary canvas is regionally specific, setting serves primarily as an allegorical and symbolic landscape for human struggles with self-truths and evil.
    More than Irving or Hawthorne, Poe was interested in literary form and its production of tightly crafted, sensational effects, as in  “Ligeia” (1838), “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839), and “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843).  Reviewing Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales, Poe also articulated the first theory of the short story, defining its essential elements as brevity, economy of writing, and a unified arrangement of character, setting, and situations to achieve an intense effect.  Like Hawthorne, Poe found in the short story a perfect medium for what Hawthorne called in his preface to The House of Seven Gables (1851) the “marvelous” rather than the “probable and ordinary.”
    Though both writers perceived the novelty of the form, Poe also understood its dependence on the emergence in the 1840s of a new literary market: the magazine.  Beginning in 1830 with Godey’s Lady’s Book, these popular new monthlies were the successors of “annuals” or “gift-books,” which had provided both Irving and Hawthorne with publishing venues for their short prose tales.  The monthly magazines, often directed at female readers, generated a profitable market for short fiction and thereby established a symbiosis that would define the evolution of the genre in the United States. As Poe himself declared, the short story was the child of the American magazine.

Agrarian Idylls, Domestic Heroines and Southwest Humor
While southern writers adapted similar aesthetics of sensation and sentiment in their fiction, they drew on material quite different from Irving’s or Hawthorne’s. In Swallow Barn; or a Sojourn in the Old Dominion (1832), for example, John Pendleton Kennedy fashioned his “romance” from a detailed portrayal of the Tidewater countryside, a distinguished Virginian ancestry, and a white planter hierarchy enfranchised by happily devoted slaves. Swallow Barn’s central character, Frank Meriwether, is “a thorough-bred Virginian” who “emphatically” considers Richmond “as the centre of civilization."  Revered by his many slaves, who are “very happy under his dominion," Meriwether has little regard for merchants or for cities, whose inhabitants he believes are “hollow hearted and insincere, and altogether wanting in that substantial intelligence and honesty” of landed aristocracy.  Anticipating a key strategy of later local colorists, Kennedy presented his narrator as a visiting New Yorker, possibly modeled on Irving, Kennedy’s friend and a frequent visitor, but also emulating popular travel books about the South, including New York native James Kirke Paulding’s Letters from the South (1817).  The reports of Swallow Barn are sprinkled with the lively humor and realistic detail favored by readers, and Kennedy’s portrait of the James River plantation and its denizens contained all the elements of the Old South myth later embraced by postbellum plantation apologists and many southern local colorists.  
    But Kennedy’s plantation formula was most successfully adopted by the women writers who grafted its elements onto another popular form, the domestic novel.  Introduced in 1822 by Catharine Sedgewick, the domestic or sentimental novel generated considerable fortunes for many northern women writers, including Fanny Fern, E.D.E.N. Southworth, Susan Warner and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Incorporating elaborate descriptions of ordinary life, its plots focused on an ideally virtuous woman, whose tribulations revealed the possibilities for heroism in the domestic contexts to which most white women were confined. Southern writers like Caroline Hentz, Caroline Gilman, and Maria McIntosh, followed by a generation of younger writers, including Mary Virginia Terhune (Marion Harland) and Augusta Evans, recentered the plantation narrative on the aristocratic mistress instead of its master, creating, as Elizabeth Moss argues, a distinctively feminine fictional agenda (22).  Thus while the southern domestic novelists, like their male contemporaries, incorporated gradually more explicit defenses of slavery, they did so in terms of the southern female aristocrat’s responsibility for keeping the family structure intact--and thus saving the South.
    The astonishing popularity of the southern domestic novel on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line (Evans claimed that her works sold nearly half million copies [Moss 3]) attests to the power of its argument. But it was a northerner who ultimately marshaled its elements most effectively: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s devastating attack on slavery, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly (1852). Southern novelists, male and female, launched a barrage of fictional responses to Stowe, but only actual war settled the matter. Nonetheless, southern domestic fiction and its plantation kin firmly established the elements of planter life in the national imagination, both north and south. It also set its dominant tone:  Augusta Evans’ 1864 novel, Macaria, or Altars of Sacrifice, was already a panegyric to a lost cause (Moss 169), while Kennedy, who had revised and reissued Swallow Barn the year before, waxed nostalgic in his new introduction, recalling the mellow, bland, and sunny luxuriance” of Virginia’s “old-time society.”  Two decades after the war, this fantasy South would rise again from the pens of Page and other southern writers in another popular genre, local color.
    Alongside plantation fiction and the literary innovations of Hawthorne and Poe, another mode also flourished in the South from the 1830s to the 1860s, frontier humor.  It was labeled “Southwest” because the southern territories were largely “southwest” of the more settled eastern seaboard.  When Bret struck the literary gold fields of local color in the 1870s, the territory was not unfamiliar.  Longstreet and his successors (including Mark Twain in tall tales like “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” [1865]), created high comedy out of the narrative distance between genteel narrators (and readers) and the raw, “natural” common folk, whose starkly different life and customs were being recounted.  The Southwest humorists exploited a wide variety of southern settings: Georgia (William Tappan Thompson, Major Jones’s Courtship, 1843); Alabama (Johnson Jones Hooper, Some Adventures of Captain Simon Suggs, 1846); Louisiana (Thomas Bangs Thorpe, The Big Bear of Arkansas, 1841; Henry Clay Lewis, Odd Leaves from the Life of a Louisiana “Swamp Doctor,” 1858; and Tennessee (George Washington Harris, Sut Lovingood Yarns, 1867).  The genre’s characteristic misspellings, dialect, puns, and sayings were also taken up by northern writers like Maine-born Charles Farrar Browne, whose stage recreation of his semi-literate and provincial persona Artemus Ward would greatly influence Twain.  While the antics of the uneducated, isolated backwoods and mountain folk were often exaggerated in the Southwest sketches, the excess and “oddities” of their communities and landscapes contributed significantly to the later development of southern local color.

William Gilmore Simmes: The Father of Southern Local Color
      The Southwest humorists won the praise of William Gilmore Simms, who, the year he died, even tried his hand at the tall tale in “How Sharp Snaffles Got His Capital and His Wife” (Harper’s Magazine, October 1870).  Read infrequently today, Simms was nationally renowned prior to the Civil War and, like many southern writers, financially dependent on northern presses and audiences.  An ardent champion of southern writing, he also promoted an authentic American literature cut loose from its British and European antecedents.  In 1842, he declared himself “an ultra-American” and a “born Southron."  Plantation owner, slave holder, prolific author, and, above all, southern advocate, Simms anticipated in his historical romances and short fiction many of the tangled ideologies and features of much post-war southern local color, including competing national/regional allegiances, rigid class distinctions, an interest in common folk, and the skillful uses of detail, dialect, and exotic local landscapes.
    Many of Simms’ stories, particularly the “The Lazy Crow; A Story of the Cornfield” and “Caloya; Or, The Loves of the Driver,” collected in The Wigwam and the Cabin (1845), drew on another important resource for later southern fiction: African and Native American folklore, along with titillating hints of interracial relationships.  The unacknowledged fascination of white readers with the “other” cultures of America was already evident in the popularity of works as diverse as Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha (1855), the minstrel shows, with their adaptations of slave songs and customs, and the politically inspired slave narratives of Frederick Douglass (1845), William Wells Brown (1847), Harriet Jacobs (1861), and many others.  Capitalizing on these interests, Simms’ tales augur many of the most popular tropes of post-war fiction, including plantation benevolence and hijinks, dialect, gender roles delimited by race and class, non-white customs, and allusions to voudou.  In defending his portrayals of mixed-race relationships, Simms insisted that literature must resist polite hypocrisies and depict the natural passions shared by black, red, and white skins alike.  Simms recognized the subtle power of his “local” material and perceptively declared in his preface to the collection's 1856 edition that “[the subject] is local, sectional--and to be national in literature, one needs must be sectional" (4).  The uneasy task of being “national in literature” by being “sectional” became the province of local color in the 1870’s.  Although Simms’ version of an historically and culturally diverse South was marked by aristocratic heroism, class differentials, and nostalgic pastoralism, his vision influenced such ideologically dissimilar southern writers as the plantation apologist Page and the radical reformer Cable.

Section Two: The Crucible of History

But if the various elements of southern local color can be identified before mid-century, the Civil War and its tumultuous aftermath both interrupted the development of southern literature and furnished the historical crucible that molded the substance and form of local color as a distinct genre, one that proved profoundly useful in the post-war reconstruction of national identity. Certainly, the end of the Civil War marked a traumatic moment in the identity both of the South as a region and of the nation as a whole.  Although broadly defined differences between the southern and New England colonies had been present since the earliest seventeenth-century European settlements in North America, climate and geography as well as political, economic, and religious variations had served to sharpen those distinctions over the years. The issue of slavery, which had divided the constitutional conventions, eventually focused these conflicts into a catastrophic, four-year civil war.  The military defeat of the South, marked by General Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Army of the Confederate States of America at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, confirmed that the southern states would not be a separate nation, but it also solidified their status as a separate region.  The war had consolidated southern white people with very different political and economic interests--upcountry small farmers from North Carolina and Tennessee as well as the owners of vast rice or cotton plantations from Georgia and Louisiana--into a single southern foe.  Similarly, the costs of war and defeat had been spread across social classes and political allegiances.  If the Civil War, as New England social critic Orestes Brownson observed, served to give the United States “a distinct consciousness of its own national existence,” southerners' defeat clarified their awareness that they occupied a distinctly regional space within that nation (Foner 24).

The Promises of Reconstruction Unfulfilled
The abolition of slavery made the most profound differences in southern culture.  Although the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 initially affected only slaves in the confederacy (exempting about a million slaves in border states and Union-occupied areas), by 1865 the status of nearly four million people had been radically changed from chattel to citizen.  One of the freedmen’s first responses to that new status was widespread migration.  Formerly confined to plantations and forbidden to travel without passes, many ex-slaves took to the road for a variety of reasons: to seek out separated family members, to return to familiar places, to pursue better work opportunities, or just to test their new license.  Most freedmen, however, traveled only a few miles, and many ended up in nearby southern towns and cities, where some felt “freedom was free-er” and where black populations often doubled after the war.
    Emancipation dramatically reconfigured the labor force.  The southern economy was based on agriculture, which had been devastated by the war: crops, farm animals and machinery had been destroyed, savings and capital were depleted, one fifth of the white male population was dead with many more wounded or maimed, and the black labor force now demanded wages and control over its toil.  Freedmen and whites struggled to redefine their relationships within these new contexts. Former slaves demanded respect and proper compensation for their labor while former masters tried to reimpose their own notions of control and market value.  Land owners, facing acute labor shortages, often courted freedmen with promises of good wages and land, but then expressed outrage when the workers, unfairly treated or simply attracted by better offers, abandoned their places.  In the cities, black workers similarly struggled for autonomy and opportunity as the concept of free labor gradually took its tenuous hold in the region.
    Critical to these redefinitions of labor relationships was the larger national project of the reconstruction of the South.  Northern victory brought with it conflicting notions of how to reincorporate the rebellious states back into the Union, with the Radical Republicans urging retaliation upon whites and full civil rights for blacks. An intense political struggle ensued which resulted in the impeachment of President Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, whose southern sympathies ultimately offended the Republican majority.  Congress soon settled on a relatively progressive path to reshape the relationships between southern blacks and whites.  It readmitted the southern states, established the Freedmen’s Bureaus to assist blacks in the transition from slavery, and passed civil rights legislation, including the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments, which gave black suffrage a Constitutional guarantee.
    Reconstruction formally lasted from 1865 until 1877, when the contested election of Rutherford B. Hayes (in which a Republican victory was basically bartered for the return of white political control in the South) marked the virtual end of federal intervention in southern race relations.  Almost as much as the war itself, Reconstruction helped to redefine southern life. In its earliest and briefly successful period, between 1868 and 1872, Republican policies encouraged a series of political and social reforms in the region, including the establishment of public school systems, hospitals and asylums, protective labor laws, modernized tax codes and judicial systems, and remarkably biracial democratic governments in many states.  However, white resistance to the loss of economic and political supremacy was fierce.  Sporadic violence against blacks gave way to the formation of more organized terrorist groups, like the Ku Klux Klan, founded in Tennessee in 1865, and Louisiana’s Knights of the White Camellia (1867); both groups attempted to control post-war elections by intimidating black and liberal white voters, who often responded with force.  The passage of the national “Enforcement Acts” in 1870-71, which made violence against citizens a federal matter, helped to suppress these vigilante groups by 1872, although their tactics continued as a feature of southern life for many years.  The effort to reshape southern social structures through legislation was not without consequence.
      White resistance was not the only force that disabled the early promise of Reconstruction. There was also widespread political corruption (which, in the era of urban gangs like New York’s notorious Tweed Ring, was hardly a southern phenomenon), a persistent lack of investment capital, and a major economic depression, the Panic of 1873, which shifted national attention away from the problems of the South and swept many Republicans from office.  What had begun as an extension of abolitionist idealism--to end slavery and to integrate black people fully into the American political and economic order--was becoming a distracting liability.  The real accomplishments of Reconstruction began to be viewed, even in the northern press, as failures.  Influential reports on the South sponsored by liberal northern newspapers and journals, such as “The Prostrate State” (1874) written for the New York Tribune or “The Cotton States” (1875) for the New York Herald, reinforced the notion that the general disarray of the South was the result of incompetent “Negro government” and that prosperity could only return with white rule.  That sentiment was enacted across the South in a series of violently won elections by “Redeemers,” conservative white Democrats who wrested control of state and local governments, beginning as early as 1870 in Virginia and North Carolina.  When the Grant administration failed to intervene aggressively to protect the radical regime in Mississippi in the critical elections of 1875, “Reconstruction itself was doomed,” according to Eric Foner, and, with it, any notion that its aspirations marked a positive moment in U. S. history (563).
    What was at stake in Reconstruction was ultimately the concept of white supremacy or, to put it differently, the disempowerment of blacks.  Especially in the final decades before the war, as the contradictions of slavery in a presumably egalitarian nation became more untenable, slavery had been increasingly justified by arguments of racial inferiority, often buttressed by biblical and even anthropological evidence. When the “peculiar institution” was finally dismantled, white southerners clung to white supremacy as a final vestige of the economic and political power to which they were accustomed and which they believed they deserved.   Reconstruction materially threatened that power, and even after its formal demise, white southerners fought strenuously to preserve the racial distinctions that would reinstate their prerogatives.
    The new conservative state governments thus began systematically to undo the toehold of blacks in political and economic affairs.  Ultimately, their aim was disenfranchisement: to make the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments “dead letters on the statute-book.”  To that end, they drastically reduced state budgets and taxes (together with the social services they supported), passed anti-labor laws, and revised the criminal codes and property laws in an undisguised effort to restore power to the old propertied castes and the new mercantile elite.  Gradually recognizing that the federal government would not interfere, southern states began to impose restrictions designed to eliminate black male votes: poll taxes, property requirements, literacy and “understanding” tests, which required that prospective voters interpret a section of the Constitution to the local registrar’s satisfaction, and even the infamous “grandfather clause,” which exempted from any requirements all men and their descendants who could vote before 1867--thus eliminating the former slaves. Many of these restrictions were incorporated into constitutions rewritten in many southern states in the 1890s. The effect of such provisions was not only to eliminate most black voters but also many poor whites, thus ensuring that the white upper classes would retain much of their antebellum economic and political power.

Segregation and Violence: Redefining Race and Gender  
Racial segregation was a critical feature of black disempowerment during this period.  Reconstruction had marked a somewhat fluid period of interaction as blacks and whites tentatively explored their new social and economic relationships. Some public schools in cities like New Orleans and even the University of South Carolina (between 1873-1877) were briefly integrated, while most public transportation and even theaters and taverns were in some areas nominally open to blacks as well as whites. However, when in 1883 the Supreme Court invalidated the 1875 Civil Rights Act, the states began to enact a series of laws requiring “separate but equal” accommodations first in railroads. Upheld by the courts in 1890 and then affirmed in 1896 by the famous Louisiana test case, Plessy v.Ferguson, these laws became collectively known as Jim Crow.  Jim Crow legislation, named for an antebellum minstrel performer, ratified the needs of whites to justify and consolidate their power through caste distinctions, which were then marked by physical and social distance.  Racial difference became identified with racial inferiority; for despite the rhetoric of “separate but equal” (which some black leaders like Booker T. Washington tentatively endorsed), the reality was always separate and decidedly unequal, from railroads to restaurants, from “colored” water fountains to “whites only” hospitals, from schools and bawdy houses to prisons and cemeteries.  By restricting any contact between blacks and whites as equals or peers, segregation enforced an ideology of profound difference; by maintaining that difference as asymmetric, it magnified the desired perception of white superiority.  As Edward Ayers observes, the actual implementation of racial segregation was an uneven process across the region and was driven by a variety of forces; however, by the turn of the century when the word “segregation” actually entered the language, it was firmly in place throughout the South.  It remained entrenched until after World War II and the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s (Ayers 145).  
    Violence, essential in maintaining slavery, was a necessary corollary to segregation’s blatant injustice; blacks did not always submit peacefully to the revocation of their freedoms.  Black resistance was evident in lawsuits, boycotts, and riots, among them the 1898 Wilmington, North Carolina, race riots on which Charles Chesnutt based his 1901 novel, The Marrow of Tradition.  Federal protections for freedmen were gradually withdrawn, first in the presence of the military, then in the courts, and, by the 1890s, even in the sympathies of the northern public.  As a result, whites became increasingly able to suppress black resistance through violent means. Lynchings proliferated in the 1880s: between 1882 and 1900, over eleven hundred thousand black men (and at least a score of black women) were executed by white mobs in the South, often after cruel torture (Tolnay and Beck 271).  The most common targets were “uppity” blacks, those who had presumed to challenge white rule or had perhaps achieved a modicum of financial success.  The most widely-held justification for lynching was the crime of raping a white woman, the most scandalous instance of unwanted physical contact across the barriers of race.
    The insistence that rape was the reason for lynching revealed a critical nexus in the South between race and gender.  Indeed, as Ayers points out, the more intimate the space, the more stringent the rules of segregation.  Memphis journalist Ida B. Wells, who began a courageous anti-lynching campaign in the 1890s, was the first to document the fact that only about one-third of lynchings even involved an actual charge of rape (207).  Nonetheless, as in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s story “The Lynching of Jube Benson” (1902), the protection of white womanhood from the vicious sexual attacks of black men remained the mantra of lynch-law.  As one proponent succinctly put it, lynching was “the white woman’s guarantee against rape by niggers” (Wilson 175). In fact, the status of the white woman was closely tied to the status of blacks in general and to black men in particular. The traditional superiority of southern white men depended on the subservience of both white women and blacks. Transferred onto black men, the threat of male sexual violence helped to contain white women, while the defense of female honor justified the brutal punishment of black men. Black women, as the embodiment of a female sexuality impermissible to white women, remained equally vulnerable to rape and to retribution.
    Central to these inter-relationships was the figure of the white southern belle: the beautiful, charming, genteel and submissive mistress of the patriarchal southern household. A familiar ideal in antebellum literature and society, the aristocratic white woman anchored southern conceptions of domestic and social order.  For, as Lee Ann Whites and others have demonstrated, gender roles in the South were not, as in the North, shaped by the notion of “separate spheres,” in which men governed the public realms of money and politics while women occupied and controlled the private domestic spaces. Instead, southern conceptions of gender depended on “economically autonomous” households in which men provided material support in return for female dependence and submission (Whites 10).  The willing--and thus “natural”--subservience of the southern woman mirrored and contained the unwilling, if equally ordained, compliance of the black slaves, who were also part of the exemplary southern household. As Marjorie Spruill Wheeler points out, “the war and Reconstruction initiated a series of social and economic changes that gradually altered Southern gender relations,” but those changes strengthened rather than severed the connections between race and gender that those relations implied (New Women 9).
    Although the Civil War reshaped gender in both the North and the South, military defeat and the wholesale loss of property and slaves gave many returning Confederate soldiers an especially acute sense of their failure as men (Edwards 113).  The only remaining component of the patriarchal household that had defined southern male identity was its loyal women. In contrast, for white women, the war and its difficult aftermath had provided a new sense of empowerment, as they managed struggling businesses and failing plantations (as did southern author Kate Chopin) and assumed greater public roles in the war effort.  Both men and women struggled after the war to regain some semblance of their prewar gender identity, and both found it in the magnification of the role of women. For white men, particularly in the upper-classes, the loyalty and submission of women were the sole remnants of their maleness constructed as “head of household.” For white women, more complexly, that same loyal support was the principal way that they could reconstruct their devastated men as providers (if they had returned at all) and, in so doing, could also continue some sense of their wartime empowerment “as the ‘makers’ of their men” (Whites 13).  
    Of course, for black men and women, as for many lower-class whites, the reshaping of gender roles unfolded differently.  Freedom enabled blacks to construct their roles along the model of the patriarchal family, an opportunity expressly denied them during slavery.  For black men, the war and military service became an important route for claiming a manhood that slavery had denied.  After the war, the control of their own labor, as well as their wives', enabled them to act as providers.  Their vehement resistance to gang labor, with its overtones of slavery, became a point of critical contention in the Reconstruction labor market.  Emancipation enabled black women to insist on their own domestic importance and to return their allegiance, as well as their labor, to their husbands and families.  Particularly in the years of Reconstruction, their adamant refusal to work in the fields under the authority of other men became a central symbol of their new status as women. Later, as sharecropping replaced wage labor among freedmen, women’s fieldwork was seen as properly contributing to the family rather than as demeaning (J. Jones 58-59).
    Another important aspect of shifting gender roles was the national movement for female suffrage.  Before the war, the links between abolitionism and woman’s suffrage had discouraged much public support for women’s rights in the South.  However, after a number of black men moved into public office and exercised their electoral privileges during Reconstruction, many white women began to find the subject more compelling.  As Wheeler notes, the “Negro problem” (understood as the enfranchisement of several million people considered by many southern whites as “unfit for political participation”) did not cause white women to want the vote so much as it gave them “a reason to suspect that they could win it” (“Woman Suffrage” 38, 39).  The formation of new constitutional conventions throughout the South provided an early venue for the enlargement of women’s political rights.  Arkansas, North Carolina, and Texas considered including woman’s suffrage in their 1868 conventions, and the matter came up again when the conservative white “redeemers” rewrote constitutions in the 1870s (Green 6-7).  
    Following these debates, equal suffrage organizations began to develop sporadically in most southern states, along with women’s clubs, which were a principal source of female self-education throughout the nation.  These groups, which included many upper-class white women (such as author and activist Sarah Barnwell Elliot), began to lobby state legislatures on a variety of issues and achieved some modest success, including admission to colleges and professional schools, service on government commissions and boards, and reforms of inheritance and custody laws.  However, as southern women faced repeated defeats on such important issues as child labor, many began to recognize the limits of their traditional feminine role as “moral suasor.” Despite the self-proclaimed chivalry of southern politicians in assuming the burden of politics, many southern white women became less convinced that their protection and that of children weighed very heavily at all against the financial interests of the cotton mill owners and railroad barons (Wheeler “Woman Suffrage” 34-35).  Finally in the 1890s, partly in response to the newly reorganized National Women’s Suffrage Association, which appreciated the potential and need for southern support, the South saw its first organized effort for woman’s suffrage.
    But just as the “Negro problem” had precipitated many white southern women into the struggle for suffrage, the “race issue” circumscribed their efforts.  White women, no less than white men, recognized in white supremacy and black disenfranchisement the underpinnings of their own political and economic dominance and security.  As Elna Green writes of southern anti-suffragists, they “saw the world as an integrated whole: class, gender and race relations were set in a permanent configuration, each mutually enforcing the others ... a blow to any part of the edifice endangered the integrity of the entire structure” (90-91).  One consequence of this perception was the racial/racist strategies that southern white women, together with their complicitous northern sisters, employed on behalf of suffrage. In the 1880s and 1890s, for example, it was argued that extending the vote to women would help to dilute black electoral strength, especially since white women outnumbered black women.  Similarly, many white leaders, like Kate Gordon of Louisiana, insisted on seeking suffrage from the states; they feared that a federal mandate would weaken the ability of states to maintain “control” over its black citizens.  However, when Mississippi’s Jim Crow laws were upheld by the Supreme Court in Williams v. Mississippi (1898), it became clear that the federal government would not intervene in the erosion of black civil rights nor in the steady drift toward legalized segregation.  As a result, woman’s suffrage lost any serious support in white legislatures.  Instead, the links between white women’s empowerment and black advancement became all the more decisive. For just as white women had seen in black suffrage an opportunity to secure their own enfranchisement, the southern hierarchy had just as accurately perceived in female autonomy an alarming threat to the postwar redefinitions of southern manhood, which sought to remain still white and still master, at least over its women.
    If southern female suffrage was thus crippled by such mixed allegiances, white women became a vital (and often willing) tool in the consolidation of white supremacy.  Women’s loyal submission to white men thus served as a central prop to the renewed southern patriarchy.  Protecting her status became a paramount expression of manliness. The principal menace to this regime was of course the black man--whose existence directly challenged the racial exclusiveness of the new southern manhood.  Political and economic disenfranchisement steadily eroded black men’s claims to “manhood” as providers and autonomous heads of households.  At the same time, legal segregation, supported by lynch-law, demonstrated white men’s absolute right to protect their own women from any contact with such “beasts.”  Stripped of the “natural” authority and dignity of true (white) manhood, black men became imaginatively reduced to mere physicality--mindless strength and unharnessed desire. White women, dependent and vulnerable, were divested of any real agency, while black women bore the brunt of both sexual vulnerability and a racialized physicality.
    Such at least were the ideological models of post-war white supremacy. In fact, as the violence of lynching and the eventual success of woman’s suffrage indicate, these redefinitions of race and gender were hardly seamless. Even their uneven implementation required a series of ritualizations, the most important of which was a redefined meaning of the Civil War itself.

Turning the “Lost Cause” into the New South  
Many scholars have attempted to explain how the South managed to redefine itself after the war, reshaping a slave society into an apartheid state, drawing out of the ruins of the old plantation South a new and more industrialized region, and ultimately transforming a decided military defeat into a great moral victory.  As C. Vann Woodward, the most influential commentator on this era, concluded, the South after the war was schizophrenic.  Its “divided mind” at once looked backward to what it had lost and forward to what it hoped to become:  “The deeper the involvements in commitments to the New Order, the louder the protests of loyalty to the Old” (155).  
    One unlikely component of these transformations, as Gaines Foster explains, was the glorification of the Confederate veteran.  Memorial rituals and monuments took shape gradually after the war, at first simply to give meaning to the tremendous loss and suffering southerners had experienced, but eventually to celebrate the courage and valor expended on behalf of a “Lost Cause.”  Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, organizations like the United Confederate Veterans (formed in New Orleans in 1889) and the United Daughters of the Confederacy (founded in 1895) established and maintained a virtual cult of the glorious southern soldier (Foster 103, 108).
    By the 1880s, the North was signaling its own willingness to join in this uncritical celebration of southern heroism, particularly in the popular press. Between 1884 and 1887, for example, the prestigious Century published a long series of articles entitled “Battles and Leaders of the Civil War,” noting that the time had been reached when “motives will be weighed with out malice, and valor praised without distinction of uniform” (Foster 69). The series included Mark Twain’s bitterly humorous account of his own short-lived Confederate service, “The Private History of a Campaign that Failed” (1885).  The increased focus on honorable military service and glory erased the “lost cause” and the serious issues (such as race relations and states’ rights) that the war had never really settled.  Instead, the celebration of the Confederacy in literature and in social ritual became a ready (if relatively neutral and extremely popular) tool in the service of various contemporary purposes, from the support of white supremacy to the furtherance of political campaigns, from national reconciliation to the founding of the New South.
    The struggle of the southern states in the decades of the eighties and nineties to redefine white authority took place in the context of tremendous economic, technological and social changes, not just in the South, but in the nation as a whole.  While southern industrialization had begun before 1880, manufacturing more than doubled in the majority of southern states during the eighties, and workers in the new textile and steel mills tripled (Foster 80). Free labor and new marketing practices reshaped agriculture, emphasizing the role of small towns and encouraging the growth of inland market centers like Atlanta and Birmingham.  The doubling of railroad mileage, initiated by the radical Republican governments during Reconstruction, not only helped to spread lumbering and cash crops like cotton into areas with fresh access to markets, but also spurred a general population movement toward towns and cities. As urban areas grew, so did the professional classes of merchants, lawyers, doctors, and other businessmen. Their prosperity and proximity also encouraged the adoption of new urban amenities: electric lighting, telephones, modern sewer systems and indoor plumbing.
    Newspaper editors and city boosters began in the early 1880s to proclaim a New South, one ready to leave behind the old “backward” ways of resistance to such changes as free labor and modern industry and eager to welcome collaboration with the North in the exploitation of its rich resources.  The most famous of these spokesmen was young Henry Grady, who with Joel Chandler Harris coedited the Atlanta Constitution.  His landmark 1886 speech to the New England Club in New York projected a powerful image of the South as a vigorous land “having nothing for which to apologize” and standing “upright, full-statured and equal among the people of the earth” (33).  For her northern victors, Grady offered an explicitly feminized place, “misguided, perhaps, but beautiful in her suffering, and honest, brave and generous always” (23).  He called on the country to engage in the noble duty of “uplifting and upbuilding” the region and assured his audience that in the New South “perfect harmony” reigns in every “household,” that the devastated Confederate soldier is “a hero in gray with a heart of gold,” and that “close and cordial relations” exist among the “free Negro” and his white comrades.  In the South, intoned Grady, “we have sowed towns and cities in the place of theories, and put business above politics” (23, 33, 30, 32).    
    While calming northern investors and satisfying southern loyalists, this highly idealized image of the New South hardly quelled the widespread misgivings about the coming of a new industrialized regime and its effects on people’s lives.  One major manifestation of such unrest was the rise of Populism. The movement reflected the displeasure of small farmers, often veterans, who had struggled through general depression, collapsing crop prices, land devaluation and a plethora of policies that favored large planters and businesses.  Even before “redemption,” several radical organizations took shape in the South, the most influential of which was the Farmers Alliance, whose first president was the much-admired, former Confederate General Leonidas Polk.  A remarkably integrated cooperative movement that proclaimed the benefits of North-South cooperation, the Alliance brought together thousands of small farmers, laborers, and other reformers intent on reshaping political power to serve their interests. Its successor and ally, the Populist or People’s Party, proposed an egalitarian revision of the capitalist principles that shaped the Gilded Age.  Although the movement had significant effects on southern elections in 1892, it succumbed to the forces of compromise in the next national elections (Ayers 250).  The erosion of Populism’s political base occurred, in part, from the differing views on racial reform among its northern and southern supporters.  As Nina Silber points out, “reunion sentiments could not mask the fact that southern Populists were committed to a brand of racial politics that was often antithetical to some of the northern farmer’s reform-minded traditions” (101).
    What Populists regarded as rapacious capitalism required a massive, under-paid work force supplied by waves of immigrants from Ireland, England, Asia, and southern and eastern Europe.  Settling primarily in the urban north but also in many southern coastal cities, these immigrants, much like blacks throughout the South, represented a threat to traditional notions of power and mastery, already weakened by the cultural and economic shifts that had transformed rural, independent farmers and merchants into wage laborers under the control of distant managers and inexplicable economic forces.  Grady struck a chord of nationalist pride in his New South speech when he invited native workers southward, declaring that “One Northern immigrant is worthy fifty foreigners” (32).  Increasingly, as Silber points out, northerners themselves began to see in southern conservatism an admirable ability to retain social control over inferior classes.  The negative reaction to immigrants also fueled the decline of northern sympathy for the freedmen and allowed northerners to acquiesce quietly to the South’s insistence in the 1890s that it knew best how to handle the Negro.

Redefining the War: The Marriage of North and South 
Though the North’s willingness to join southerners in redefining the meaning of the Civil War intensified in the 1890s, its foundations had been manifest almost as soon as the battle-dust had cleared. The most conspicuous motivation was the bounty to be reaped by northern investors from the South’s plentiful natural resources.  However, as later southern novels demonstrate--even with such different ideological foundations as George W. Cable’s John March, Southerner (1894) and Thomas Nelson Page’s Red Rock (1898)--the most fertile resource the South contributed to a turbulent nation was not its mineral and agrarian riches, but a highly idealized, hierarchical heritage, based on an aristocratic class structure, courtly male behavior, and proper womanliness.
    The reshaping of northerners’ view of the South and of reunion reflected many of the same gender anxieties that afflicted white southerners in the decades after the war. Immigrants were adapting their unfamiliar social customs and languages to crowded urban districts.  Increasing numbers of young women were entering northern mills and factories, and many substantial female voices were pressing for greater political and economic influence.  As a result, northerners expressed increasing concern about the breakdown of gender spheres and a decline of sexual mores (Silber 9).  Turning South, the industrialized and disempowered northern male began to view nostalgically the southern belle as an epitome of womanhood, recognizing in her a pleasing figure over whom he could exert some control.  As early as the 1860s, the conflation of the South with the innocent belle “provided for the northern male a sweet, double victory; he was once again victorious, not only over the South, but also over womankind” (Silber 10).  In political rhetoric as well as in fiction, essays, illustrations, and historical accounts, North-South reconciliation, depoliticized as a “marriage,” became a pervasive trope. It also provided an immensely popular plot device in authors ranging from northerners like John DeForest to southerners like Cable, Harris, and Page.  Even Chopin framed her first novel, At Fault (1890), with the salvific marriage of a northern entrepreneur and a widowed plantation mistress. Wedded North-South bliss disguised or suppressed such uncomfortable moral issues as the reasons for the war in the first place and the unpleasant persistence of white poverty and black oppression.
    The post-war shift in focus and sympathy--from perceiving the South as rebellious foe to a wayward, though noble, comrade and/or marital “partner”--was dramatic. While the practical effects of that metamorphosis unfolded with predictable unevenness, that it could occur at all was a direct consequence of certain profound changes in national publishing.  While the magazine had been an important feature of American culture since the 1830s, the postbellum era brought a new surge in its growth.  The establishment of the International Copyright Association in 1868 gave writers new incentives to publish and the “magazine trade burgeoned outside eastern publishing centers” (Smith and Price 13). Even so, throughout the seventies and eighties the most influential journals remained the major monthlies of the Northeast: Boston’s Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s Magazine, and New York’s Scribner’s Monthly, which became the Century Magazine in 1881. Presided over by discriminating editors, such as William Dean Howells, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Richard Watson Gilder, and Henry Mills Alden, and appealing to a relatively elite audience, these journals helped to shape national literary taste and intellectual opinion.  Though staunchly abolitionist and pro-Republican prior to the Civil War, by the 1870s they increasingly reflected northern weariness with Reconstruction and the desire for reconciliation, glossing over the deeply unresolved issues of race.
    These prestigious journals were the most visible constituent of a wide range of periodicals that sprang up following the Civil War; in the concluding decades of the nineteenth-century, the magazine was the primary vehicle for literary reading and entertainment. Ellery Sedgwick notes that 3,300 magazines were published in 1885; 5,500 in 1900.  This explosion of the periodical market can be explained by a number of factors, including new printing technologies and extensive railroad-based distribution systems; however, an essential stimulus was an increasingly wide-flung audience with a voracious appetite for education and entertainment, especially about some of the “other” places that constituted a rapidly expanding nation.  The short story, primarily because of its brevity, became the staple feature of this escalating market, and southern local color was its dominant form.  Opportunities for southern local color blossomed.  As the periodicals eagerly sought fiction and essays to fill their pages, authorship became a more lucrative and acceptable profession, particularly for those, like educated women, who had not always had ready access to publication or supplemental income.    
    As the century drew to a close, many concerns that after the war had seemed sharply divisive had been reconfigured into familiar if not altogether comfortable compromises.  Issues that the war had precipitated had faded from national view, though not altogether from consciousness.  Segregation and de facto disenfranchisement had been allowed to resolve “the Negro problem” in the South, consigning black people to narrow definitions of citizenship and placating the poverty of many whites with the sop of racial superiority.  Reconciliation had effectively erased the moral implications of the war and opened the resources of the South to full exploitation by northern capitalists in exchange for the return of political power back into the hands of the southern planter classes.  What had not yet been fully settled was the “woman question,” but even the new outlines of gender relations were becoming clear.  

The War That Ended the War: The War of 1898.  
The advent of another war precipitated many lingering issues. By the standards of the Civil War or even the Great War of the next century, the War of 1898 (often called the Spanish-American War) was not cataclysmic.  It lasted for a short time (if one does not count, as the nation did not, the many years of guerrilla resistance in the Philippines), and U. S. casualties were limited.  However, the war was a crucial event in U. S. history.  It catapulted Theodore Roosevelt into the Presidency in 1901 and, at the very end of Western Europe’s most extensive period of empire-building, defined the United States as an imperial power.  When it was over, the U. S. had annexed Hawaii and had gained Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippine Islands from Spain.  The war also consolidated the delineation of American manhood.  As Kristin Hoganson argues, that redefinition, especially among southerners, helped to confirm that the South as a region was finally “man enough” to rejoin and represent a nation whose own white manliness so transparently underwrote its imperial ambitions and status.
    The fading of the Civil War into history and memory encouraged many to fear that the “manly character” essential to democratic government in the rough and tumble economy of the Gilded Age was fading with it. Practically speaking, many veterans had parlayed their wartime experience (whether Confederate or Union) into very successful political careers.  However, economic depression, the closing of the frontier, the unchecked rise of big business, and widespread corruption in both business and politics fostered the belief that the country was becoming weak and effeminate, a concern that was hardly assuaged by women’s insistence on political equity and greater economic opportunity.  (Hoganson 10-12).  The outbreak of war generated a welcome opportunity to reassert the manliness of the nation, and much of the political rhetoric urging war was in terms of defending the nation’s “honor.”  Many white southerners, immersed in the cult of the Confederacy and its Lost Cause, flocked to enlist, and even many black men, eager to use the war as a demonstration of the manhood denied by the impositions of white supremacy, signed up.  However, as Hoganson demonstrates, the war and its idealization of “military manliness” actually narrowed rather than expanded the prerequisites of citizenship. Blacks could not be white, no matter how valiant, and women could neither be soldiers nor men.
    By the end of the war, the century had turned. The nature of American identity that the Civil War had so profoundly unsettled had begun to precipitate into the shapes it would bear for most of the new century. However, even in the first decade of this new millennium, tensions underlying that identity abided. While whiteness, maleness and the preservation of union were reaffirmed, their preeminence was no longer uncontested: slavery was abolished; women would soon secure the enfranchisement they sought; and laborers and immigrants would shortly assert their own prerogatives and contributions to the American ideal.  In the early 1900s, the consequences of these shifts in identity were writ large in social conflict and active dissent.
    Led by men like W.E.B. DuBois, a native of Massachusetts and the first black man to receive a degree from Harvard, and women like Alice Dunbar-Nelson and Ida B. Wells, African Americans began to organize themselves against the indignities and violence of Jim Crow. The National Association of Colored Women was founded in 1903 to resist lynching and peonage, followed seven years later by the influential National Association of Colored People. Exchanging the blunt oppressions of the South for better opportunities in the North during the Great Migrations surrounding World War I, blacks developed vibrant ethnic communities that fostered original forms of music, like the blues and jazz, and created the spirited atmosphere that would later give birth to the urban movement collectively known as the "New Negro Movement" or, more popularly, the "Harlem Renaissance."
    Both black and white women intensified their commitment to suffrage, a goal they finally achieved in 1919. However, as women pursued the vote, they also began to recognize the narrowness of that aim, a point that Elizabeth Cady Stanton had tried to make years before. The changes in women’s lives--from a greater and growing presence in the workplace to the birth control education advocated by Margaret Sanger--exacerbated the distance between traditional notions of femininity and the social reforms necessary to support women’s new roles. Many women joined progressive movements, demanding reforms as various as the regulation of meat and food inspection, the control of rail and oil monopolies, and the abolition of child labor--an abuse particularly rampant in southern textile mills.
    The explosive growth of the Progressive movement in the early twentieth century was largely a response to the unbridled exploitation of human and natural resources launched in the decades following the Civil War. The Robber Barons of the Gilded Age, who had created both the demand for new workers and their dismal conditions, faced a myriad of strikes, boycotts and other organized resistance in the decades before and after 1900.  Though the unions themselves were often exclusive, rejecting both women and black men, an exception was the Industrial Workers of the World formed in Chicago in 1905. Determined to create “One Big Union" not separated by gender or race or skills, the “Wobblies” represented one of the most powerful versions of the inclusive identity that mirrors the deliberate diversity of U. S. culture.  A dramatic and popular force for social change, the IWW was gradually discredited by conservative forces that slowly suppressed such reforms after 1914, and the Wobblies' inclusive ideology tainted the very idea of socialism as anti-democratic for a whole century (Zinn 31-76).  In many ways, the radical activism of the early twentieth century was a ripening of the profound social reorganization prompted by the Civil War and its unsettling aftermath.  By 1910, the South as an issue and the local color fiction that had served to articulate the conflicts of a nation redefining itself had lost the public’s interest.  However, in the cauldron of the four earlier decades and, particularly in its popular literature, American identity had been profoundly redefined.  No literary type was more integral or significant to the enterprise than southern local-color fiction.

Marketing the Exotic: The Postbellum Rise of Southern Local Color
With the destruction of the regional economy and southerners struggling to reconstruct a coherent society, southern fiction had in fact lain dormant for almost a decade after the Civil War.  The means for its resurgence--like so many other aspects of the South’s recovery--eventually came from the North.  In the 1870’s, as magazines multiplied throughout the publishing centers of the Northeast, the most prestigious and widely circulated of them began to seek out southern material:  among them, Scribner’s Monthly (later Century Magazine), Lippincott’s, Harper’s Magazine, and, eventually, the Atlantic Monthly.  Coupled with popular family periodicals like Youth’s Companion and Wide Awake and a multitude of local newspapers, they created a fertile and lucrative venue for southern materials and for many new writers, who drew, in part, on the readership Simms, the Southwest humorists, and the domestic novelists had cultivated before the war.
    One stimulus to this reinvigorated interest in the South was tourism.  The prosperous extension of northern middle and upper classes as well as the expansion of the railroads made southern tourism an entertaining and instructional means of asserting social status.  The post-war South, with its ruined mansions redolent of lost glory and the patent otherness of its rural inhabitants, both black and white, furnished a superb experience of the exotic for both physical and mental travelers.  Northern journals encouraged touristic attitudes through numerous southern travelogues.  In one of the most aggressive efforts to reacquaint readers with the South as well as to identify promising southern writers, Scribner’s Monthly sent Edward King and an illustrator on an excursion through the former Confederacy in 1872.  Commencing the next year as Scribner's installments and published in three volumes in 1875, King’s prodigious report celebrated “the current of travel pouring over the great roadways from New York to New Orleans and from the West and St. Louis to the Atlantic coast” (722).  His project encompassed more than 880,000 square miles of “fifteen ex-slave states” and the “Indian territories” and provided a compendium of rising southern commerce, social commentary, history, travel sketches, statistics, and, of course, illustrations (722).  The extensive series proved an influential tool in moderating attitudes toward the defeated South--and promoting southern writers.  During his sojourn in New Orleans, for example, King “discovered” New Orleans cotton warehouse clerk George Washington Cable.  King encouraged Scribner’s to publish Cable’s first story in 1873, and southern local color was launched.  Harper’s also ran a series of southern articles in 1873-74 and, under the leadership of editor Henry Mills Alden, eventually published a number of southern writers, notably Grace King and James Lane Allen.   
    Century Magazine editor L. Frank Tooker explained that the readiness to publish southern authors was based on the “courtesy and tact of the South” with its willingness to remove the “old hostility” and on the value of the literature which “blazed a new path in America--a path marked by the most pronounced local color, irradiated by humor and tender romanticism" (Hubbell 728).  While the Atlantic resisted the popular tide of southern materials until the 1880s, its influential editor William Dean Howells did publish former Confederate veteran (and native Hoosier) George Cary Eggleston’s “A Rebel’s Recollections” and Twain’s “True Story” in 1874, as well as Murfree’s Tennessee mountain stories in the later 1870s.  
    The popularity of southern characters and settings eventually even prompted a number of northern writers to try their hands at the genre, among them New England regionalists Sarah Orne Jewett and Mary Wilkins Freeman; none, however, enjoyed the earlier success of New Hampshire born Constance Fenimore Woolson, whose first southern story, “Miss Elisabetha,” appeared in Appleton’s Journal in 1874.
    The necessity for filling millions of pages (an estimated three million by 1890) opened national publishing opportunities for many new writers across the country.  In effect, the proliferation of magazines and the short fiction they encouraged became a critical attendant to the nation’s efforts to redefine its regional relationships and national identity.  Southern local color fiction, which promptly dominated the periodical market, was crucial in that redefinition.
    While the local-color short story inherited both the models of Hawthorne and Poe’s tales as well as the magazine markets that supported them, there were important distinctions.  Post-war fiction, like the culture that produced it, was affected by a sharper skepticism and a stronger reliance on empirical measures of truth than antebellum literature.  What Hawthorne and Simms as well as the plantation and domestic novelists variously understood as “romance” was replaced by a “new realism,” championed by influential editors and novelists like Howells and Twain.  As a distinct narrative aesthetic, realism’s roots were continental, applied first to the accurate, unidealized descriptions of the novels of Gustave Flaubert.  The term la couleur locale also developed in France in the 1850s, where Flaubert and countryman Guy de Maupassant considered it “the essence of realism."  In the United States, however, realism was promptly claimed as offering the most authentic version of American experience, and local color was regarded as one of its leading embodiments.  As late as 1927, literary critic Vernon Parrington singled out southern writers Cable and Murfree to demonstrate that local color was an indigenous American form “sprung from the soil, a “native growth . . . unconcerned with European technique” (III 238).  But whether import or native, the hallmarks of local color were manifestly realistic: an accurate attention to detail, an emphasis on landscape, carefully created characters, provincial customs, and the peculiarities of local speech (dialect).  But what also characterized local color was its interest in difference--not simply “realistic” portraits, but portraits of some “other” places and experience, a role that the South--with its lively frontier humor traditions, racialized family structures, slave-holding rebel past, and renewed attractiveness both to tourists and investors--played like a natural.

The Elements of Local Color: Exotic Settings, Characters, and Dialect
Since readers were usually assumed to share the perspectives--physical and social--of publishers in the urban northeast, much of the United States, particularly its rural reaches and inhabitants, was deemed “exotic.”  As a region whose dissimilarities had been profound enough to warrant civil war, the “Great South” was an especially “different” place.  Its varied landscapes and isolated cultural pockets offered appealing sources of unfamiliarity for writers to deploy: the misty Tennessee mountains of Murfree and Elliott; the Florida marshes of Woolson; the southeastern plantations of Harris, Bonner, and Page; the Alabama and Texas of Davis; the North Carolina settlements of Chesnutt; and the Creole and Acadian Louisiana of Cable, Hearn, Stuart, King, Chopin, and Dunbar-Nelson.  Writers like Harris, Stuart, Octave Thanet, Ambrose Gonzales and James Lane Allen placed other southern states, such as Georgia, Arkansas, South Carolina and Kentucky into this fictional topography.  Typically authors were associated by reputation with a particular place, though some, including Page, Davis, Harris, Bonner, and Twain, turned occasionally to other settings; others, like Paul Laurence Dunbar adopted a variety of locales, including the generically southern, such as his unspecified “Happy Hollow,” which Dunbar identified as whatever city or village blacks occupied as their own.  The richness and strangeness of setting were so central to the genre that the local-color “sketch,” in contrast to the more fully realized “story,” often evoked just the flavor of an interesting place, as in Dunbar-Nelson’s “Praline Woman” or any number of Hearn’s reflective pieces.
    The singularity of these “other” places was further confirmed by the “characters” who populated them.  For the presumably urban (and implicitly urbane) reader, even the ordinary--“real”--lives of these folk were eccentric, quaint, charming, or surprisingly different.  Writers quickly learned to exploit and even exaggerate such disparities.  Perhaps the most distinctive feature of these “different” people--and the most difficult to convey on the printed page--was their speech.  Careful phonetic transcriptions (which were often as much an obstacle for contemporary readers as for modern ones) became a signal element of local color’s realism.  Writers such as Twain, Harris, Bonner, Cable, Murfree, Hearn, Chesnutt, and Stuart took great pains to enunciate the varieties of southern dialect.  Harris and Cable, among others, consciously pursued the essentially ethnographical task of accurately recording the differing speech patterns and customs of the souths they knew.
    Nineteenth-century interest in dialect was part of a general concern about language, especially the provenance of English and Anglo-Saxon culture and related anxieties about national identity.  One popular view maintained that the country’s various speech communities would eventually amalgamate into a national vernacular, brought about--as John Fiske speculated in 1891--by the “continuous business communication among large bodies of men” (660).  The process of achieving a standard American speech, of course, would require melding the various local accents into a single national tongue.  Seeking, among other ends, ways to advance commerce, reformists like Fiske argued that in “speech, as in other aspects of social life, the progress of mankind is from fragmentariness to solidarity” (664).  Implicitly and often quite consciously, the representation of various speech patterns in local color insinuated a resistance to this “progressive” leveling process.
    But as Gavin Jones demonstrates, dialect served any number of often contradictory functions during the Gilded Age, including the subordination of “other” spoken identities to a dominant cultural standard (46).  Brodhead, North and others have emphasized this demeaning function, especially in white representations of black speech, which marked African Americans’ language (together with their persons) as inferior.  In this sense, southern black dialect, as Walter Benn Michaels argues, augmented the work of Jim Crow by isolating race as an autonomous human characteristic (739).  Becoming more than simply a marker of realism and locale, dialect helped to identify “blackness” or race as independent of region, ultimately transcending both place and skin tone (“not white” covered an infinite array of pigmentations), but representable in the abstractions of speech as firmly as in the abstract laws of segregation.  However, as Jones insists, in the hands of Dunbar or Chesnutt or Cable, dialect could also subvert those same hegemonies, by revealing either the inadequacy of representing another’s speech or the interpenetration of standard and non-standard speech, the indistinguishable creolization of black and white language and culture (46, 133).
    Like dialect, the narrative perspective of much local color fiction emphasized the marginality of its material.  Self-consciously more “national,” educated, and sophisticated than the subjects of the fiction, the writer and the story’s narrator mediated between the reader and those various “others,” who could not themselves claim any such shared identity and authority--a point duly emphasized by their phonetically marked speech.  The local-color narrator was often an outsider, someone external to the action, who was yet able to observe and comment perceptively and, the reader assumed, accurately.  Like dialect, that distance could nonetheless serve disparate intentions and often reflected a complex negotiation of those audiences.  For example, southern writers King and Chesnutt, who were keenly aware--albeit from very different perspectives--of the biases and even ignorance of northern publishers and readers, were both self-conscious interpreters of their region’s differences.  More typical were Stuart and Murfree, who sought to differentiate themselves (and thus the social strata they occupied) from the folly or coarseness of those “other” black or mountain southerners they were presenting.
    Southern communities and families, with their complex webs of class, racial, and gender relationships, provided a particularly fertile source of narrative tropes.  As in antebellum domestic fiction, the formation of family often functioned as a figure of national reconciliation: north-south infatuations (usually leading to marriage) structured numerous tales, including Harris’ “Story of the War,” Murfree’s “Star of the Valley,” and Page’s “Meh Lady.”  Merrill Skaggs has demonstrated the prominence of communal gatherings in southern stories, such as the Christmas visit in Page’s “Unc' Edinburgh’s Drowndin’” or the festivities in Davis’s “A Bamboula.”  Black servants’ identification with their white “family” provided another narrative mainstay:  the faithfully loving black “Aunts,” “Uncles,” and “Gran’mammy” in the fiction of Page, Harris, and Bonner.  But writers also exposed the ironies of such assumed loyalties, as in Twain’s “A True Story,” Dunbar’s “Nelse Hatton’s Revenge,” and many of Chesnutt’s stories, including his 1912 story, “The Doll,” “The Passing of Grandison” and all the Uncle Julius’ tales.
    Just as a racialized dialect could expose character, a hidden racial heritage provided the pivot of many plots.  Such stories depended on individuals of biracial or uncertain ancestry who “passed,” sometimes unknowingly, as “pure” white, usually with disasterous consequences.  Chopin’s “Désirée’s Baby” is the most famous instance of this story line, but Harris’ “Where’s Duncan?”, Elliott’s “The Heart of It,” King’s “The Little Convent Girl,” and both Dunbar-Nelson’s “Sister Josepha” and “Stones of the Village,” all utilize the device.  A complementary variant also emerged involving cross-race lovers and their same-race rivals, typically resulting in death for the black character.  Cable’s excerpt from The Grandissimes and Davis’s “A Bamboula” both employ this pattern, while Chopin’s unpublished story “The Storm” features a cross-class relationship.  While such plots traded on the dangerous sensuality of mixed-heritage women, others tentatively explored the limited autonomy of white women, as in King’s “La Grande Demoiselle” or even her abusive subjugation, as in Dunbar-Nelson’s “Tony’s Wife” or Chopin’s “In Sabine.”  Still others mirrored the prevailing ideology that white women were venerated by white and black men alike.  Many of Page’s stories rest on this notion, as does Davis’s “A Bamboula” and, in a quite different fashion, Dunbar’s “A Lynching of Jube Benson,” which unmasks the racial bigotry and violence such veneration conceals.
    As Edward King began his "Great South" series for Scribner's, he carefully condemned the South's "unjust civilization of the past," but he also found its cultural riches not only "picturesque" and starkly different from “the prosaic and leveling civilization of the present” (2).  That shift--seeing the inequities of southern society as simply a “picturesque” counter to the “prosaic” equality of a modern democracy--marked a profound turn in the relationship between the antithetical social and economic visions that had provoked the Civil War.  This turn would only sharpen in the next two decades.  King had predicted that the "Paradise Lost" of the South in twenty years "may just be Paradise Regained."  His remark proved prophetic.

Section Three: The Practice of Southern Local Color


The First Southern Local-Color Stories
The complex tensions in southern local color are evident in the fiction of its first practitioner, Louisianian and former Confederate officer, George W. Cable.  His outrage against racial injustice is evident in his first story “Bibi,” which King admired.  Its account of a rebellious slave tortured by his owner was too inflammatory, however, for either the Atlantic Monthly or Scribner’s, both of which rejected it as distressing and violent.  King did persuade Scribner’s to publish the less troubling “’Sieur George” in 1873.  The social criticism that typified Cable's early work is more contained and palatable in this story, which warns against the mental and social erosion of an effete Creole past.  Scribner’s then urged Cable to “work as religiously as if you had already Bret Harte’s reputation--& perhaps you may have one as lasting” (Biklé 48).  The magazine’s conviction about the salability of Cable’s work was confirmed by the rapid publication of six more stories (1873-1876), that later formed the core of Cable’s 1879 collection Old Creole Days.  Immediately popular, Cable’s fiction featured a dark strain of violence, social unrest, economic tension, and the racial complexities that King had encountered on his southern tour.  But much of this darkness is suppressed or palliated by Cable’s luxurious southern settings and romantic resolutions.  Like King, Cable saw in the decadent charm of the old Creole world a reassuring contrast to the spirited brashness, even rudeness, of the emerging “Americain” society.  Although Cable would eventually reject the plantation tradition and deplore its legacies, these early stories reveal his fascination with its voluptuous decadence--a fascination the reading public eagerly shared.  Jadis, the title he originally proposed for his first collection, poignantly invoked these seductions.  “Jadis,” explained Cable, “signified, as near as I can give it in English, once, in the fairy-tale sense; ‘once upon a time,’ or ‘in old times’” (Biklé 58).  Such yearnings, together with the charming eccentricities of Creole and French Acadian life, established an enthusiastic audience for Louisiana fiction, which was satisfied by a host of talented writers, including Hearn in the 1880s, and King, Chopin, Stuart, and Dunbar-Nelson in the 1890s.  
    With his careful reproduction of Creole accents, Cable confirmed the integral role of dialect in southern local color.  But it was black dialect that became its most familiar marker.  Mark Twain, with obvious debts to his Western yarns and Southwestern humor, first experimented with black dialect in two stories, both published in November 1874.  In “Sociable Jimmy” the narrator, a public lecturer and visitor to an Illinois village, chats with a garrulous ten-year-old black serving boy.  Like that tale, Twain’s first Atlantic Monthly publication, “A True Story: Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It” was based on an actual conversation.  Both stories are framed by an uninformed, but sophisticated listener.  “A True Story,” however, involves explicitly southern material, and its narrator emerges as foolishly unknowing, even culpable, while its informant, Aunt Rachel, grows in stature recounting the desperation of blacks’ prewar bondage and the joy of northern-won freedom.  In presenting her poignant account of injustice and resistance, Twain exposes both the horrors of slavery as well as his own (and the reader’s) ignorant assumptions about the happy conditions of black folk.  Such resistant perspectives appear early in southern local color, though they tended to remain, as in Twain and Cable, as undercurrents rather than main streams.
    Twain’s venerable black woman who cooks for white people is fictional kin to the black slave “mammy" Sherwood Bonner is generally credited with creating in her dialect “Gran’mammy tales,” first published in July 1875 and later collected in Suwanee River Tales (1884).  Bonner’s Gran’mammy, who generated a crucial type in southern local color, also evoked the unstated foundations of racial interdependence.  In the collected version of the story, Gran'mammy, who controls her plantation kitchen, pointedly ejects her own “tar-baby” grandchildren and, at the same time, adores the privileged white master’s children, whom she raises; she loves God with “childlike simplicity” and exhibits an unfailing love for her white plantation family.  Like Twain’s spirited Aunt Rachel, Gran’mammy is a survivor, but she remains indissolubly linked to the white family she serves, emphasizing a significant strand in the tangle of southern kinship and heralding the many stereotypes, especially of blacks, that filled the repertoire of southern local color.   
    Although Bonner’s stories were based on her Mississippi childhood, Gran’mammy shares much with Harris’s Uncle Remus, the Georgian ex-slave who first appeared in a newspaper sketch in 1876.  Newspapers were, like magazines, an important vehicle for local color fiction, and both ”Uncle Remus as a Rebel” (1877) and “The Story of Mr. Rabbit and Mr. Fox” (1879) were published in the Atlanta Constitution, which was rapidly becoming the voice of the reconstituted New South.  The benign figure of Uncle Remus, willingly instructing whites about black culture, was, like Gran’mammy, a reassuring image of blacks’ continued fidelity to the conventional southern models of society.  The immense success of Harris’ 1880 collection, Uncle Remus:  His Songs and Sayings (the first printing sold ten thousand copies) confirmed the power of this folk figure, who captured the American imagination for decades.  In collecting his early stories, however, Harris significantly revised the titles, improved the stories’ dialect and ethnographical verisimilitude (Harris became revered as a folklore collector), and enhanced their incipient note of plantation nostalgia--all changes that reflected the shifting emphases of southern local color itself.  For example, originally entitled “Uncle Remus as a Rebel” and framed by a northern woman’s report of Remus’ account of events, Harris renamed the collected version “A Story of the War” and shifted the focus from the fiercely protective southern black rebel Remus, who shoots a Union soldier while safeguarding his young Mistress Sally, to the postwar marriage of the confederate Miss Sally with Marse John, a wounded Union officer.  Prefacing the new volume with ”Uncle Remus Initiates the Little Boy,” the initiation of northern readers into the folkways and values of the South became explicit.  John and Sally’s six-year-old son, figuratively the hope of a newly reunited nation, sits in the flickering firelight of Uncle Remus’ cabin and begs for stories, often asking questions as Uncle Remus beguiles him with tale after tale of a dancing, singing, smoking, tobacco-chewing trickster rabbit, a thinly veiled portrait of the black freedmen, who were indeed still dancing ambivalently to the tunes of white society.

Outsiders: The Southern Mountain Stories 
Although plantation life and black interpreters remained standard in southern local color, another important venue was the Appalachian mountain range of Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, and Kentucky--a locale first explored in the Sut Lovingood yarns of eastern Tennessee, composed primarily in the 1850s and 1860s by George Washington Harris, who was regarded as “the most original and gifted of the antebellum humorists” (Rubin 155).  Lippincott’s Magazine, established in 1868, was especially hospitable to southern writers, and in the early 1870’s, it printed two works by one Mary Noailles Murfree.  But it was in the Atlantic Monthly that Murfree found her real niche, with the publication of “The Dancin’ Party at Harrison’s Cove” under her pen name, “Charles Egbert Craddock.”  This story of a quaint settlement of hill people nestled in “the wild spur of the Alleghenies” opened a literary passage for virtual wagon-loads of popular Appalachian mountain stories by a host of authors, including Bonner, Harris, Page, and Woolson.  The mountain settings dramatized the independent, egalitarian spirit of its white inhabitants, who had occupied their land for generations.  Here, declared Murfree in her collection In the Tennessee Mountains, was “pride, so intense that it recognizes no superior, so inordinate that one is tempted to cry out, Here are the true republicans!” (186).
    In contrast to the Civil War, where the struggle was over such far-reaching issues as legal servitude and political secession, the fictional rivalries in the hills stemmed from long-standing family discord or jealous courtships.  Moreover, the disputes were settled by an acceptable man-play of untutored farmers and moonshiners, dedicated to maintaining codes of loyalty to one another and, more importantly, to the nation.  For example, expressing his stalwart belief in the United States and the idiocy of a war to abolish slavery, one of Harris’s hillbillies simply dismisses the issue altogether:  “I hain’t got none [slaves], and I hain’t a-wantin’ none”; “Them dad-blasted Restercrats a-secedin’ out’n the Nunited States. . . . The Nunited States is big enough for me" (49-50).  The mountaineers’ isolation and their eccentric ways also provided broad opportunities for humor; however, the sophisticated visitors, who so often framed these stories, were also assured of a traditional folk wisdom that valued individuality over any foolish efforts at social reform or the intrusions of progress.  With the exception of their illegal whiskey distilleries, the mountain men were vigorously anti-commercial, and, though often portrayed as shiftless, dense, and backward, they were also tenacious and spirited.  “Men’s men,” they dominate rude households made livable by their compliant wives.  
    This formidably conservative male power, however, was frequently undercut by the “mountain pink” woman (to borrow Bonner’s term for the sensuous type she introduced in her story "Jack and the Mountain Pink," [1883]).  Curiosity, willfulness, and sensual desire propelled these mountain women, almost unconsciously, into more fluid cultural spaces than the fixed heritage they are obliged to protect.  Seeking romance with sophisticated outlanders, they often pay for their transgressive ventures into (typically) unrequited love with injury or death (as in Harris’ “Trouble on Lost Mountain,” 1886).  The mountain stories thus significantly modified the standard North-South marriage of much southern local color: the mountains typically kept the girl.  
    In this “unraced” mountain configuration of the South, racial heritage was pointedly invisible.  The isolated (and implicitly white) mountain man, not the (implicitly northern) visitor, represented the steadfast independence of the republic.  Making just this point in an 1896 story, Kentucky writer John Fox, Jr., established an unqualified English, egalitarian lineage for his mountaineer: “this last, silent figure, traced through Virginia, was closely linked by blood and speech with the common people of England . . . .  strikingly unchanged . . . [he is] the most distinctively national remnant in the American soil” and symbolizes “the development of the continent" (Skaggs 144).  In the mountains, southern local color fiction was particularly free to affirm its national allegiances, even as it confirmed the Anglo-Saxon complexion of that loyalty.
    Although national reconciliation remained a prominent thematic feature in southern local color, some early writers did acknowledge the formidable obstacles to any easy reunion.  The often disregarded stories of Woolson, who began publishing southern material in Harper’s as early as 1875, were remarkable instances of that recognition.  A northerner (born in New Hampshire and raised in Ohio), Woolson became familiar with Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, and Florida through periods of residency and travel--a fact that underscores the increasing popularity of the South as a vacation destination as well as the readiness with which many northerners took up southern material.  Woolson’s varied and realistic portraits reflected much of the anger, fluidity, and racial complexities of the Reconstruction South.  Stories like ”King David” and “Rodman the Keeper,” for example, presented ruined, often bitter and unreconstructed white southerners and defiant, sometimes patriotic and sometimes recalcitrant blacks.  In “Felipa” (1876), however, Woolson moved beyond those entrenched hostilities and stereotypes of the plantation South to Florida, the “wild . . . old-new land, with its deserted plantations, its skies of Paradise,” and painted a liminal landscape of borderlands and border beings.  Like other Woolson characters, “Felipa’s” sensitive northerner Catherine is frustrated by her efforts to bring enlightenment and culture to a beleaguered region.  But in deftly chronicling such northern intrusions, Woolson gave voice to just those forces that would reshape and silence a culturally rich, diverse, and often resistant South.

The Myth of the Old South in Local Color 
However, it was not Woolson’s stories of a diverse South or even Murfree’s mountain chronicles that created the lasting blueprint for what Paul H. Buck has called this “Dixie of the storybooks . . . the Arcady of American tradition” (244).  That ambiguous honor was assumed by the plantation fiction of Virginian Thomas Nelson Page.  The most popular southern writer of the 1880s and 1890s, Page offered an ideological solution for many of the troubling issues of the era: the erosion of white primacy, failed agrarianism, women’s insistence on equality, and racial unrest.  After publishing “Marse Chan” in the prestigious Century in 1884, Page became an immediate sensation.  New England author Sarah Orne Jewett, Stowe’s brother and distinguished orator Henry Ward Beecher, and once-ardent abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson were all moved by the story (Hubbell 801).  Harris declared it better than “everything else that has appeared since the War--or before the War, for that matter."  Page’s 1887 collection In Ole Virginia or Marse Chan and Other Stories established him as the high priest of Southern apologists.  In her 1932 autobiography, Grace King, whose popular Balcony Stories appeared in 1893, recalls Page’s significance for southern writers:  “It is hard to explain in simple terms what Thomas Nelson Page meant to us in the South at that time . . . .  his stories, short and simple . . . showed us with ineffable grace that although we were sore bereft, politically, we had now a chance in literature at last" (ix).  King spoke for many white southerners who saw in southern local color a welcome opportunity to express to a predominantly northern readership their frustration with the radical changes that the demise of slavery had imposed on southern society.
    Page created an idealized antebellum world in which that society could be positively experienced and publicly exonerated. In it, cheerfully loyal slaves were part of an extended family in which aristocratic cavaliers lived by a code of honor.  In contrast to the disturbing turmoil of the 1880s and 1890s, his Old South rested upon a fixed social system that subordinated women and non-whites.  Both “Marse Chan” and “Unc’ Edinburg’s Drowndin'" illustrate Page’s successful formula.  A visiting white narrator encounters a black man, who was once the beloved slave of a noble, young, aristocrat.  The freedman now defines his life through that of his master; “jes’ like he shadow,” says Edinburg of his master George.  Old South memories of fox-hunting, dueling, dancing, loving, and happy “darkies" fill the stories.  Sam declares in “Marse Chan,” “Dem wuz good ole times, master--de bes’ Sam ever see!  . . . . Niggers didn’ had nothin’t all to do--jus’ hed to ‘ten’ to de feedin’ an’ cleanin’ de hosses, an’ doin’ what de marster tell ‘em to do."  The former young masters are invariably charming, handsome, kind, college-educated, and courageous.  They defend their slaves, intervening in cruel sales and rescuing servants from fires and floods.  These noble southerners fight bravely for the Confederacy, even though some, like Channing, argue against secession.  They always love a spirited, wondrously attractive lady, at first unattainable because of family conflicts, but who eventually is won.  The final union of master and mistress is then echoed in the marriage or relationships of their respective black servants.
    Despite such happy resolutions, however, Page ultimately cannot erase the cruelties of slavery and the rigid hierarchies of plantation life that seep into his fictional society.  Slaves are property to be bought and sold.  Edinburg is viciously whipped, and Channing’s father, however generous, still patronizes and lashes his retainers.  Sam and Edinburg remain as subordinate in the free present as in the idealized past.  The stories' young white mistresses Anne and Charlotte are bound by family honor and are fully dependent upon male protection.  Even the privileged white masters are inextricably obligated to their dependent women and slaves.      
    In this transparent “fantasy of white, male power” as Caroline Gebhard terms it, the planter master is the embodiment of gentility, generosity, and white dominion (“Reconstructing” 136).  That such a past was a fictional creation was unimportant to the reading public.  They were contentedly breathing the stuff of romance or as Ellen Glasgow, a later Virginia author, phrased it in 1943, “the fragrance of dried-rose leaves” (140).  Certainly, that fragrance was a refreshing change from the stench of modern industrialism.  Even more importantly, the patriarchal power implicit in this noblesse oblige fantasy fit well with a growing national imperialism, unqualified racism, and the concomitant resurgence of male virility.  As Silber has insisted, this “new and invigorated image of southern white manhood” was well suited to the patriotic and imperialist impulses defining the decade of the War of 1898 (12).
    Page influenced a number of writers, among them Kentucky author James Lane Allen, who published his first story “Two Gentlemen of the Old School” in 1888.  Retitled, “Two Gentlemen of Kentucky,” the story appeared in his collection Flute and Violin and Other Kentucky Tales and Romances (1891).  By excising Page’s conventional love interest and introducing an omniscient author, Allen brought into focus the loving interrelationship between male master and former slave.  Though preserving racial and class distinctions, the two become distorted mirror images of one another, enduring a disillusioning series of financial, religious, and social disappointments, and eventually lying buried, one beside the other.  As Gehbard observes, Allen’s sentimental reminiscences extended the male interdependence of master and body-servant to its implicit homoerotic conclusion (“Reconstructing” 133).

The Golden Age of Local Color
Writers of the 1890s found a South already mostly imagined.  Distracted by the predations of the robber barons and the labor struggles of the Gilded Age, the nation had largely abandoned the “Negro problem” to southern whites, who had worked rapidly to reinstate racism, segregation, and economic oppression in the place of chattel slavery.  Even so, the popularity of southern local color did not wane, and many of the genre’s finest writers produced some of their best work in this decade.  The quality of their stories testifies to both to the flexibility of local color in adapting to changing audiences, but also to its continuing usefulness as a tool in confirming the redefinitions of American identity.
    One of the richest veins of local color, opened by Cable in the 1870s, continued to be mined with great effect by several talented Louisiana writers.  Lafcadio Hearn, a close friend of Cable, virtually perfected the local color sketch in the newspapers of Cincinnati and New Orleans in the 1880s.  His brief anecdotes and reflections, in carefully crafted, impressionistic prose, provided rich evocations of the exotic places and characters of the urban South.  Though he published several collections of these sketches and reviews, his best-known work was Chita, A Memory of Last Island, which Arlin Turner described in 1969 as “a small masterpiece . . . .  a small jewel, rapturously conceived and meticulously wrought, which has been duplicated not at all and surpassed rarely in the special category to which it belongs” (ix, xxiv).  Hearn’s subtle uses of language reflected both the seriousness with which he and others treated local color materials as well as the modernist shifts that the short story had begun to anticipate.
    Another fine stylist and New Orleans native, Grace King sympathized with Page’s ideological reclamation of the Old South and was quite explicit in her efforts to counter what she viewed as Cable’s distorted and unfair portrait of white Creole culture.  Beginning with “Monsieur Motte” (1888), her stories were championed by Century’s influential editor Richard Watson Gilder.  Later a close friend of the Clemenses, King employed a nuanced prose to defend southern racial hierarchies, as in “A Little Convent Girl," (1893) where the discovery of a racial “taint” leads the story’s namesake to suicide.  However, King’s searching fidelity to psychological realism, together with her commitment to the subversive value of feminine perspectives (charmingly suggested in  “Balcony Stories," her 1893 collection's preface), often unsettles the conservative surfaces of her fiction and gives it modernist undercurrents of uncertainty.  At the same time, King’s personal sense of the injustice of the war’s aftermath, a perspective which many white southerners shared and which southern fiction helped to reinforce among northerners, is poignantly expressed in sketches like “La Grande Demoiselle" (1893).
    A contemporary of both Hearn and King, Ruth McEnery Stuart shared King’s sensitivity to the plight of women after the war and, like her, used local color to explore explicitly female perspectives, particularly in her Arkansas tales.  Like Hearn, however, Stuart was also concerned with the accuracies of dialect and realistic description.  Her extremely popular black dialect fiction, which first appeared in Harper’s (1887), recapitulated a plantation mythology similar to Page’s, though Stuart accented the deliberate humor of the Southwest traditions and the peculiarities of the southern delta.  Stuart’s urban fiction also introduces other ethnicities, including vivid (if occasionally unflattering) portraits of the New Orleans’ Italian community.  Like Harris, Stuart provided northerners with a sense that white southerners “knew” and indeed could interpret African American culture, certainly better than they and even better than blacks themselves.
    When she moved to New Orleans from Texas as young wife in 1879, Mollie Moore Davis was already a widely published and well-known poet.  Her turn to local color fiction in the early 1880s attests to its enormous popularity and the seductive financial opportunities it offered.  Davis wrote several novels and novellas as well as short stories.  “A Bamboula” is a provocative rendering of much that made the genre popular.  Set on a Louisiana plantation, the tale incorporates a range of exotic African American customs and beliefs, recalling William Gilmore Simms’ early defense of southern “legends” as an important element of local material.  Davis both echoes and revises Page and Allen, structuring her tale around the sexual and familial rivalries between black and white women, who are presumably sisters.  Together with its internal racial stratifications, these elements suggest the genre’s increasingly complicated portraits of black-white relations, a far cry from the unquestioning loyalty of Bonner’s mammy.  
    The local color writer with perhaps the most enduring reputation is, like the much-admired Cable, associated with Louisiana.  Best known for her brilliant novel of female selfhood, The Awakening (1899), Kate Chopin’s contemporary reputation was based on her many stories and sketches depicting the lives of Louisiana’s rural Acadians, French-speaking emigrés who settled the region in the 1770s.  Although Chopin’s deft rendering of women’s lives gave her local-color tales depth and continuing relevance, she was also a subtle recorder of folkways and was particularly skillful at using fragments of French and minimal phonetic changes to convey her characters’ lilting speech.  Though Chopin rarely employed antebellum settings, in both “Désirée’s Baby” (1894) and “La Belle Zoraïde,"(1894) she explores with surprising sensitivity the plight of mixed-race women in a racist culture.  Elsewhere, Chopin demonstrated the potential of local color for examining complex contemporary issues, particularly the changes in women’s lives.  With an adroit blend of seriousness and humor, she explored wife abuse in “In Sabine” (1894) and female sensuality in her remarkable story “The Storm,” which remained unpublished in her lifetime.
    Prolific and popular, Sarah Barnwell Elliott was a social activist and Tennessee resident; like Chopin, Davis, King, and Dunbar-Nelson, she scrutinized the difficult alternatives faced by the mixed-race woman in her spirited tale of passing, “The Heart of It” (unpublished before her death in 1928).  Increasingly common in southern local color in the eighties and nineties, the “tragic mulatta,”(whose “white blood” permitted a somewhat greater identification and sympathy than did black heroines among white readers) epitomized the intricacy of contemporary perceptions of race, even as the character’s narrow range of options reflected the nation’s emergent, uneasy consensus about black inferiority.

Black Writers, White Readers: Diversity and Complicity  
The complexity with which race is figured in southern local color appears most dramatically in the work of several important black writers who successfully asserted their own perspective within the genre’s ambiguous parameters.  Charles W. Chesnutt was the first to break the local color “line” that restricted the genre to white authors.  However, when his story “The Goophered Grapevine” appeared in the Atlantic (1888), neither his editors nor his readers knew, since Chesnutt “wished his work to be considered on its own merit.”  Eventually, on September 8, 1891, he wrote Houghton, Mifflin Company, describing himself as “an American of acknowledged African descent.”  However, his publishers withheld this information until the appearance of his first short story collection, The Conjure Woman (1899) partly out of concern for Chesnutt’s privacy, but also for the weightier possibility that his work might be viewed less favorably (Render 10).  In fact, a number of autobiographies and novels by blacks had appeared after the war with some success, including Frances E. W. Harper’s Sketches of Southern Life (1872) and Iola Leroy or Shadows Uplifted (1892), her rendering of the tragic mulatta.  But Chesnutt’s stories drew on the established popularity of plantation literature, particularly on Harris’ Uncle Remus.  Chesnutt subtly transformed Harris’ faithful, if elusive, ex-slave into the consummate freedman, Uncle Julius.  A skillful trickster, Julius employs the black power of “conjuring” (or “goophering”) in his tales to secure some form of personal or economic advantage.  To assure the sympathies of the northern reader, Julius’ tales are typically framed by the non-dialect narration of a white Ohioan.  Such structures permitted Chesnutt to expose with extraordinary power the profound suffering of slavery in a story like “Dave’s Neckliss,” in which the undeserved punishments for alleged poaching of a ham result in madness and death.  Chesnutt also adapted conservative tropes to subversive purposes.  In “The Passing of Grandison,”(1899) for example, the notion of unquestioned black fidelity to white interests enables slaves to escape to freedom in plain sight of their unsuspecting masters’ (and readers’) eyes--indeed with their masters’ help.  In later stories, especially those published in The Crisis (1912), a magazine with a primarily black audience, Chesnutt moved away from the plantation frames to explore the plight of the black professional classes in their struggle to rise above the continuing indignities of racism.
    Another writer who used southern local color to criticize its racist images was Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Usually remembered not for his fiction but for his dialect poetry (for which Booker T. Washington lauded him as “the poet laureate of the Negro race”), Dunbar wrote four novels and four collections of short stories.  Like Chesnutt, Dunbar worked to revise the prevailing imagery of African Americans as hopelessly unsophisticated, childish, wily, and shiftless.  Both men understood how significantly such portrayals, in fiction as well as in the press, contributed to the intensifying violence against black men, as well as to the economic and social marginalization of all African Americans.  Dunbar’s stories, like Chesnutt’s, disclose the masking in which blacks must engage to maintain their dignity and autonomy.  “Nelse Hatton’s Revenge”(1898) examines the bonds between master and slave without the legal constraints of the “peculiar institution.”  The dignity and careful calculations of the black characters notably revised the fawning loyalty that Page and Allen had made standard in the genre.  “The Lynching of Jube Benson”(1904), on the other hand, provides a much sharper indictment of contemporary race relations and the racist fears undergirding lynching.  Dunbar’s penetrating analysis of white guilt and regret for betrayal of the interracial family marked a momentous new note in southern local color.
    Like her first husband Paul Laurence Dunbar, New Orleans native Alice Dunbar-Nelson began her career as a poet, and it was her poetry on which her contemporary literary reputation was based.  The Goodness of St.Rocque (1899), the first collection of short stories by a black woman, is characterized by a poet’s impressionistic use of language; its stories also reflect the range and fluidity that southern local color had acquired by the turn of the century.  The dialect sketch, first ventured by Twain two decades before, has become in “The Praline Woman"(1899) a subtle evocation of character and relationships in a compact monologue.  The “tragic mulatta” trope is adapted in “Sister Josepha”(1899) to a delicate appraisal of female selfhood and sexuality, while “Tony’s Wife” (1899) probes female victimhood through Italian and German ethnicities.  Often racially coded, Dunbar-Nelson’s stories of Creole life rarely confront these potent issues directly, though her remarkable collection depicts domestic violence, working-class conflict, male duplicity, female economic oppression, and racial strife--all pressing issues of the era.  But if, as Elizabeth Ammons argues, these stories are packaged to “pass” as local color and thus to be freed from “racial prescriptions” (60), they nonetheless consistently engage race (no less than gender and class) in their own margins: the uncertain identity and sexual dangers for a young woman on the perimeters of whiteness, or the vulnerability of immigrant or “brown” women outside the slim legal protections of marriage or economic security
    That Dunbar-Nelson’s reticence, particularly about race, was amply justified is manifest in the fate of her unpublished story, “The Stones of the Village,” which editors rejected in 1900 as unsuitable for audiences no longer interested in “race stories.”  Certainly, to the story’s central character, the costs of passing, even to achieve social standing (or literary fame), are extremely high, as Dunbar-Nelson herself soon recognized.  After the rejection of “Stones,” she turned increasingly to activism and journalism as more effective ways to resist the hardening racism of the early twentieth century.  Partly for that reason, Dunbar-Nelson’s contributions to local color, like those of Chesnutt and Dunbar, have been largely overlooked.  But as Violet Harrington Bryan astutely observes, taking them into account forces a profound reconsideration of the work of their white contemporaries (77), as well as a serious reevaluation of the meaning of "color" in local color literature.
    As the tradition and the century drew to a close, Dunbar-Nelson’s guarded local-color fiction seemed to reflect all too accurately a world in which intimacy was absent, and human contact was undermined by the deceptions that it required.  “Who am I?  What am I?” cries her “tropical beauty” Camille, whose only refuge from such uncertainties is the convent’s “white veil”.  Almost three decades earlier in “Felipa,” Woolson’s young androgynous heroine attempts suicide by eating the poisonous sketching crayons of the visiting teacher-artist she so hopelessly loves.  Like Camille’s white habit and Felipa’s assimilative desire, southern local color was ultimately a literature of colonization; its subjects were exotic hybrids that had to be codified and “civilized” in order to be manageable, if not altogether visible.  The distinct regional differences that defined and partly stabilized its surfaces were also traversed by such deeply unstable notions as race, gender and class.  These implicit and explicit tensions permeate even the most traditional narratives, like those by Page and Harris, which sanction a return to an idealized hierarchy.  Indeed, no less than Dunbar-Nelson’s indeterminate characters, Page’s Unc’ Edinburg and Harris’ Uncle Remus are firmly framed by a patriarchal white world.  In the last decades of the century, that world was severely threatened by the dark fluidity nibbling at the comforting boundaries of the homogeneous nation the Civil War had been intended to restore.  Southern local color fiction offered a way to circumscribe some of that threat, at least until the nation had a chance to reassess itself and, partly through the imaginative work of that fiction, to reassert a more familiar version of its continuing cultural identity.
    As Dunbar-Nelson’s Tante Marie in "The Praline Woman" (1899) offers her wares with sweet words appropriate to each buyer, she fears a break in the Mississippi river levee, not unlike the dangerous breaking with established lives and customs that so many of the late stories of southern local color imply.  The stark historical realities that infused the genre might be as sugar-coated as Tante Marie’s words, but, as in Dunbar-Nelson's "Goodness of St. Rocque" (1899), the “native black waters,” representing the fluid perspectives that moved through southern local color, were held at bay at the end of the century only by white prescriptions of dominance, conquest, and imperialism.

Section Four: Rereading Local Color: Twentieth-Century Perspectives

Applied to a wide range of writers, geographical regions, and literary impulses--including traditions of romance, sentiment, and humor--local color remains an elusive and contested genre.  Though relegated by twentieth-century literary history to minor status, it has in recent years attracted new critical interest. Initially, that interest came from feminist critics, who observed parallels between the prominent place women and their concerns occupied in local color and its later devaluation; more recently, those issues have been further linked to functions of regionalism and nationalism.  As literary theorists like DeLeuze and Guatari suggest, however, a “minor literature,” such as local color, is intrinsically politicized, embodying issues of power and group struggle that are critical to a given culture or period. That insight underlies much of the contention surrounding local color in literary history, even as it helps to illuminate the importance of southern local color in particular.

The Cultural Work of Local Color 
Perhaps no issue was more critical to the late nineteenth century than the terms in which the re-united states would define themselves as a nation.  Several recent scholars have drawn important attention to the central role that local color played in representing if not reconciling the era’s conflicting anxieties about national identity. As Kate McCullough observes, the “struggle to create a unified national identity” was particularly urgent in these decades, given the nation’s imperialist ambitions for expanding its global markets and territories and the “racial, regional, ethnic, and sexual divisions” produced in the wake of the Civil War. Literature, and local color fiction in particular, became a “crucially important site for the production of this national fantasy” (2-3).
    In the first place, the sheer variety of American culture--its different regions, ethnicities, accents--could be acknowledged and portrayed in local color fiction.  The intentional realism of that portraiture (the predominance of dialect, the careful description of geography and social customs, the focus on “common folk”) made explicitly local characters and cultures available to and part of a broader “nation,” one confronting willy nilly its own internally and externally expanding borders. Local color helped to mediate the distances between those different “others” (as defined by region or gender or race) and a wider national audience, who implicitly shared an “American” identity. One important aspect of that shared identity, as Amy Kaplan points out, was precisely the distance of that predominantly urban audience from its own recently rural roots, which were often nostalgically idealized in local color fiction (251). The individuality, independence, and traditional wisdom of the rural “folk” that seemed so lost to the citizens of a modern industrialized nation could thus be preserved and affirmed without sacrificing the tacit superiority of its new urbanity and progressive “American” goals.
    But while local color acknowledged the values of the past and, as Richard Brodhead argues, made marginality itself into a literary asset (117), it also used those “differences” as a way of containing that very diversity. The “explosive social conflicts of class, race, and gender” that were so distressingly present in urban life were, as Kaplan explains, conveniently “effaced” by rendering them in terms of region (251). The realism of the genre at once made these disturbing others visible, even as their real power to disturb was diffused by relegating them to an idealized folk past or places made remote by exaggerated difference: other people’s funny ways of talking, the unusual places they lived, their old-fashioned ways.  In these “other,” exotic places of the country, the diversity of North American life could thus be both reported and kept at bay: the “old ways” could be maintained at the margins while the new realities of Darwinism and laissez-faire capitalism continued to establish themselves at the urban, industrialized, self-defined “centers” of the Northeast (Ewell 162).
    One way that southern local color fiction proved especially useful in defining a national identity was in fostering the re-imagination of a region whose differences had almost undone the Union.  Through its fictional prisms, the prewar South and its contemporary heirs—-an entire territory of cultural and social “rebels”--could be conveniently “reconstructed” from dangerous enemies of the republic to a more acceptable role as custodians of traditional hierarchy.  In the nation’s imagination, then, the South was nostalgically recreated as the locus of values whose loss seemed intolerable to a society gripped by change. Despite dissenting portraits by Chesnutt, Dunbar, Dunbar-Nelson and others, the image of the South as a poignantly Lost Cause became definitive.  The national appeal of this particular icon was bitterly observed in 1888 by Albion Tourgée, whose own novels had resisted such idealization.  “Our literature,” he wrote, “has become not only Southern in type, but distinctly Confederate in sympathy” (8).  Nearly a half century later, W. J. Cash paid tribute to the enduring fantasy of the South as the “Happy-Happy Land. . . perpetually suspended in the great haze of memory . . .poised, somewhere between earth and sky, colossal, shining, and incomparably lovely--a Cloud-Cuckoo land” (130, 127).
    The hierarchies whose maintenance most required this nostalgic image of the South were those of race and gender. Representing African-Americans and white women in places where their roles were clearly defined helped to assuage the vague threat insinuated by emancipation and suffrage. African-American men, for example, often the target of lynchings and figures of great fear, were sanctioned in local color by their quaint (and deliberately amusing) distance from the “reality” of economic and political and by their fixed place at the bottom of the social ladder. Marked by dialect and isolated in rural backwaters, black Americans were seen to occupy a position that was clearly separate from and only presumptively equal to white Americans or even to the new immigrants flooding northern cities. This fictional containment was convincingly reiterated in the political sphere by the “separate but equal” 1896 findings of the Supreme Court, which legalized the erosion of rights supposedly won by the Civil War and hardened racial boundaries by legitimizing Jim Crow. By externalizing “color,” local color fiction, like the color line that it helped to establish, created a separate place, a “different” locality, in which to preserve and celebrate values and ways of being that were no longer tenable in a society whose very premises were changing.
    The subordination of women, however, was less successfully sustained by local color. For white women, at least, the privileges of race and class gave them better control of the spaces of redefinition that the genre offered. By the 1890s, white women authors dominated local color, just as they had dominated domestic romance earlier in the century. Attracted, like other marginalized groups, by the increased access local color provided to publishing, women also found in the genre a valorization of the places to which they had largely been confined, the home and local community. Women writers could take up issues already familiar in domestic romance: family relationships, the loss of security in traditional roles, the limits of female agency, and now the absence of dependable men in the wake of a costly war. Deliberately distant from the urban “centers” where increased educational and economic opportunities were making dramatic changes in women’s lives, local color offered an “ideal” place to explore unsettled contemporary debates about female status. Women writers also found in the genre both a satisfying professional status and a purposeful aesthetic. Writers like Chopin, King, Bonner, Elliot, Woolson and Dunbar-Nelson consciously adapted the narrative strategies of local color to address sophisticated problems of morality, emotion, aesthetics, and sexuality. Committed to their craft as writers, they used the genre not only for some of their most serious fiction, but also to attract a national audience for their work.
    But while local color created rich regional landscapes and congenial fictional places for both women writers and other marginal groups, its limitations eventually confined them there. Shaped by discourses of race, gender and region, local color, especially southern local color, was ultimately compromised by the purposes of nationalism and hierarchy that those discourses served. The South, which local color had helped to transform into a racialized and gendered space in which the nation (understood as the industrialized Northeast) might safely examine the vexing contradictions of its pluralist identity, now became the scapegoat of those hierarchies. As the United States more confidently grasped its own imperialist and masculinist authority, the challenges represented by a feminized South (as well as by “socially marginal” writers like white women or African Americans) had to be reinscribed as minor features of American identity. As McCullough explains, the literary South became the exotic and eroticized “other” of America “(read the North)”, even as southern letters was being “written out of ‘real men’s’ literature, aligned with the losers and the women” (190).  Indeed as Gebhard suggests, not only their contributions to the strategies and techniques of realism, but “a whole century of writing by women” had to be devalued in the face of this new version of the genuinely “American” (“Spinster” 80). Local color soon occupied its own ironically insulated place in literary history--to use Judith Fetterley’s chilling image, as “the literary equivalent of apartheid or purdah” (Provisions 23).

The Shape of the Genre: Romance, Realism, and Revisionism 
One of the most telling aspects of the critical debate about local color has been precisely its relationship to realism and the extent to which local color constitutes a contribution to that dominant mode or a deviation from it. A parallel issue is the relationship of local color to regionalism. In both instances, what is at stake is the status of local color: whether it has contributed significantly to the mainstream of U. S. literary history or merely represents an interesting backwater.
    Local color has always had strong affinities with nineteenth-century realism. Even when its overall effects were maudlin or artificial--usually the consequence of sentimental plots or ineptitude--the technical intentions of local color were directed toward truthful, and even anthropologically accurate, portraits of human experience. Local color was, in fact, closely related to nineteenth-century materialist philosophies, such as Darwinism, and notions of truth associated more with the physical, “scientific” surfaces of reality than its psychological depths.  By the end of the century, however, such versions of realism increasingly began to seem superficial, particularly in the view of many early modernists, whose conceptions of “reality” gave greater weight to the psychological and the symbolic.
    Certainly, for many early and influential critics like Vernon Parrington, realism remained the most pronounced feature of local color. Howells, an ardent nineteenth-century champion of realism and an influential author and editor, also praised the particularities of local color as evidence of its quality and its American-ness.  Noting the “distinguished performance” of Harris, he described Cable as having “written one of the few American fictions which may be called great” (57).  For Howells, the uniqueness and particularity of America’s diverse places confirmed an individuality that only realism could represent.  The contested site for serious fiction was for critics like Howells not between local color and realism, but between a realism grounded in detail (like local color) and fiction mired in artifice and mechanical construction, like contemporary historical romances, which Howells considered useless “tarradiddles” (26).
    By the 1890s, however, the term “local color” was falling out of vogue among “serious” authors. In an 1894 review of Hamlin Garland’s Crumbling Idols, Chopin, herself an accomplished local-color writer who greatly admired both Grace King and Ruth Stuart as well as New Englanders Sarah Jewett and Mary Wilkins Freeman, denounced the “provincialism” and “sentimentality” of “local colorists” such as Indiana poet James Whitcomb Riley (691).  Responding to Garland’s rejection of European traditions as corrupt and his praise for “veritism” (that is, strains of local color using “authentic” Western and Midwestern settings), Chopin (herself deeply influenced by Maupassant) called for immutable “human existence” as the theme most worthy of an author (691).  A truly American literature had to deploy its uniquely colorful places in the service of themes that transcended merely local concerns; and a serious American writer (as Chopin well understood) could not be identified as a “mere local colorist.”
    But if literary history thus began to represent the abandonment of local color in favor of more realistic or modernist modes, the regional impulse of local color persisted. For example, not long after Garland declared the West a promising subject, Jack London and Frank Norris were both reshaping the regional details and realist strategies of local color fiction into their deterministic dramas of brute instinct. For these authors, Howell’s carefully photographed, very real “grasshopper” and his “smiling aspects of life” became the human animal caught in a chain of predetermined circumstances (36, 74). But naturalism’s darker assessment of the human condition relied on specific detail and careful description to achieve its effects no less than local color. Subject matter and moral stance rather than technique distinguished these presumably discrete genres of the 1890s. Not surprisingly, Norris, who believed that culture is a mere disguise for animal instincts, dismissed local color as “the drama of broken teacups” (Campbell 4). However, his repudiation of such “feminine” subjects only fortifies the claim by Campbell and others that naturalism itself arose, in part, as “a gender-based counter tradition not only to realism but to female-dominated local color writing” (5).
    The emergence of modernism was itself a factor in the devaluation of local color. The technical requirements of the sketch and short story had encouraged the development of many of the impressionistic methods associated with modernist fiction. Chopin, King, Hearn, Dunbar-Nelson and other local colorists anticipated modernism’s preferences for brevity and fluidity and its emphasis on the alienated individual, shaped by and standing outside of an outworn culture. But like naturalism, American modernism was underwritten, as Gebhard argues, by the same nationalist, masculinist ideologies that required the devaluation of local color and the feminization of the South (“Spinster” 80). Rather than the diversity celebrated by local color, modernism demanded a more unified, more dominant consciousness. Only such a seemingly “universal” perspective would permit any control--artistic or social--of the dangerously fragmenting world that was whirling into view in the early decades of the century. Much of its cultural work accomplished--primarily the containment of a threatening pluralism--local color thus seemed particularly unsuited to literary modernism and its darker modes of realism. With the general masculinization of American letters, the consequences for local color were most sharply manifest in the development of the southern literary canon.

Southern Revisionism: The Fugitive-Agrarians and the Southern Canon
Between 1895 and 1915, as American literature began to establish its canons, a number of anthologies of southern literature were produced that reflected very different principles of selection. Susan Irons explains that, building on the work of earlier mid-century editors, the Preservationists proposed an inclusive southern heritage, including many women and popular writers of local color.  The Revisionists, many of whom were associated with Vanderbilt University, had another agenda, one based on the New South principles of a progressive “readiness” for Northern interests.  Applying what they termed critical standards, they pursued a more exclusive lineage, one whose white male biases aligned it with the powerful literary culture of the North.
     That the latter view prevailed had a great deal to do with the emergence at Vanderbilt after World War I of the century’s most influential group of writers and critics, known as the Fugitive-Agrarians. Ambitious young white intellectuals, they were eager to assert the masculine seriousness of their own work in a region marked as feminine. Rejecting the writing of the previous generation for its “sentimentality,” “romantic diction,” and “local color,” the Fugitive-Agrarians took great pains to distance themselves from it, either by leaping over it to claim the masculinity of the Southwest humorists as their true forbears, or by marking the writing as unacceptably female:  “the Charming Lady” whose time had clearly passed and with whom these new “men of letters” could have “no productive intercourse” [!]  (Donaldson 40).  Preferring their self-proclaimed more objective, more homogeneous view of region, they effectively defined southern local color--indeed all local color--as an aberration in literary history, a literature of insignificant particularities and perspectives, superseded by a modernist version of realism that was more universal and thus more true. Their estimation of the value and place of southern local color in American literary history soon became the standard judgment of the genre. Southern local color fiction was represented in twentieth-century anthologies and literary history as an anomaly. Jay B. Hubbell’s authoritative 1954 study, The South in American Literature, does not even index the term and pronounces the common judgment that “The literature of local color now seems...like an eddy rather than a part of the national literary tradition. [It] seems too local, too romantic, and too sentimental” (741).

Reclaiming the Genre and Reevaluating Southern Local Color
This erasure of local color as the dominant late nineteenth-century literary mode was challenged in the last decades of the twentieth century by feminist critics.  Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, scholars sought diligently to reassert and redefine the value of many “lost” women writers whose concerns for women’s identity and role seemed, on the one hand, the principal reason for their treatment as “minor” figures, and, on the other, a powerful motive for their reassessment.  Like domestic fiction, which had suffered a similar depreciation, the status of local color as a “minor literature” began to be reassessed as encoding fundamental issues of gender.  
    One of the first critics to value local color as a genre of particular importance to women was Ann Douglas Wood.  While she appreciated the fictional possibilities the genre offered women, Wood tended to concede the limitations of local color as art.  She found local colorists “impoverished,” at least in contrast with the buoyant optimism of their sentimental predecessors.  Later scholars found in local color more subversive potential.  Josephine Donovan, whose groundbreaking book on New England local color appeared in 1983, argues that the alternative knowledge offered by local color fiction represents a “feminist subtext” that in turn provides a defense of women’s “own life-world against the encroachments of modern normalizing disciplines that would relegate it to the status of deviant” (“Breaking” 231).  A radical rereading of local color was proposed by Fetterley and Pryse, whose anthology, American Women Regionalists (1992), has been highly influential.  Affirming the deliberate marginalization of women local colorists, they maintained that “regionalism” was a more appropriate term for representing the specific generic features that they sought to redeem.  For them, “local color” denotes an irreducible complicity with a colonizing, hierarchical perspective, reflected in patronizing narrators who hold “up regional characters to potential ridicule by eastern readers” (xii).  In contrast, regionalist women writers present “regional experience from within, so as to engage the reader’s sympathy and identification” (xii).  Emphasizing gendered perspectives and readerly empathy, Fetterley and Pryse highlighted the neglected critical contributions of women local colorists.  Of course, they, too, did not try to account for male practitioners, and they introduced terminology that subtly distorts the genre by excluding some of its most troubling (and often most southern) material.
     While Fetterley, Pryse, and other feminist critics have, in fact, found any effort to rehabilitate the term “futile” (Gehhard “Spinster” 88), others, like Donovan, maintain that “local color,” in defining a “minority literature,” has greater “insurrectionary” force than “the tamer, more acceptable regionalist” (“Breaking” 233).  Recent anthologists Elizabeth Ammons and Valerie Rohy likewise defend the term, both for its historical accuracy and because it does express the particularity and difference that were intrinsic to the genre.  Contending that local color enacts an early version of contemporary multiculturalism, they conclude that “local color remains a paradoxical genre, an example of both the marginal and the central, deviance and social discipline, diversity and the imperative to nationalistic unity” (xxviii).
    If the complexity of local color, including its crucial cultural work, has reaffirmed its importance in U.S. literary history, southern local color has been interestingly resistant to that reevaluation.  And yet southern local color was both its most popular contemporary version, as well as the site where gender and region were most fully deployed in the creation of a devalued minority literature.  In many ways that resistance belies the continuing importance of the issues that the South in general and southern local color in particular embody for American culture and literature; namely, how to reconcile its diversities (especially those of race and gender) with a unified national identity.  Regionalism offered one late nineteenth-century solution: by spatializing its internal differences, the nation created the illusion of resolving them.  As the victorious North (more truly, the Northeast) reinforced its image as the center of American culture; the heritage and concerns of New England defined the true national legacy and the source of a reaffirmed national identity.  The defeated South became the Other, as marginal to an imperial, masculinist U. S. identity as women were in a patriarchal culture, a point underscored by the South’s increasingly feminized image and its parallel economic decline.  Issues peculiar to southern fiction, such as racial conflict and rigid class hierarchies, could be confined there: the South, not the nation, had problems with race, and thus race was not a national problem.  Such a perceptual shift was possible in large measure because of the violent success of political segregation, which did in fact contain much racial dissension until the 1960s.  Black writers, like Chesnutt, Dunbar and Dunbar-Nelson, who had found in the popularity of local color a means of articulating dissenting views of race to a national readership, witnessed the segregation of their work in racial rather than regional categories.  Later black southerners, like Richard Wright or Zora Neale Hurston, were not even considered part of the southern regional renaissance of the twentieth century.  
    But if “race” writers were excluded from regionalism as the region itself was “raced,” the gendering of the South was also linked to the erasure of local color.  The Fugitive-Agrarians, who galvanized modern southern regionalism in the 1920s and 30s, successfully resisted their own marginalization as writers of the “feminine” South precisely by rejecting the literary movement that had defined their regional distinctiveness.  Recapitulating the nationalist moves of the late 1890s, they imposed on the South their own “unified” identity, one that conceded race as a problem (though primarily one of history), and traced its literary lineage as exclusively masculine (claiming the older southwestern humorists) and untainted by popular appeal (thus disavowing the local colorists).  The conflation of popularity with the peripheral, which was also a function of modernism’s own elitism, allowed the new regionalists to discount both the contributions and the challenges of local color to their modern, seamless South.  By identifying the genre with its most popular (and often most complicit) male writers, like Page and Allen and Harris, they could, for example, credibly demonstrate the cultural inconsequence of that work.  At the same time, writers like Cable, who had disputed white racial privilege, or Chopin, who had questioned traditional notions of female sexuality, could be dismissed as “marginal” to the “serious” traditions of southern writing; even those who wrote about the non-racialized areas of Appalachia or Florida could be tacitly ignored as “outside” its mainstream.
    Even more disturbingly, the discrediting of local color truncated access to a supportive tradition of writing for at least the next half-century of southern women writers.  To remain southern, women writers of the next generation had to disavow any identification with “feminine” values: to embrace them was to be considered “inferior”; to resist the traditional hierarchies they enforced was to be regarded as irrelevantly non-southern, truly “placeless.”  Talented white writers like Ellen Glasgow, Julia Peterkin, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Caroline Gordon, Katherine Anne Porter, Lillian Hellman and far too many others can thus be seen visibly struggling against a masculinized southern literary heritage that forced them either to deny or subvert their own identity as women writers.
    Reclaiming southern local color--as this anthology seeks to do--thus implies a redefinition of both the meaning and the shape of the southern literary tradition as well as that of American letters.  The eighteen-nineties was a pivotal moment in the history and literary culture of the United States.  The sheer variety of local color fiction, the heterogeneity of its many national versions as well as the literary access it offered to a whole range of marginal voices, suggests the openness of that discursive moment.  Local color fiction drew to itself a myriad of literary techniques and traditions: fostering the development of realism, adapting the tropes of domestic fiction, incorporating the discourses of slave narratives as well as those of plantation romance.  Southern local color proved particularly resonant in rendering the era’s pressing issues of race, gender, and nation, and ultimately creating the terms in which those issues could be at least superficially resolved.  Part of that resolution was the dismissal both of the genre and of the very openness that local color had permitted; the new regionalism was located solely in the South and was no longer “colored.”
    As the stories in this anthology suggest, nineteenth-century southern local color was a complex and fascinating genre, encompassing some of the era’s most entertaining and well-crafted fiction.  In its open spaces, writers of different genders, races, classes, and locales found opportunities to articulate a wide range of perspectives.  Men like Cable, Chesnutt, and Dunbar, who sought to change the status of black Americans, found the genre as malleable as women like Chopin, Dunbar-Nelson, and Elliott, who challenged traditional notions of gender.  Southern local color served both the implicit racism of Page and the unsettling complicity of the white Harris’ black Uncle Remus or Bonner’s Gran’mammy--what Nobel laureate Toni Morrison has called the “sycophancy of white dependency” (9).  But in stories by authors as varied as Cable, Twain, Chesnutt, Dunbar, Woolson, and Dunbar-Nelson, it also unmasked the severity of such interdependencies, including those of gender.  And while it remained predominantly the province of white authors, it nonetheless gave black writers unique access to publication. Southern local color thus exposes the conflicting elements of a major transformation of U. S. culture, elements that both fostered a unified national identity even as they unsettled and subverted it.  To study this fiction is to explore our national and regional identities in the making.

Bibliography

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To purchase this anthology, visit the University of Georgia Press website, or contact your local bookstore.



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