Working at Romance [Elektronische Ressource] : poetics and ideology in novels of the antebellum American South 1824 - 1854 / vorgelegt von Zeno Ackermann
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Working at Romance [Elektronische Ressource] : poetics and ideology in novels of the antebellum American South 1824 - 1854 / vorgelegt von Zeno Ackermann


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Learn all about the services we offer
231 Pages


Working at “Romance”Poetics and Ideology in Novels of theAntebellum American South1824-1854Inaugural-Dissertation zur Erlangung der Doktorwürdeder Philosophischen Fakultät IV (Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaften)der Universität Regensburgvorgelegt vonZeno AckermannRegensburg, 2004Erstgutachter: Prof. Dr. phil. Udo HebelZweitgutachter: PD Dr. phil. habil. Paul NeubauerGreat genius and the people of these states must never bedemeaned to romances. As soon as histories are properly toldthere is no more need of romances.Walt Whitman, preface to 1st ed. of Leaves of Grass (1855)[T]here come to us from the deserts of the past certain voiceswhich "syllable men's names"––names that seem to sound like"Paulding," "Brown," "Kennedy"––and we catch nothing further.These are ghosts, and they wrote about ghosts, and the ghostshave vanished utterly. Another of these shadowy mediums . . . isW. Gilmore Simms, of whom the best and the worst thing to besaid is this––that he is nearly as good as Cooper, and deservesfame nearly as much.John William DeForest, "The Great American Novel" (1868)It was to this that the South owed her final defeat. It was for lackof a literature that she was left behind in the great race foroutside support, and that in the supreme moment of herexistence she found herself arraigned at the bar of the worldwithout an advocate and without a defence. . . . [S]he wasconquered by the pen rather than by the sword.



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Working at “Romance”
Poetics and Ideology in Novels of the
Antebellum American South
Inaugural-Dissertation zur Erlangung der Doktorwürde
der Philosophischen Fakultät IV (Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaften)
der Universität Regensburg
vorgelegt von
Zeno Ackermann
Regensburg, 2004Erstgutachter: Prof. Dr. phil. Udo Hebel
Zweitgutachter: PD Dr. phil. habil. Paul NeubauerGreat genius and the people of these states must never be
demeaned to romances. As soon as histories are properly told
there is no more need of romances.
Walt Whitman, preface to 1st ed. of Leaves of Grass (1855)
[T]here come to us from the deserts of the past certain voices
which "syllable men's names"––names that seem to sound like
"Paulding," "Brown," "Kennedy"––and we catch nothing further.
These are ghosts, and they wrote about ghosts, and the ghosts
have vanished utterly. Another of these shadowy mediums . . . is
W. Gilmore Simms, of whom the best and the worst thing to be
said is this––that he is nearly as good as Cooper, and deserves
fame nearly as much.
John William DeForest, "The Great American Novel" (1868)
It was to this that the South owed her final defeat. It was for lack
of a literature that she was left behind in the great race for
outside support, and that in the supreme moment of her
existence she found herself arraigned at the bar of the world
without an advocate and without a defence. . . . [S]he was
conquered by the pen rather than by the sword.
Thomas Nelson Page, The Old South (1892)Acknowledgements
This study was accepted as a doctoral thesis by the University of Regensburg,
Germany, in April 2001. For publication in the present form, the original text has been
shortened, slightly modified and updated.
I could not have written this study without the support of a number of individuals
and institutions. I am particularly grateful to the late Prof. Hans Bungert, who
generously supported my research project. To Prof. Udo Hebel, who immediately
agreed to supervise my dissertation after the sudden death of Prof. Bungert, I am
deeply indebted for his open-mindedness and understanding. My gratitude also goes to
Dr. Paul Neubauer for being so accessible and helpful throughout the process of
writing this study. I would also like to thank the German-American Fulbright
Commission, whose grant enabled me to participate in the American Studies Summer
Institute at New York University and to do research in the United States. Moreover, I
need to mention the helpful assistance I received from the staff at the New York Public
Library, the Library of Congress, Washington, and the library of the University of
At the Department for English and American Studies of the University of
Regensburg, Christa Schmuderer, Juliane Bierschenk and Dr. Karsten Fitz have been
both great colleagues and dear friends. For great discussions across the disciplines I
am deeply grateful to Robert Glotz, Dr. Juan Martin Koch, Dr. Ansgar Reiß and
Matthias Weiß, who all provided an incredible amount of spiritual as well as intellectual
sustenance. I am especially thankful to Tim Kurtzweil, Carlos Perez and Alexandra
Messer for the patience, knowledge and linguistic skill they put into the proofreading of
the manuscript in its various stages. Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to my
parents, Luise Ackermann and Dr. Walter Ackermann, for their enduring support and
for their ongoing interest in my work.
Regensburg, December 2003
Zeno Ackermann4
1. Introduction: "Romance" and/as Ideology 6
1.1 Genre as a Format of Ideology? – “Romance” and the “Old South” 8
1.2 “Romance” and the Pragmatic Power of Literature 12
1.3 The Theory of American Literary Exceptionalism 15
1.4 New Critical Approaches and Their Relevance for the
Study of Antebellum Southern Literature 20
2. “Romance” as Compromise: Walter Scott's Example 27
3. Materiality versus Textuality: George Tucker and the Catastrophic
Commencement of the Southern Novel 34
3.1 Tucker’s Critique of “Romance” Rhetorics 34
3.2 Realism in Defense of Slavery 41
3.3 The Doomed Legacy of True “Romance” 45
4. The "Romance of Domestic Life": Salvational Hybridizations in John P.
Kennedy’s Swallow Barn 50
4.1 The “Picturesque Tourist” as an Agent of Assimilation 50
4.2 Slaves and Swamps: The Pastoral Suspension of History 56
4.3 Generic Hybridity as Political Strategy 63
5. Tilting the Balance: The Historical Romances of John P. Kennedy and
William A. Caruthers 67
5.1 “Romance” as Absolute History: Kennedy’s Horse-Shoe Robinson 67
5.2 Medievalist Progressivism: Caruthers’ Paradoxical Romances of
Chivalry 77
5.3 A Fictional Road to Rebellion? 865
6. The Sacrifice of Dialectics: William G. Simms’s The Partisan 90
6.1 The Empowerment of Fiction: Simms’s Concept of “Romance” 90
6.2 The “Romance” of the Swamp and Its Ideological Implications 93
6.3 Rhetoric Digesting History: Porgy as Hero 99
7. From “Romance” to Real Politics: Nathaniel B. Tucker’s
The Partisan Leader 107
7.1 A Handbook for Rebellion 107
7.2 Coercion by Consent: Tucker’s Social Vision 111
7.3 The Collapse of “Romance” 117
8. The Breaking Point: “Romance” and the Market Revolution 121
8.1 Sectional Controversy, the Panic of 1837, and the Crisis of
Southern Literature 121
8.2 The “American Renaissance” and the Dissociation of American
Culture 131
8.3 From Simms to Hawthorne: The Privatization of "Romance" 142
9. From Ethos to Pathos: William G. Simms's Woodcraft 152
9.1 The “Romance” of Partisan Life and the Bathos of Civil Society 152
9.2 The Doomed Domestication of “Romance” 157
9.3 Simms's "Answer" to Uncle Tom's Cabin 166
9.4 The Erosion of “Romance”: Ideological Consequences 174
10. Deconstructing “Romance” / “Romancing” Contingency:
John Esten Cooke’s Virginia Comedians 178
10.1 The Virginia Comedians and the Self-Parodic Poetics of the
"American Renaissance” 178
10.2 World as Theater / History as Comedy: The Literary
Construction of Social Realities 185
11. Conclusion: The Breakdown of Narrativity 193
List of Works Cited 211When we mess with romance, we take awful
chances, which, of course, is exactly why we
should mess with it.
––Jack Cady, The American Writer (1999)
1. Introduction: "Romance" and/as Ideology
The present study explores and problematizes the relationship between ideology and
aesthetics in novels produced in the American South from 1824 to 1854. It is both a
reinvestigation of southern literary history and a case study in the potentials of genre
criticism for the analysis of ideological developments. On both levels, I examine
prominent critical notions: firstly, that antebellum southern literature followed a clear-cut
and largely predetermined course of ideological radicalization; secondly, that literary
forms and conventions can be identified as natural manifestations of specific
ideologemes or even as determining formats of particular ideological discourses.
Focusing on a complex of poetological and ideological notions which was––and
often still is––associated with the term "romance," I set out to historicize the
relationship between ideology and form. The investigation aims to show how concepts
of genre are utilized for the statement of ideologies, i.e. how ideological messages are
purposefully inscribed into poetological concepts. My question, then, is not what it
means if a narrative is a "romance" but rather why certain narratives, produced under
the strain of certain socio-historical conditions, ask to be read as "romances." Most of
the investigated fictions by George Tucker, John Pendleton Kennedy, William
Alexander Caruthers, William Gilmore Simms, Nathaniel Beverley Tucker and John
Esten Cooke do so quite explicitly and self-consciously. Centering on the vague but
crucial term "romance," these texts conduct a discourse on literary conventionality, its
relation to social reality or the course of history, and its pragmatic potential of altering
An analysis of this discourse, its intra- and intertextual development as well as
its connections to overarching American discourses and socio-economic
transformations, sheds light not only on the problematic relationship between genre
and ideology but also on the complex workings of southern ideologies in the context of
intersectional crisis and capitalist modernization. In fact, the novels produced in the
antebellum South from 1824 to 1854 can be seen as notable examples of the
potentials, limitations and dangers inherent in conservative ideologies. These
specimens of a doomed conservatism continue to be fascinating as testimonies of a
surprising and highly significant attempt: the attempt to stay the historical dynamics of
disintegration and alienation by means of an aesthetic intervention that was to be7
based on the conserving power of (literary) style.
Moreover, the specific conception of the power of literature which was at the
heart of nineteenth-century usages of the term "romance" has proved surprisingly
persistent. Ever since Mark Twain pointed to the historical fiction of Walter Scott as a
major reason for the Civil War, it has been an established tradition to emphasize the
disastrous effects of “romance” on the antebellum South. In this vein, Wilbur J. Cash
associated “romance” with the debilitating spell under which the “Old South” suffered.
And, writing in the 1990s, Ritchie D. Watson has in effect returned to Twain’s polemical
explanation of the Civil War by suggesting that it was the vehicle of "romance" in which
1the "Old Southwest" traveled down a "fictional road to rebellion." Yet, while most
analyses of southern ideologies have linked the supposedly exceptional character of
the antebellum South to "romance" as a form of consciousness and literary practice,
there is simultaneously a firmly established critical school, ranging from Richard Chase
after the Second World War to Emily Budick in the 1990s, which uses the term
“romance” for defining a specifically "American" tradition of narrative literature––a
tradition from which antebellum southern literature is excluded because of its
2reactionary concepts of social hierarchy and its defense of slavery.
I will explore the significance of this contradiction between the two governing
conceptions of “romance” in American Studies. Analyzing the work of antebellum
southern writers in the context of both nineteenth-century poetological discourses and
twentieth-century critical traditions, the present study aims to test the validity and to
explore the socio-historical motivations of old and new analogies between genre,
specific forms of social organization and particular ideologies. Challenging the
institutionalized dichotomies of "romance" criticism, I propose to approach antebellum
southern novels as specific contributions to an overarching American discourse on
"romance." This perspective will disclose unexpected lines of continuity in American
ideological and intellectual history. Specifically, it will help to explain why the "Old
South" has offered itself as the illusionary homeland of an aborted collective American
fantasy about the socially pragmatic power of the “literary mind.”
In the following sections of the introduction I will initially examine the critical
tradition of associating a specific concept of “romance” with the supposed deviation of

1 Samuel L. Clemens, Life on the Mississippi (1883); facsimile rpt as vol. 9 of The Oxford Mark
Twain, ed. Shelley Fisher Fishkin (New York: Oxford UP, 1996); Wilbur J. Cash, The Mind of
the South (1941; New York: Vintage, 1991); Ritchie D. Watson, Yeoman versus Cavalier:
The Old Southwest's Fictional Road to Rebellion (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1993).
For a discussion of the twin discourses on “romance” and the “Old South,” see below,
chapter 1.1.
2 Richard Chase, The American Novel and Its Tradition (Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1957);
quote: viii; Emily Budick, Nineteenth-Century American Romance: Genre and the
Construction of Democratic Culture (New York: Twayne, 1996). See below, chapters 1.3 and8
antebellum southern societies and cultures from the mainstream of “American” history.
I will then summarize the general historical discourse on “romance” in order to explore
the significance of the term as a keyword within debates about the pragmatic power of
fictional literature. The third subchapter will focus on the concept of “romance” as an
important ideologeme within the construction of a “native tradition” of American
literature from which antebellum southern literature is excluded. Finally, I will look at
new critical approaches to “romance” and their potential relevance for the study of
“romance” fictions produced in the antebellum South.
1.1 Genre as a Format of Ideology? – “Romance” and the “Old
The “Old South” is one of the most interesting and significant constructs in American
intellectual history. It is rooted in antebellum discourses, i.e. in auto- and
heterostereotypical constructions of "the South" as a separate culture which gained
3ground in the intersectional conflicts before the Civil War. Ever since, imaginations of
antebellum southern society as it supposedly existed before the American Civil War
have been among the primary referents by which a modernizing America has defined
both the benefits and the costs of its modernity. Moreover, the imaginary socio-cultural
landscape of the "Old South" has figured as an outstandingly important ground of
contestation in battles over the social role of aesthetics.
Frequently, the “Old South” has inspired surprisingly radical answers to
questions about the social role of literature and literary forms. Attempting to explain
southern difference in his classic The Mind of the South (1941), Wilbur J. Cash was
again and again drawn to “romance” as the governing quality and formative force of
antebellum southern societies and cultures. Emphasizing a “southern” tendency
“toward unreality, toward romanticism, and, in intimate relation with that, toward
4hedonism," Cash did not hesitate to relate these qualities to "the influence of the
Southern physical world," which he described as "a sort of cosmic conspiracy against
5reality in favor of romance." According to Cash, then, "romance" was the general
condition of the "Southern mind," a peculiarly southern state of consciousness. At the
same time, he used the term "romance" to designate a (more or less specific) literary

3 William R. Taylor's classic study Cavalier and Yankee: The Old South and American
National Character (1961; Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1963) continues to be an important
analysis of the imagological dissociation of "South" and "North" before the Civil War.
4 Cash 44.9
genre. Thus, he called Ellen Glasgow's Barren Ground (1925) "the first real novel, as
6opposed to romances, the South had brought forth." Indeed, Cash attributed the
possible rise of the South to self-recognition and to the acceptance of reality, its arrival
in the twentieth century, to a change of genre: from "romance" to "novel."
Ever since the publication of The Mind of the South, the "remarkable and
7anachronistic society" of the antebellum South, often viewed as a separate culture or a
8distinct "civilization," has seemed equally attractive as an object of study to
representatives of American liberalism, such as Clement Eaton, and to protagonists of
American Marxism, such as the early Eugene D. Genovese. At its best, the critical
discourse on the "Old South" provided compelling insights into the interrelationships
between ideologies, social institutions and aesthetic developments. At its worst, the
discourse postulated the antebellum South as a monolithic entity hermetically sealed
off in terms of history and mentality, a doomed inversion of the necessary course of
history towards democracy and market pluralism.
Since the 1980s, the construction of Southern exceptionalisms has been
repeatedly criticized in the light of shifting critical agendas and closer historical
investigation. Thus, Michael O'Brien has pointed out that "the search for Southern
distinctiveness" as pursued by the discourse on the "Old South" has frequently turned
9into "a logical nightmare." However, the fascination of antebellum southern history as
an antithesis to the general course of American history continues. The persistence as
well as the ideological significance of the discourse is evident from more recent
publications such as Genovese's post-Marxist The Southern Tradition: The
Achievement and Limitations of an American Conservatism (1994) or Ritchie D.
Watson's Yeoman versus Cavalier: The Old Southwest's Fictional Road to Rebellion
(1993). Of course, the ideological thrusts of the two books are as different as can be.
Genovese seeks to construct a usable past for an American conservatism by arguing
that "the social relations spawned by slavery" motivated "an impressive critique of
modern life and American institutions," a critique that was "silenced" by the "northern

5 Cash 46.
6 Cash 374.
7 Eugene D. Genovese, The Political Economy of Slavery: Studies in the Economy and
Society of the Slave South (New York: Pantheon, 1965) 19.
8 Rollin G. Osterweis, Romanticism and Nationalism in the Old South (1949; Baton Rouge
Louisiana State UP, 1971) vii; cf. Clement Eaton, The Growth of Southern Civilization: 1790–
1860 (New York: Harper, 1961). The perception of the antebellum South as a distinct
civilization is very pronounced also in the writings of Genovese; see, e.g., The Political
Economy of Slavery 35: "When we understand that the slave South developed neither a
strange form of capitalism nor an undefinable agrarianism but a special civilization built on
the relationship of master to slave, we expose the root of its conflict with the North."
9 Michael O'Brien Rethinking the South: Essays in Intellectual History (Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins UP, 1988) 216.