William Gilmore Simms and the American Frontier.
Along with James Fenimore Cooper, William Gilmore Simms is a respected and prolific fictionist of frontier life in America. John Caldwell Guilds and Caroline Collins have performed a valuable service in collecting and in editing seventeen essays taken from a Simms symposium held at the University of Arkansas in 1993. These essays, in centering upon Simms's vision of his Southern frontier heritage, examine the author's version of the turbulent life in the Southern states and territories before and during the American Revolution, extending well into the mid-decades of the nineteenth century. Throughout the collection, the reader encounters criticisms devoted to fictional characters living in wilderness areas not yet a part of any stable civilization.
After a brief introduction, these articles, not accompanied by an index and generally limited in scope, are specifically concerned with particular works by Simms, including, for example, lengthy narratives like Richard Hurdis, The Cassique of Kiawah, The Yemassee, and Woodcraft;, tales from The Wigwam and the Cabin; and other less known shorter compositions like "How Sharp Snaffles Got His Capital and Wife."James Kibler, the editor of Selected Poems of William Gilmore Simms (1990), discusses the two versions of Simms's narrative poem "The Traveller's Rest" as Simms's contrasting responses to the American frontier, Simms becoming, as it were, a "poet-seer" envisioning "our age" (p. 217). Along with Kibler, other scholars recognized for their work on Simms include Mary Ann Wimsatt, Rayburn S. Moore, and Guilds himself, along with Jan Bakker, Edwin T. Arnold, and Thomas L. McHaney. Other contributors include historians Elliott West and David Moltke-Hansen, whose opening essays devoted to the American frontier are both informative and useful with respect to the context of Simms's representations of history.
Nancy Grantham, Caroline Collins, David W. Newton, and Thomas L. McHaney adopt critical approaches that tend to be current and theoretical; Dianne C. Luce and Sabine Schmidt present brief comparative studies of Simms and other authors, namely William Faulkner and Friedrich Gerstacker, respectively. Miriam J. Shillingsburg's essay points to a little-known work that reveals a very different frontier often encountered in Simms's most familiar fiction. Shillingsburg convincingly argues that in The Cub of the Panther, published in 1869, Simms approached a "new frontier" of a different "world order" (p. 230) in the mountains of North Carolina.
Perhaps the most significant essays in this collection relate to humor in Simms's writings and evidences of his early ventures into literary realism. To Gerard Donovan, Irish folklore had an impact on "Sharp Snaffles" and "Bald-Head Bill Bauldy," and Mary Ann Winsett demonstrates the source of Simms's humor in his little-known Southward Ho! In Richard Hurdis, Guilds finds, Simms "forayed" into realism and naturalism by "portraying the Alabama frontier of the 1820s and 1830s in its true colors" (p. 50). Jan Bakker finds Woodcraft, largely known for its memorable character "Porgy," to be the first "Realistic" novel in America.
Although some of these essays can be considered too brief in being narrowly focused, they do acquaint the reader with several innovative and desirable features of a Southern writer worthy of further analysis. Alongside Charles S. Watson's From Nationalism to Secessionism: The Changing Fiction of William Gilmore Simms (1993), these essays are fresh invitations to the study of Simms's world of adventure, romance, humor, and memorable descriptions of natural scenery. Finally, Molly Boyd, in her essay "Southwestern Humor in The Wigwam and the Cabin," for the most part says it all when she declares Simms "to be a master storyteller" (p.176).
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|Author:||Dameron, J. Lasley|
|Publication:||The Mississippi Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1998|
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