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Visions of Order in
William Gilmore Simms

Southern Conservatism and the Other American Romance

Masahiro Nakamura

A provocative contrasting of Simms's romances with those of his Northern contemporaries

One of nineteenth-century America's foremost men of letters, William Gilmore Simms (1806–1870) of Charleston, South Carolina, distinguished himself as a historian, poet, and novelist; yet his stalwart allegiance to the ideals of the Confederacy have kept him largely marginalized from the modern literary canon. In this engaging study, Masahiro Nakamura seeks to reinsert Simms into current American literary and cultural studies through a careful consideration of Simms's Southern conservatism as a valuable literary counterpoint to the bourgeois individualist ideology of his Northern contemporaries. For Nakamura, Simms's vision of social order runs contrary to the staunch individualism expressed in traditional American romances by authors such as James Fenimore Cooper and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

In his thoughtful approaches to Simms's historical depictions of the making of American history and society, Nakamura finds consistent assertions of social order against the perils of literal and metaphoric wilderness, a conservative vision that he traces to the influence of Simms's Southern genius loci. To understand how this Southern conservatism also manifests itself in Simms's fiction, Nakamura contrasts Simms's historical romances with those of Hawthorne, as representative of the New England romance tradition, to differentiate the ways in which the two writers interpret the dynamic between the individual and society. Nakamura finds that Simms's protagonists struggle to establish their places within their culture while Hawthorne's characters are often at odds with their culture. The resulting comparison enriches our understanding of both writers.

To illustrate his point further, Nakamura discusses Simms's Martin Faber in terms of individualism transformed into dangerous egocentrism. He also examines Simms's conservative views on the progress of American civilization in his Revolutionary War and border romances and explores Simms's attitudes toward conflicts with Native American cultures in his colonial romances. Nakamura concludes that, while effectively employing the tradition of Sir Walter Scott's historical romance, Simms used the genre as a vehicle for advocating the merits of social order as a Southern conservative answer to Northern bourgeois romanticism, which celebrates individualism as key to the possibility of human progress.

Masahiro Nakamura is a professor of American literature at Aichi University of Education in Aichi, Japan. He has translated and published Japanese-language editions of William Gilmore Simms's novel The Yemassee and a selection of Simms's short fiction.

"This is the best and most comprehensive work to date on Simms. At last, we have an intelligent, original, and deeply considered study that takes the full measure of the man. Masahiro Nakamura's careful, thoughtful analysis marks a new era in Simms scholarship and is without question the essential place to begin."—James Everett Kibler, University of Georgia, and founder of the Simms Review

"Masahiro Nakamura's comparison and contrast of Simms's romances with those of his Northern contemporaries is refreshingly honest and timely. Nakamura does not apologize for Simms's Southern conservatism, nor portray it as unfortunate or detrimental to the value of Simms's contributions to literature and history. Rather, he treats Simms's perspective with respect and thereby challenges the wisdom of excluding Simms from the modern literary canon which continues to be woefully lacking in balance."—David Aiken, College of Charleston, and author of Fire in the Cradle: Charleston Literary Heritage 

 
 

 

book jacket for Visions of Order in William Gilmore Simms


 

LITERARY STUDIES | SOUTHERN STUDIES
6 x 9
248 pages
ISBN 978-1-57003-817-4
cloth, $39.95s
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