“The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past” ( Requiem for a Nun)
In William Faulkner’s masterpiece Absalom, Absalom!, Quentin Compson’s roommate at Harvard, Shreve McCaslin, asks Quentin to “Tell about the South. What’s it like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all… “. One might well ask the same question about William Faulkner—who is he? What was he like? And how did he come to write such strange and wonderful novels? Faulkner wrote in the years between 1926 and 1962 and yet is it his work that is most strongly identified with the South. William Faulkner is to American literature what Shakespeare is to English literature.
In the next few months, Swampland will initiate a series about the literature of the South. The context will be historical and cultural as well as thematic. We will attempt to trace the evolution of contemporary southern literature from its early roots. to the present day, endeavoring to show the influence of particular writers and certain literary styles on subsequent generations of authors. For reasons of my own, I will probably begin with the local colorist and the Southwest humorists, in particular Mary Noailles Murfree and George Washington Harris.
Have you ever wondered how such a voice and character as Huckleberry Finn appeared on the literary landscape? Did you know T. S. Eliot said his parents would not allow him to read the book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because it might lead him to smoke. The book was considered scandalous, not for its racial material, but because Huck was not a proper role model for young men. Boys might all start smoking cigarettes and running away from home. Imagine that!
While I am on the subject of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), I might add that Ernest Hemingway declared that "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn."
In conjunction with this series, I also will be reviewing books by contemporary southern women authors. I also hope to be able to place these works in an historical and cultural context.. As I explore such contemporary writers as Lee Smith and Cassandra King, I aim to connect the authors to their literary forebears such as Kate Chopin, Ellen Glasgow, Carson McCullers, Caroline Gordon, Flannery O’Conner, Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston, and Margaret Walker. I would appreciate feedback and suggestions from all of you.
By way of prologue to the series, don’t miss Bebe Shaw’s guest article Magical Mississippi Tour on Swampland. Bebe is an longtime friend and fellow Athenian. She teaches literature at Athens State University.
---Penne J. Laubenthal