Back around the beginning of spring, I finally purchased a copy of Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810-1860, by Michael O’Brien. The University of North Carolina Press makes the following pitch for the book:
Looking over the period, O’Brien identifies a movement from Enlightenment ideas of order to a Romanticism concerned with the ambivalences of personal and social identity, and finally, by the 1850s, to an early realist sensibility. He offers a new understanding of the South by describing a place neither monolithic nor out of touch, but conflicted, mobile, and ambitious to integrate modern intellectual developments into its tense and idiosyncratic social experience.
This also meshes with my interests in exploring the thinking of people in the Shenandoah Valley within that same period of time, and leading-up to the war. I want to know 1) if anyone in, or with roots in, the Shenandoah Valley was making literary contributions, 2) what the people of the Valley were reading, and 3) where that literature originated (not to mention, what it was “saying” to the people of the Valley). As I indicated in a post, about a week ago, I found at least four with ties to the Valley who were notable contributors. I’ll go into greater detail about some of this in other posts.
Additionally, as much emphasis that’s been placed on the Southern Literary Messenger, I think it’s rather obvious that the literature that people of the Valley were consuming wasn’t coming directly from the SLM‘s pages. Rather, they were taking-in the most literature (by volume, one might say) from area newspapers… which were, in fact taking those pieces from other newspapers (no big surprise, there) and the larger magazines (such as the SLM, but also from a wide variety of publications from the North). I know… to some, this isn’t news, but to others, it might come as a surprise.
This leaves me with some questions…
Did the literature (in particular, that which was being extracted from Northern publications), in any way, have an influence on their thinking, especially as tensions increased through the latter 1850s and into 1860-61?
Is there some form of distinction in literature and its impact between the Valley and, say… the Tidewater?
Was the work which was extracted from Northern presses so carefully selected as to not to touch the proverbial nerve, but to speak more specifically to a general interest in Romanticism?
Needless to say, there’s considerable work ahead for me.
If curious, take some time to peruse the snippets below to see the sources for some the stories that appeared in the Virginia Free Press, between the 1830s and 1850s. Some, you will find, are not sourced… and, regretfully, can’t even be found in Google searches.