The Charlotte News
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 26, 1937
Realism and Romance:
Backyard, South View
--Viewpoint, by W. J. Cash
SAM MIMS, who wrote a book called "US-ALL," which was published by Caxton, got up down in Louisiana the other day and told the Shreveport Writers' club that "much that has passed for realism in Southern literature is superficial observation." Then he went on to say that he thought there ought to be a Southern literature which will represent the romantic spirit of the South without accent on "the more desolate aspects of Southern life"--a literature without "a gross overdisplay of the American back yard."
With part of that I find myself more or less in agreement, but to part of it--or to part of what is suggested in it, at least--I'd never agree until the last cow is home locked up in the barn.
Erskine Caldwell's Accurate View of the South
Part of the newer realism of the South is certainly essentially false. But not, I think, because of any superficial observation. Is Erskine Caldwell, for instance, actually open to the charge of having observed his people superficially? Nonsense. Nobody ever observed any people more accurately and minutely than he observed old Jeeter Lester and his breed. People who don't think that he correctly reports the poor white are simply people who have never looked closely at the white-trash for themselves.
The real charge against Caldwell is something else--that he forgot the law laid down by Jean Francis Millet, the painter--that "there is no isolated truth." He has painted this people as though there were such truth. He has painted them, that is, literally in vacuo, without reference to the historical forces which made them and the planters to whom they stand as servant to master what they are. He has painted them, all too often, indeed, in such fashion as to leave the impression that they are victims of mere calculated villainy on the part of the most scondrelly master class ever heard of in time. Ant that, I'm pretty certain, is a distortion of the fact.
The Dim Sense of Time Long Past in Dixie
But as for going in for the kind of saccharine nonsense which Mr. Stark Young writes and which Mr. Mims apparently means by the term "romanticism"--god help us, no, the South doesn't need to do that. It stultified itself for a century with just that kind of hooey. There is, indeed, a strain of genuine romanticism in the South which has nothing to do with the pinchbeck of Mr. Young or Thomas Nelson Page. A kind of mellowness, a dim sense of long time values, a will to live, as kindly and as graciously as possible. And I should be the last to object to that. I think, thoroughly, that writing in the South ought to stick to patterns which come naturally to Southerners, and should never imitate the dull stuff of the Middle Westerners, as it has sometimes done in recent years.
But that apparently isn't what Mr. Mims had in mind. For there is that desire to leave out the back yard. And the back yard ought not to be left out. That is the chief curse of the South, that it has insisted on holding that the back yard didn't exist.
What we need is not to leave out the back yard. We ought in fact, to pay a great deal more attention to the back yard than we have yet paid. Merely, we ought to set the back yard into perspective when we deal with it.
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