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William Gilmore Simms: deviant paradigms of Southern womanhood?

Woman's degradation is in man's idea of his sexual rights.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1860

William Gilmore Simms (1806-1879) LOVED HIS Southern heritage and remained faithful to its beliefs and values through the bitter war that heavily damaged both sides. Overlooked or downplayed by critics for decades, only in the last quarter of the twentieth century has his work been reevaluated for its literary merit.

Like Northern Romantics, Simms employed "the habit of dehumanizing women of the time by investing them with an unrealistic purity, spirituality, and vulnerability."(1) The Romantic South, in proud and self-determined isolation, clung to traditional images of pure womanhood as part of an overall effort to preserve a clear-cut aristocratic hierarchy which placed men at the top of society, followed by women, and finally slaves. It was this system of racial and gender demarcation that Southerners fought to uphold as the country moved toward civil war, and with which Simms identified in his personal quest for identity and status within the political rhetoric of his community.(2)

A traditionalist, Simms created idealized heroes and heroines, and with regard to the "weaker sex" he followed the common path of other romancers, allowing his ladies to project "simultaneously the aura of innocence and of physical allurement."(3) Such character types include Mary Easterby in Richard Hurdis, Janet Berkeley in Mellichampe, and Katharine Walton in The Partisan and its sequel bearing her name.

Although the Dark Lady is found in most major Romantic writing, her character functions both as a symbol and a stereotype in Simms's fiction. What frequently sets Simms's Dark Lady apart is her minority status; often his tragic heroines are Indian, Jewish, or Hispanic. Further, on a socio-economic scale, the Dark Lady is generally indigent. The dark female is found in several of Simms's greatest works, spanning the most productive years of his writing career. Memorable brunettes also provide tragic focal points in selections from The Wigwam and the Cabin, an anthology of short stories based primarily on tall tales, folk yarns, and historical legacies of regions he lived in and visited. The heroines of these tales inherit the qualities of the traditional seductress but also represent entities larger than themselves -- a culture, a race, or a people, for example. Frequently cast in servile roles, this heroine's character suffers in isolation until granted salvation from the dominant society's white patriarchy or until attempts to save or uplift herself result in death.

Simms's adherence to hierarchical values undoubtedly derived in part from his upbringing. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, as the son of a woman from an established and respected family,"(4) he was later raised by his maternal grandmother, whose history and bearing bore a shining image of Southern aristocracy and its "class-ridden culture"(5) For Simms, the dichotomy between domestic "good" women and independent "bad" women was as clear-cut as the social distinction between black and white. Simms believed, as did many others of his time, that the "great first duty of a woman is in her becoming the mother of men."(6)

And yet Simms was a realist, of sorts. In an effort to escape duplication of conventional heroines of his era, he endows most with dual aspects of womanhood, although he never allows the reader to question his position on the status of women in general. His efforts toward equalizing female characters with positive and negative qualities resulted in a curious blend of beauteous and blasphemous characteristics. And so he arranged each woman's flaws according to one of three typical formulas of the period: 1) by emphasizing her weaknesses, making her the villain; 2) by omitting reference to negative qualities, making her the heroine; of 3) by complicating her character with the addition of mitigating traits so that an element of pity is introduced (Goldhurst, p. 121).

Most of Simms's dark ladies are found in his popular romances, although one poem nicely illustrates his principle of combining weak and strong traits in the Dark Lady. "Clarice" (1846; see Poems, pp. 135-136), with ten stanzas, bears similarity to Poe's "Annabel Lee" (1849) in theme and tone, though published a few years before. The first stanza ties the poem's heroine to both heaven and hell:

And ever still, in hours of gloom,

She brought me glimpses of her skies;

Her presence freshen'd earth with bloom.

And heaven lay star-like in her eyes;

How should I vex me with the doom,

Still wrought by evil destinies? The ninth stanza seems to prefigure Poe's enthusiasm for coupling death with a beautiful woman:

And pleasure's self was like a pain

So keenly felt was every bliss;

Even though convulsive throbb'd the brain,

Lest life should bring no more like this;

The very love she lived to gain,

Brought death when bonded in its kiss. Whether Simms influenced Poe or vice versa will be left to another study; suffice it to point out in this "psychological study" (Kibler, p. 363) the pervasiveness of the Romantic Dark Lady's relationship to death, so often contemplated and feared by male narrators.

Charlemont or The Pride of the Village (1836), an early and significant example of this theme, details the tragic moral lapse of Margaret Cooper. A sequel to this work, Beauchampe or the Kentucky Tragedy, (1842), builds on the Dark Lady's sorrow in the first work to ensure her death as well as her husband's in the second.

Margaret, "beautiful after no ordinary standard of beauty" (Charlemont, p. 28), attracts her seducer after one curious glance on the open road as he and his uncle pass through her village on horseback. In addition to her striking beauty, the heroine's "somewhat haughtily" averted head (p. 29) suggests a strong vein of pride and self-esteem paralleling the villain's. His desire to "tame" her spirit (p. 29) is kindled as though she were an animal to be made dispensable to his uses. Because Alfred Sharpe believes women have no souls and because women outnumber men in this small village, he feels his chances of seducing Margaret are quite good. With her "high and noble" beauty praised by the uncle (p. 31), Sharpe's aims are fanned into a purpose and he determines to return.

Sharpe's plan represents on a minor scale what Simms may have viewed as obvious on a higher plane of society, that the patriarchal system would dominate and bring to submission the arrogant (as he may have thought) efforts of women to be accepted and treated as equals. In the Advertisement prefacing an early publication of Charlemont, Simms justified Margaret's tragic lapse accordingly: "It will be to her a perilous fall from pride of place, and power, when goaded by an insane ambition, in the extreme development of her mere intellect, she shall forfeit a single one of these [masculine or societal] securities" (p. 12). Whether through Simms's conscious or subconscious intent, the journey motif of Sharpe and Margaret's meeting on a road outside her village suggests that the heroine sacrifices her community's patriarchal protection in moving beyond traditional domestic boundaries to face men on unfamiliar territory. That Simms believed such women to be deserving of male exploitation and subjection is reflected in his depiction of Margaret, who, in large measure, is made to assume responsibility for her fate.

"Musing" and "moody" (p. 36), Margaret faces a future without promise to her many unusual merits of intelligence, beauty, and poetic inspiration. Her "masculine and commanding character" (p. 37) invites rejection in her own village, to be echoed in "big city" society, which seems to beckon Margaret and her talents as a sort of moral temptation, since for Simms cities tend to represent materialistic. showy, and corrupt values (Wimsatt, p. 187).

"Proud, impatient, and ambitious" (p. 37), Margaret assesses her value as superior to that of any position or mate the village might offer, and she grows discontented. With only a foolish, unscrupulous mother to guide her, Margaret lacks the parental control and moral direction which might have shaped her life more favorably. Simms accordingly suggests that her "feverish blood" and "tyrannical will" ensure her a life of adventure punctuated by tragedy (p. 38) since Margaret is like other Americans who are "never satisfied with what they have."(7)

As in related portrayals of the Dark Lady, Margaret is termed a "queen of sheba" (p. 117), a hint at oriental connotations of her character. She is also considered functionally abnormal:

here, they call me mad! They look at me as one doomed to Bedlam. They avoid

me with sentiments and looks of distrust if not of fear; . . . These duties of the

meanest slave! . . . what can I be in such a world? Nothing, nothing . . . I can never

hope to be anything. (pp. 176-177)

Finding her ripe for seduction, Alfred Sharpe returns to the village as Alfred Stevens, a pastor-in-training, and woos Margaret by appealing to her pride and talent. She falls for his intellectual sympathy" (p. 297) but responds emotionally: "I trust altogether to feeling" (p. 301), admitting that love makes her weak (p. 303). Luring her with promises of sophistication and city triumph, Sharpe seduces Margaret by insisting on their oneness, when in fact they are opposites; Margaret's pining for fulfillment and release is met by Sharpe's depletion of her emotional energies and by his rejection and abandonment.

In depending on her seducer for escape from an empty future, she merely succeeds in filling it with horror. Admitting to her wrong (p. 335), she begs Sharpe to save her by marriage (p. 355). Hypocritically he persuades his friend and his conscience that he would have married Margaret had she remained pure. Her virtue, repeatedly termed a "treasure" (p. 387), has been bartered for the false sanctity of love, resulting in Margaret's spiritual demise. Belatedly she ponders her victimization:

Am I not a woman, one of that frail, feeble sex, whose name is weakness? -- of whom,

having no strength, man yet expects the proofs of the most unyielding -- of a firmness

which he himself can not exercise--. (p. 421). It comes as no surprise that Margaret's lack of judgment culminates in the birth of a daughter, contributing to her disgrace in the eyes of the villagers while confirming her potent sexuality and fertility. Naomi Segal suggests that the birth of a daughter in literary works of the period frequently results from immoral relationships: "Women who have children in male-authored fiction are a small enough group. . . . Women who give birth to daughters are an even smaller sub-group and a startlingly high number of them are adulteresses."(8) Thus the child's birth merely reproduces an insignificant copy of Margaret who, like the mother, becomes a victim of repulsion and emotional abandonment as the cycle of exploitation is perpetuated through both parents. While her father's literal absence is conspicuous, Margaret's rejection takes a more subtle form, when Simms tells us that her love for the child is "doubtful" (p. 432) as she looks with "horror" on the child, who resembles Alfred Stevens, and that her "loathing hatred" for him is given "in portion to her child" (p. 432). As a result of debility and disease, the infant dies on Margaret's breast. Divided from society, from family, and from peace of mind, Margaret leaves Charlemont.

More fortunate than other tragic heroines, by the end of this work Margaret remains alive and free from her seducer's influence. But her "terrible demon" (p. 441) of hatred for Sharpe prompts her to a journey of revenge. Simms wrote the sequel of the story -- based on a large-scale scandal in his day -- to enlarge upon the tragic events which folded around Margaret to finally claim her life.

In Beauchampe,(9) William Hinckley -- Margaret's youthfully pure suitor of the first work -- assumes a new identity as William Calvert and returns to the village after an absence of several years to observe a lonely Margaret preparing to leave. Running downhill toward her (p. 24) -- symbolic of his sexual temptation to moral decline-he nevertheless stops himself from offering marriage to Margaret, having been warned by Old Calvert, his mentor, of the lady's unsuitability. Thus "Simms own convictions"(10) as well as the historical facts support Margaret's rejection by Hinckley, which results in her exodus from the village.

Beauchampe, the work's titular hero, encounters Margaret as a "firm and majestic" vision (p. 83) on the open road near another village, paralleling the journey motif outlined in the first book. Again departing the traditional path by embarking on a journey of renewal and revenge, Margaret has changed her name and is about to assume a new identity while concealing her past. Infatuated by her beauty and by intellectual attainments suggested in her "well-filled bookcase" (p. 92), Beauchampe declares himself a "slave of passion" (p. 98), sinking to a subordinate level in opposition to Sharpe's rising to a position of dominance in the earlier work. Warmed by the youth's admiration, Margaret (now called Anna Cooke) warns him that her breath is "bondage" (p. 131), but the hero continues to consider himself her bondsman and slave (p. 136). Despite his sister's warning and Margaret's trepidation, the pair shortly wed.

Marriage allows Margaret's husband to share her vow of revenge although marital contentment begins to soothe her "ingenuous ambition" (p. 145). It is perhaps a sense of masculine pride that holds Beauchampe to his original vow of vengeance when he learns that a politician-acquaintance who comes to visit the couple is actually Sharpe, Margaret's seducer. Sharpe is then ousted, challenged, and killed by Margaret's impetuous husband (pp. 275-334).

Sharing their last hours in prison together, Margaret and Beauchampe plot a double suicide, to be induced by Margaret's procuring laudanum (p. 387) as she admits that her endowments "kill," "blight," and "darken" (p. 388). As the couple face death together, hers is the "bolder spirit" (p. 393) and because the poison fails to do its job, the pair die at last by mutual stabbing. Margaret's former beau, Hinckley (now young Calvert), remains unmarried upon learning of this tragedy.

Following tradition, Margaret fulfills the destiny to femme fatale in her tragic flaw of pride and in her commitment to revenge. She attracts and destroys two lovers, Beauchampe and Sharpe, and effectually neuters young Hinckley. Lacking maternal love, her only child dies. Finally, Margaret murders herself, dying ignominiously in prison.

Victimized by masculine manipulation, Margaret is essentially destroyed by the very men to whom she commits her love. Had Alfred Sharpe not returned to the village to seduce her, had Hinckley been forgiving instead of judgmental, or had Beauchampe displayed more prudence and less volatility -- one of these men might have saved Margaret rather than contributing to her demise. Yet Simms is clear in assigning Margaret a major portion of responsibility, a burden she admits to and accepts. Motivated by intellectual vivacity and a strong sense of self, Margaret is punished for her rejection of traditional feminine values such as purity and selflessness when Simms emphasizes her culpability in falling prey to Sharpe's domination and depicts her as a woman rightfully seduced, abandoned, imprisoned, and killed.

Simms's best-known romance, The Yemassee (1835),(11) outlines the historical conflict between Indians and whites struggling over land desired by both. Referring to the whites as the "intrusive race" (p. 23), Simms early in the work introduces readers to a focal Indian couple, Matiwan and Sanutee, who embody all that is best in the Yemassee tribe. Matiwan, the wife, tragically loses everything dear to her, which also corresponds to all that has shaped her identity and her life: first and foremost, her son Occonestoga, whom she kills to save his soul from eternal perdition; then her homeland, as the whites prevail in the Indianled uprising; and finally her husband, Sanutee (phonologically suggestive of "sanity"), when he is killed in war. Because her tragedy is rooted in both her gender and her race, Matiwan's identity looms larger than life as she comes to represent both tragic elements through the comprehensiveness of her losses.

Although she is not physically beautiful, Matiwan is strikingly portrayed as a feminine example of her race:

She was not young -- she was not beautiful . . . but . . . her long black hair came

down her back with a flow of girlish luxuriance. Her face was that of a girl, still

round and smooth, and though sorrow had made free with it, the original expression

must have been one of extreme liveliness . . . . (p. 85) Clothed in a "long white garment" (p. 85), Matiwan displays a youthful purity that embodies both the innocent nature of the primeval tribe as well as the natural landscape that has sustained her people for many generations. The vices she lacks are found in her son, Occonestoga, who has been spoiled by contact with the whites. Because the youth is addicted to "fire water" and rumored to be a spy, his father disowns him and the tribal death sentence is pronounced. To save his soul from eternal damnation, Matiwan rushes forward with a concealed hatchet, reassuring her son: "I strike thee but to save thee, my son," revealing her seemingly barbaric act as a gesture of nobility.

The story ends following a bloody battle between the Indians and whites, with a literary spotlight on Matiwan cradling her dying husband as blood pours from his chest. His is a heart-wound on two counts, for he has lost his life as well as his lands.

Matiwan represents the remnants of her broken tribe (p. 454). Simms evidently thought highly of her character and perhaps used it as a framework for his text, for she and her husband introduce this story and remain pivotal to the action through the book's conclusion. Although Matiwan cannot be viewed as particularly feministic, she is depicted as courageous and strong, and Simms allows her to survive the tragedies that otherwise claim her family, her tribe, and her homeland. It may be that Simms sought to idealize the native Americans by placing Matiwan on a feminine pedestal for readers to honor as emblematic of her people's best qualities.

Border Beagles, A Tale of Mississippi (1840),(12) pairs a "haughtily beautiful" (p. 342) Florence Marbois with evil Ellis Saxon. Florence's dark and "lustrous" complexion, midnight-black hair, and "dazzling" eyes highlight her "rather masculine" person (p. 342). With this description of her as a femme fatale with potential for male traits, readers can expect Florence to encounter tragedy by the work's end.

Like other depictions of the Dark Lady during this period, Florence is exotic in background, having been born of Louisiana Creole parents, who died when she was a child. Passed among indifferent relatives, she finally fled to Edward Saxon (Ellis's alias), another relative, at the age of twelve. Seeking solace and affection, Florence instead meets with abuse and disgrace, but child-like, she believes that love for her guardian will prevail over all misfortune, as she has sacrificed "Hope, honor, society" (p. 364) in remaining in his questionable custody. Saxon, however, has merely taken advantage of her and as the book opens, he terms her a source of madness (p. 355) and "persecution" (p. 357).

It is easy to see that Florence has been exploited from childhood, but Simms chooses to convict the girl, along with her seducer, in that she was "easy, like all her sex, to be overcome where she loved, and believed herself to be beloved" (p. 367), rather than placing the blame where it rightfully belongs -- on her pedophile guardian, who has seduced her intellectually as well as physically into joining his band of men in a life of crime. We are told that she could bear any loss but Saxon's love (p. 363), the anchor of her emotional and material security.

Characteristic of romancers of the period dispensing with tragic heroines, Simms attempts to mate Florence unequally with a disfigured, almost subhuman protagonist. The dwarf, Stillyards, offers to help her kill Saxon if Florence will give herself to him in payment (p. 408). This illustrates the theme of pairing dark women with demented or deformed protagonists, exemplified in the dwarfs "low birth, vulgar life and deformed person" (p. 409). Angered at first, Florence gives in to this "humiliating moral bondage" (p. 409), knowing she will soon be dead by her own hand. Upon Saxon's capture -- with her aid -- she stabs herself in scorn of life (p. 483), leaving her lover with a memorable impression of strength and beauty: "She had conquered and the spell of her power was upon him in her dying moments" (p. 484). Somewhat belatedly in the text, Simms offers hope rather than mercy for her character when he asks, "Is it sinful to hope that her crime was softened by her sufferings?" (p. 485). Because her death troubles Saxon, which makes him "better prepared to die" (p. 495), she is able, even in dying, to pass on redemptive value to the man responsible for her ruin.

Florence's victimization cannot be questioned although it has been overlooked. Yet despite her weaknesses and failings -- to which she admits - she helps ensure Saxon's capture and chooses death s peace over life's despair. Misled and misused by her destroyer, she adopts his attributes and outlook, and so brings about his downfall and her own death. The evil protagonist is thus doomed by his own creation -- the poisonous handling of his protege's innocent youth. Thus Florence may be counted another casualty of Simms's judgment carried out by the villainous Ellis Saxon.

In Katharine Walton or The Rebel of Dorchester (1854)(13), a sequel to The Partisan, a Dark Lady saves the fair heroine from forced marriage to the British General Nesbitt Balfour in an effort to save her doomed father. True to the dark heroine's dualistic nature, however, her plan ensures the father's death while preserving Katharine for her hero-lover, Robert Singleton.

Moll Harvey, the dark woman, is contrasted with the fair Katharine in scattered passages throughout the work, but a poem by Harry Barry, recited by the British McMahon, clarifies the two heroines' differences:

When bounteous Fate decreed our Harvey's birth,

We felt that heaven might yet be found on earth;

But when the Walton to our eyes was given,

We knew that man might yet be raised to heaven.

Indulgent Fates, one blessing more bestow

Give me with Harvey long to dwell below;

And when and last, ye summon me above,

Then let the Walton be my heavenly love! (p. 224) Moll's beauty is extravagantly described as

all of a rich, exuberant, voluptuous beauty . . . the most beautiful . . . of a wild

and passionate temper . . . a splendid woman, of dark Cleopatra-like eyes and carriage,

and of tresses long, assiave (sic) and glossily black as the raven's when his

wing is spread for flight in the evening sunlight. (p. 112) Simms's warning about Moll's character echoes similar words about Margaret Cooper, that "a woman is always in danger who prides herself in going beyond her sex" (p. 192). True to Simms's style and preference, exhibiting non-traditional behavior sets Moll apart as flawed.

In falling victim to Balfour, Moll reflects the fate of earlier dark ladies: ". . . thus I am to be sacrificed" (p. 396), for which she is termed "fiend" and "devil" by her victimizer (p. 472). Choosing to save Katharine, she nevertheless admits that her passions "will destroy me yet" (p. 473). Ironically, her beauty, her boldness, and her brightness distinguish her from the fair heroine and help secure the success of this story, which is curious since Simms clearly establishes his position as anti-feminist and pro-tradition concerning women's aspirations and accomplishments. In this work, then, the uneasy alliance Simms allows between the dark and fair heroines results in a positive outcome for Katharine but further dooms Moll.

The Scout or The Black Riders of Congaree (1854)(14) features a tragic heroine who is dark more in character than in appearance. Young, indigent Mary Clarkson is seduced and abandoned by Edward Conway, whose Jamaican bloodline is blamed for his evil character. While her family believes that Mary has drowned herself as a result of her disgrace, it becomes apparent that she has joined the Black Riders' outlaw band to be near the unwitting Conway. Jack Bannister, who had loved Mary before her fall, echoes Simms's earlier apology for Florence: "It's mighty few women in this world that can say no when they're axed for favors by a man they have a liking for" (p. 127).

As with Florence, Simms chooses to view Mary as more perpetrator than prey, blaming her thirst for knowledge and intellectual pursuits (p. 130) as contributing to her fall. Conway accuses Mary of vanity in hoping for a good marriage with him, and the narrator appears to agree (p. 168). Evidencing traits uncommon to women of her time, Mary is blamed for trying to escape the confines of poverty and class that restrict her intellectual development and hinder her desire for self-improvement.

Although Mary repents of her wrongs (p. 171), she remains faithful in loving Edward. Destroyed by efforts to bridge the gender gap because of love for her seducer, Mary is given no opportunity for redemption. Following Edward to protect him in the fight with his brother, Mary is accidentally clubbed by Jack, who, hearing the enemy approaching, flees, believing Mary's gender will protect her from harm.

Mary's dying is prolonged by fever, delirium, hysteria, and a desire to find Edward (pp. 326-328). Encountering her father over Edward's sickbed, she pursues him to the woods where she dies after he forgives her. Her death prevents her father's murder of Edward, brings peace to Jack, and incites Edward to remorse. But she loses all: "Conway had ruined her peace and her happiness; her father had driven her from her home; and [Bannister] . . . had inflicted the fatal blow" (p. 348). Weak rather than willful, Mary is abused and abandoned by men she cares for and depends upon. She is Simms's most pitiable heroine, representing the downtrodden, forgotten, and beaten class of women whose lives are destroyed by men they love and to whom they remain faithful.

The Cassique of Kiawah (1859)(15) is perhaps the period's sole writing by a male romancer to feature a potentially tragic heroine in triumphant terms. "Simms reverses the conventional tradition of the fair-haired heroine triumphing over her dark-haired counterpart."(16) Zulieme, the Dark Lady of this work, experiences cultural and marital difficulties which spur her to personal growth and maturity. But as though Simms cannot allow the exotic heroine to triumph in his republican society, he sends Zulieme and her husband sailing away at the tale's conclusion, to pursue happiness in her native land as opposed to his.

Zulieme's character "lies at the heart of this work," and she is perhaps "the chief reason the book is so memorable" (Blythe, p. 50). As admired in her own time as in ours, she drew this praise from a reviewer for the Charleston Mercury in 1859, "We are inclined to consider Zulieme Calvert the most admirable female character ever drawn by the author" (quoted in Blythe, p. 51). Simms, too, was pleased with the work and called it one of his best romances.

Like Matiwan, Zulieme is symbolic of nature: : "She is indeed the human counterpart of the primitive, voluptuous coastal lands and waterways" (Wimsatt, p. 255). It is her innocence, of course, that ensures her success. She "is a combination of the Victorian child-wife and the romantic dark lady whose essential chastity is never seriously in question" (Blythe, p. 51).

Exotically beautiful through her Old World heritage, she also exhibits a New World innocence and purity. Other principal characters refer to her as a "baby" or "child." This balance of features renders her irresistible to most of the story's males: she is "petite," "full-bosomed, with every look speaking passion" (p. 26); and she is a "spoiled beauty" (p. 31): "When I want to know something, I will ask and somebody must answer" (p. 29). Indeed, her freshness, her alliance to nature, and her purity distance her from the realm of tragic heroines that otherwise fill this study.

The tragedy of this tale hinges on a husband's affection for an earlier love, whose identity Zulieme eventually learns. Ironically, it is Zulieme who helps nurse the beloved Olive during her deathbed illness and she witnesses her husband's final kiss to this dying rival. Even in a tale that seems to uplift and glorify the Dark Lady as pure and fruitful, Simms causes her heartbreak and suffering as though to compensate for the sensual allure of her dark beauty.

Yet happiness finally triumphs as Harry Calvert begins to love his young wife fully (p. 575), and the child she carries seems to symbolize the promise of a more productive relationship as does their return to the warm climate of Zulieme's birth.

What is interesting about Zulieme is how far Simms takes her character toward the tragic realm without crossing the definitive line of sexual sin, suggested in the flirtations of Molyneaux, Craven, and Cavendish. Zulieme's child-like but firm purity holds strong against these assaults and assures her ultimate happiness. Moreover, Simms focuses attention on her mulatto maid, Sylvia, who is not particularly beautiful nor skilled. He writes, "In the hands of some modern novelists, who are ambitious equally of taste and eccentricity, she might have become a heroine . . ." (p. 43). Evidently Simms did not place himself in this group of writers.

Thus on two counts in this work, Simms enters new literary territory: first, in providing a near-tragic heroine like Zulieme with an accomplished hero husband and a happy future; and second, in pointing attention to the mulatto Sylvia, who, despite lacking beauty and virtue, offers promise of becoming a "heroine" under future authors' pens. In this late work it appears that Simms is beginning to acknowledge and come to terms with advances made by feminists of his society, and he allows their heretofore frowned-upon peccadilloes to flourish in this romance. Unlike Margaret Cooper and Mary Clarkson, for example, although Zulieme is framed by an exotic beauty, she draws a heroic husband from the mainstream culture. Zulieme also leaves her home country to struggle for acceptance and in Southern society, and ultimately succeeds, again unlike earlier heroines who meet with disgrace upon leaving home or village.

Yet Simms concedes only partial victories to feminist philosophies symbolized in the Dark Lady of his works, and refuses to redeem the sexually impure or intellectually curious heroines whom he regards as transgressing too far into masculine territory and abandoning the domestic pedestal he worshipped.

Simms appears to have viewed his dark women with a high degree of both admiration and pity. But his judgment is merciless -- most die when forsaken or preceded in death by lover or husband; others remain questionably cared for. Oddly, his Indian heroines seem to take more control of their lives although they frequently suffer most from victimization. Simms offers more sympathy to these heroines than to others, perhaps because his familiarity with American history included a cultural empathy for their tribes.

Because his heroines often reflect nature and/or alien heritages, Simms seems to have believed that the environment was being despoiled by civilization -- for good and for ill. Obviously, Indians required taming and forests awaited clearing -- but Simms recognized the price of the losing of these homogenous elements. Significantly, his Indian women stand as symbols of their lost or declining nations while Latin or Creole heroines represent the assimilation of those peoples into the dominant American culture. And his sexually fallen, knowledge-seeking, masculinized females embody an undesirable class of womanhood that Simms viewed as domestically dangerous. As nations have traditionally been engendered with feminine identities and female pronouns, so Simms's heroines, symbolic of nature's purity ravaged by mankind's fallen nature, represent minority cultures and peoples to be broken down and made servile to mainstream American interests. Not only are his dark heroines victimized by lawless or judgmental men, but they sometimes adopt criminal or sinful qualities themselves, surrendering hope of salvation.

As intellectual, independent, or masculinized women seeking knowledge or freedom are destroyed by seducers again and again in Simms's works, readers are encouraged to view such heroines as deviant and as contributing to their downfalls. Only to a lesser degree is the Dark Lady considered a victim, depending upon how far she strays from Simms's representation of the Southern patriarchal hierarchy. Although Simms somewhat softened his views toward feministic behavior late in his career, for the most part he held to his theory of domestic purity dominated by masculine authority as the structural framework for the society he believed in and upheld. (1) William Goldhurst, "The New Revenge Tragedy: Comparative Treatments of the Beauchamp Case," Southern Literary Journal, 22 (Fall 1989), 119. (2) Louis D. Rubin, Jr., "Simms, Charleston, and the Profession of Letters," in Long Years of Neglect: The Work and Reputation of William Gilmore Simms, ed. John Caldwell Guilds (Fayetteville University of Arkansas Press, 1988), p. 226. (3) J. V. Ridgely, William Gilmore Simms (New York: Twayne, 1962), p. 52 (4) James Everett Kibler, Jr., ed., Introduction to Selected Poems of William Gilmore, Simms (Athens University of Georgia Press, 1990), p. xi. (5) Mary Ann Wimsatt, The Major Fiction of William Gilmore Simms: Cultural Traditions and Literary Form (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989), p. 176. (6) William Gilmore Simms. "Advertisement" in Charlemont or the Pride of the Village (New York: J. S. Redfield, 1856; rpt. A. C. Armstrong and Company, 1882), p. 11. Subsequent citations from the novel itself will be to the Armstrong reprint. (7) Jan Bakker, Pastoral in Antebellum Southern Romance (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989), p. 77. (8) Naomi Segal, "Patrilinear and Matrilinear," in The Body and the Text: Helene Cixous, Reading and Teaching, ed. Helen Wilcox, Keith McWatters, Ann Thompson and Linda R. Williams (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990), pp. 131-146, 137. (9) William Gilmore Simms. Beauchampe or the Kentucky Tragedy (1842; rev. 1856; rpt. New York: Armstrong and Co, 1882). (10) Charmaine Allmon Mosby, "William Hinckley/Calvert: The Key to Charlemont and Beauchampe," in Guilds, p. 28. (11) William Gilmore Simms, The Yemassee (1835; rev. 1853; rpt. New York: A. C. Armstrong and Co., 1882). (12) William Gilmore Simms, Border Beagles or A Tale of Mississippi (1840; rev. 1855; rpt. New York: A. C. Armstrong and Co., 1882). (13) William Gilmore Simms, Katharine Walton or The Rebel of Dorchester (1851; rev., 1854; rpt. New York: A. C. Armstrong and Co., 1882). (14) William Gilmore Simms, The Scout or The Black Riders of Congaree (originally published as The Kinsmen; 1841, rev., 1854; rpt. New York: A. C. Armstrong and Co., 1882). (15) William Gilmore Simms, The Cassique Kiawah (1859; rpt. New York: A. C. Armstrong and C., 1881). (16) Anne M. Blythe, "William Gilmore Simms's The Cassique of Kiawah and the Principles of His Art," in Guilds, p. 49.
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Author:Johanyak, Debra
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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