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Vale of Humility
Plain Folk in Contemporary North Carolina Fiction

George Hovis

An inviting look at the influence of the yeoman's small farm on six modern Southern writers

In a deft analysis of works by Doris Betts, Reynolds Price, Fred Chappell, Lee Smith, Clyde Edgerton, and Randall Kenan, Vale of Humility explores the lives of the plain folk, white and black, who populate the worlds of contemporary North Carolina fiction.

As George Hovis explains, a wealthy planter elite was significantly less prominent in North Carolina than in neighboring regions, and as a result the state's plain folk did not develop a class identity based as deeply in relation to a superior planter class. Instead of the plantation, the yeoman's small farm has been the essential context for the ideal life and thus a distinguishing feature of the state's literature. In this first full-length study of North Carolina's contemporary fiction, Hovis examines the work of six representative writers from the state's three geographic regions: Smith and Chappell from the mountains, Betts and Edgerton from the Piedmont, and Price and Kenan from the coastal plain. He explores their work within the broader Southern literary tradition with attention to how they have revised such modes as pastoral, family saga, and southwestern humor in order to portray their own regional experiences.

Just as writers of the Southern Renascence in the early twentieth century were characterized by a "backward glance" to a passing culture, today's North Carolina writers often critique their contemporary Sun Belt society through the lens of what they view as a fading yeoman past. Although these writers celebrate the egalitarianism at the heart of the yeoman ideal, they also expose the racism, sexism, and classism that have also marked the state's history.

A native of North Carolina, George Hovis received his Ph.D. in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and currently teaches at the State University of New York at Oneonta. He has published numerous articles and interviews related to Southern literature.

"Literary historian George Hovis focuses this study on six splendid North Carolina writers—male and female, black and white—who together describe all parts of the state and give clear voices in fiction and poetry to characters with the roots and values of the yeomanry that historically populated this pastoral vale. Doris Betts, Reynolds Price, Fred Chappell, Lee Smith, Clyde Edgerton, and Randall Kenan provide in their multiple titles analyzed by Hovis towering claims to accomplishments of a very high order. With appropriate economic history he balances his literary and geographical examination chapter after chapter. Religion, race, gender, family, humor, and what Hovis calls 'the orientation of the imagination' meander throughout this first book-length account of contemporary North Carolina literature."—Jim Clark, professor of English emeritus, North Carolina State University

"George Hovis's Vale of Humility is a valuable study of most of the finest writers of the late twentieth century literary renaissance in North Carolina, as well as a superb discussion of what makes Tar Heel writing different from that emanating from other parts of Dixie."—Fred Hobson, Lineberger Professor of Humanities, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

 
 

 


 

LITERARY STUDIES
6 x 9
336 pages
ISBN 978-1-57003-696-5
cloth, $39.95s
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