A further garden: The gentleman ideal in southern fiction, 1894-1904

Jorg Werner Homberger, University of Pennsylvania


At the end of the nineteenth century, fictional portraits of the antebellum South as a lost Arcady, a place where honorable gentlemen, charming belles, and happy black "servants" lived in splendid isolation from the struggle for wealth and status in more commercial societies, enjoyed a widespread popularity. At the same time, apostles of a new order emerged, proclaiming the death of the Old South and the birth of a progressive, industrialized South. The new Southerner, they claimed, regarded work no longer as a necessary evil but indeed as man's primary avenue toward self-fulfillment. The difficulties of reconciling the South's mythic past and its future as a capitalist market society form the central subject of five novels published between 1894 and 1904. Thomas Nelson Page's Red Rock (1898) and Gordon Keith (1903), George Washington Cable's John March, Southerner (1894), and Ellen Glasgow's The Battle-Ground (1902) and The Deliverance (1904) attempt to redefine the meaning of gentlemanliness in the context of the social changes heralded by the ideologies of the New South. In antebellum southern society, the gentleman, as described in numerous romances, had become a tremendously influential model of masculinity for white southerners. Writing in the wake of the social upheaval caused by the lost Civil War and Radical Reconstruction, the novelists Page, Cable, and Glasgow ask whether or not the southern gentleman can or should survive as a model for future generations. Underlying the writers' consideration of gentlemanliness, traditional gender roles within the plantation household, and the social functions of labor is one fundamental question: "Can gentlemen exist without slaves?" The answers provided in these texts shed an interesting light not only on southern society at the end of the nineteenth century but also on the work of some among the more highly acclaimed southern writers of the twentieth century, most notably William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, and Walker Percy.

Subject Area

American literature

Recommended Citation

Homberger, Jorg Werner, "A further garden: The gentleman ideal in southern fiction, 1894-1904" (1991). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9211940.