And Now Something Completely Different

I am a lucky woman to have such good friends, real and virtual. One of the consequences of my last post was that I caught up with the man I like to call my academic son. He was my PhD student back in the day, and we had just the best time together. Anyway, he happened to mention that he’d recently read Attica Locke’s novel, The Cutting Season and loved it, having a taste for narratives with those Antebellum elements. Upon hearing which I said, ooh, I might just try to put you a list together of other novels you might enjoy, thinking amongst other things of Danielle’s fabulous Thursday Thirteen series.

Well, when I tried to come up with Antebellum stories, I did not do very well. Naturally I thought of:

gone with the wind1. Gone With The Wind, the classic by Margaret Mitchell.

And after some more thinking, I remembered – though have never read myself –

2. Kindred by Octavia Butler, which I believe has a line of plot about a slave girl in the deep South? I know Butler best as a sci-fi writer, and quite how that fits in, goodness only knows.

midnight in the garden3. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, which is all voodoo and spirits and noirish murder elements, yes?

Finally, I remembered reading a few years ago

4. Palladio by Jonathan Dee, which was about a bunch of New York advertising executives on a mission to turn publicity into an art form. I’m pretty sure they end up basing themselves in an Antebellum mansion down south, which has interesting connotations. I remember it as a postmodern sort of novel with lots of metanarrative elements and I did enjoy it.

After that I drew a blank. I mean, I have heard of authors like Eudora Welty and Ellen Glasgow and Robert Penn Warren, aware they are deep South writers without knowing whether their novels contain that sort of plantation story.

So naturally, I turn to you wonderfully read people for further suggestions. Any good ideas I can pass on?



38 thoughts on “And Now Something Completely Different

  1. You may already know this but in Germany you would be known as your Phd’s ‘doktormutter’. H was tickled by this when his German brother-in-law mentioned his own ‘doktorvater’. A title for life, apparently.

    No antebellum novels to offer, I’m afraid, but I can recommend a a slice of Southern Gothic if that helps: William Gay’s The Long Home.

    • I didn’t know that – how wonderful! I will tell him that – he will be most amused. And thank you for the recommendation. I’m interested in this kind of literature too and will be sneakily adding things to my tbr list!

  2. I would admit to never having read any of these, except it would mean admitting that not only have I never read ‘Gone With the Wind’, but I’ve never seen the film either and if I had to admit to that in public I might just die of shame.

    • Alex, you do make me laugh. If it’s any consolation, I own a DVD of Gone With The Wind that came with a Sunday supplement and I’ve never seen it, nor read the copy of the novel I possess. Somehow I have convinced myself that a strong intention to read something is practically the same as having read it – it’s a necessary deal to make with delusion. 🙂

  3. Butler is a sci-fi writer, and while Kindred is not an exception to this it still fits your Ante-Bellum criterion. An African-American woman in 20th century America suddenly suffers a kind of seizure that throws her directly into the mid-19th century Deep South. Then she comes out of it again. Then goes back in. Harrowing.

  4. I’ve read Gone with the Wind and Kindred (which does have a sci-fi element) but I can’t think of many other Antebellum novels. There’s the North and South trilogy by John Jakes – the first book at least is set during that period and the ‘South’ parts are set on a plantation!

  5. William Faulkner wrote some classic Southern Gothic stuff, including As I Lay Dying and the fiendishly difficult Absalom, Absalom!, the latter of which deals with the legacy of Southern racism and the plantation society very intriguingly. (He also wrote a book of short stories called The Unvanquished which seems to elegize that society, so it’s sometimes hard to tell where his allegiances lie.) Flannery O’Connor’s short stories and novels (Wise Blood, The Violent Bear It Away) also deal with Southern legacies of religion and race. Finally, Eudora Welty’s novel Delta Wedding is one of the most beautiful and poignant explorations ever written of the antebellum mindset/lifestyle and the ways in which it broke down in the twentieth century–highly recommended.

    • Elle thank you for such fabulous recommendations. I admit to being scared of Faulkner, which is irrational, they’re only words, after all. One of these days I really must bite the bullet and try him.

      • He’s way less scary than his reputation would suggest! As I Lay Dying is quite accessible–he’s handily labeled the point-of-view switches in each chapter so you always know who’s talking–and The Unvanquished is also not experimental or weird. sometimes he uses the word “abrogate” with annoying frequency, though…

  6. A quick catching-up and hoping you are well…
    How about Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All by Allan Gurganus, and/or anything by Faulkner (but esp Absalom, Absalom and Light in August)?

    • ds – how lovely to hear from you! I do hope you are extremely well too. And thank you for the recommendations – the Allan Gurganus is sort of ringing a distant bell and I will have to go and look it up to see why!

  7. Ok, had some time to think during deliveries, so here are some more:
    Pat Conroy-Prince of Tides still hands down his best.
    You can’t leave out Fried Green Tomatoes. Flagg rocked it.
    Grisham, of course.
    There’s an interesting little book called Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl we read for class. Worth a look. Harriet Jacobs, I think.
    Oh, and do not ever overlook Zora Neale Hurston. I could easily do a PhD on Their Eyes Were Watching God.
    Omg, and don’t forget Tennessee Williams and Harper Lee!
    You should probably give Tom Wolfe a nod. Just cuz.
    And going back to real jantebellum, Frederick Douglas wrote this story called The Heroic Slave that was cool. Quick read. I never got to read his autobio.
    That’s all I could remember.

    • This is all very splendid – thank you SO much. You remind me that I have never read Zora Neale Hurston, who is one of those gaps that really must be filled. And The Heroic Slave sounds intriguing too. Oh dear, I can see my own trb is going to expand somewhat after this!

  8. I could give you a whole list of Southern lit, but not specifically antebellum. Confederacy of Dunces is most excellent and takes place in New Orleans, modern times, but is more Don Quixote than Gone with the Wind.

  9. Since everyone is going off the rails with antebellum I am throwing in Handling Sin by Michael Malone. One of THE BEST and funniest – oh God, the funny – southern novels I have read, and you know how I feel about southern literature…

    • My academic son is as won over by books that make him laugh as I am, so I’m sure he will appreciate this recommendation. I was sure you would have a great one for us!

  10. Some excellent suggestions. Thanks to all of you. I really do intend to sample Faulkner myself some day soon. I’d add Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl–actually written by an ex-slave woman–and Susan Straight’s book on slavery in French Louisiana, A Million Nightingales. Also, be warned that there are some really bad antebellum books out there, sloppy with romance and nostalgia focusing on both blacks and whites.

    • Thank you so much for this – very useful to have a little nonfiction in the mix too. I am sure you are right and there are some ridiculous antebellum books out there – thankfully I have wonderfully well read blog friends!

  11. No idea about American history dates, but I think these will fit with the kind of timeline an themes you’re looking for:

    Wench – Doleen Perkins-Valdeez
    Page from a Tennesse Journal – Francine Thomas
    A Wish After Midnight – Zetta Elliott (which is YA sort of inspired by Kindred)

  12. This question stumped me. The only thing I could think of was Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer but I wouldn’t recommend either one.

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