... From: Harris, Robert To: Sent: Tuesday, October 01, 2002 11:07 AM Subject: REVIEW: Fahs, _The Imagined Civil
Message 1 of 1
, Oct 1, 2002
----- Original Message -----
From: "Harris, Robert" <HarrisR@...>
Sent: Tuesday, October 01, 2002 11:07 AM
Subject: REVIEW: Fahs, _The Imagined Civil War_
> H-NET BOOK REVIEW
> Published by H-Civwar@... (September, 2002)
> Alice Fahs. _The Imagined Civil War: Popular Literature of the North &
> South, 1861-1865_. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2001. xi + 410
> Illustrations, notes, bibliography, and index. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN
> Reviewed for H-Civwar by Lisa A. Long (lilong@...), Department of
> English, North Central College
> Seeing Anew Civil War Popular Literature
> The success of Alice Fahs in _The Imagined Civil War: Popular Literature
> the North & South, 1861-1865_ rests in her ability to see anew what has
> always been right in front us: the vast number of novels, short stories,
> news reports, poems, songs, histories, children's fictions, and other
> ephemera the Civil War inspired. Fahs refuses to fall prey to the dire
> pronouncements of earlier critics such as Daniel Aaron and Edmund Wilson,
> who encouraged us to see Civil War literature as naïve, partisan, crude,
> hasty-in short, as just plain bad and thus implicitly unworthy of extended
> scholarly study. Though Fahs' method is firmly historical, she follows in
> the tradition of literary scholars such as Jane Tompkins in her refusal to
> pass judgment on popular literature; rather, she attends to the crucial
> "cultural work" accomplished by the war's print culture. In conveying her
> fascination with and respect for this literature, Fahs has created an
> important intervention in Civil War history.
> Given, as Fahs herself notes, the tremendous "outpouring" of popular
> literature across genre and region during the Civil War, it is clear from
> the outset that she has set herself an enormously ambitious task. Fahs
> heroically tackles the complex relationship between northern and southern
> literary culture; explores the many forms of popular print culture ranging
> from histories to stationery; examines both the symbolic and the
> registers of literary production; and looks at how popular culture
> race, gender, and national identities. In her introduction she claims
> popular war literature "participated in a cultural conversation concerning
> the evolving relationships between diverse individuals and the nation in
> wartime" (2). In her efforts to examine the Civil War's popular
> in its totality-and to consider genre, region, economics, and identity
> politics in each of her chapters-Fahs can only paint that "cultural
> conversation" in broad strokes. In this regard I find Fahs' title
> of a misnomer: one might be led to believe that the nature and complexity
> of "imagining" would be at the core of this study; rather it remains
> implicit. While I applaud Fahs for her focus on the popular, I am not
> as to how cartoons and history books, for example, are imagined similarly,
> or whether or not they imagine in the same ways.
> However, the breadth of Fahs' research is distinctive. For example, Fahs'
> first chapter powerfully examines how the material circumstances of
> publication and distribution of literature during war-time affected its
> content. It is clear here and throughout the text that Fahs is thoroughly
> familiar with the many periodical publications of the war era. For
> in her discussion of the South's lack of publishing resources and reliance
> on northern literary culture Fahs weaves together quotes from the
> Weekly_, the _Southern Literary Messenger_, and the _Southern Field and
> Fireside_, introducing the thick layering of diverse primary sources that
> she employs throughout. At the same time, she mines the private
> correspondence of key actors such as southern writer Paul Hamilton Hayne
> order to elucidate how pecuniary matters influenced writers (p. 34). The
> chapter similarly ranges to descriptions of sheet music, stationery,
> souvenir cards, games, etc. One of Fahs' most original observations here
> that the war became "visual" in the North in a way that it could not in
> resource-poor South (p. 47).
> In her next chapter on the war's popular verse, Fahs helps her readers to
> see distinctions among a seemingly homogeneous and unimaginative group of
> poems. Indeed, Fahs cites a war-era poem that itself satirizes the
> "banality and even absurdity" of war-era poetry (p. 75). Rather than
> attending to the metaphoric language and imagery of the verse, Fahs
> nevertheless helpfully divides poems into sub-categories in this chapter
> (battle calls, flag poems, hymns, images of Christian soldiers, etc.). Her
> text emerges as a useful taxonomic tool in this and similar chapters.
> In writing a history book about literature and literary culture, Fahs has
> entered a disciplinary interstice that invites reviewers to assess her
> familiarity with nineteenth-century literary criticism. Her lack of
> in-depth engagement with that criticism is most evident to this literary
> critic in her chapters on poetry, the sentimentalized soldier, and the
> feminized war. Recent literary scholarship has questioned the coherence
> utility of traditional categories such as "sentimental" and
> "feminized"-categories that seem to be a priori concepts in Fahs' text.
> the "The Sentimentalized Soldier" Fahs argues, paradoxically, that the
> "highly conventionalized and typologized" sentimental soldier registered
> public's insistence on "individual, personal meanings" of the war (p. 94).
> Again, she marshals a dazzling variety of sources to make her case,
> a speech by Oliver Wendell Holmes, "The Poetry of the War," that asserts
> that literature forged links between the home front and battle front (p.
> 101). Yet many scholars, such as Phillip Fisher and Karen Sanchez-Eppler,
> have complicated the apparent meaning of the sentimental witness Fahs
> is central to renderings of hospital suffering.
> Similarly, Fahs' chapter on women's literature seems not to take into
> account fully the ways in which recent work such as Elizabeth Young's
> _Disarming the Nation_ complicates simple dualisms between masculine and
> feminine, public and private realms, home front and battle front concerns.
> Indeed the title of Fahs' chapter, "The Feminized War," reaffirms old
> notions that war is inherently masculine and, then, that when women
> take it on it is transformed. Issues of gender transgression are taken up
> more aggressively in Fahs' chapter on "The Sensational War," where she
> explores the way that the instabilities of war were often expressed as a
> sexual threat against vulnerable women who, as often, used the
> of the time to transcend their circumscribed roles. In this latter
> Fahs also reinvigorates her discussion of the economics of popular
> literature, showing how the war facilitated the development and sale of
> "cheap novels."
> Fahs's later chapters on depictions of African Americans, children's
> fiction, and war-era humor are original and effective work. In
> Fahs offers a sophisticated consideration of the way that popular war-era
> representations of African American men registered the ambivalence of
> northerners towards black military service and emancipation, and the
> of white southerners to reinscribe antebellum stereotypes. What is most
> effective here and in her subsequent reading of Civil War humor is Fahs'
> weaving of textual and visual primary sources; for example, she uses the
> famous _Harper's Weekly_ illustration, "A Typical Negro," to argue that
> transformation of African Americans from property to citizen was
> (p. 171). Fahs continues in this vein in her chapter on war humor, where
> she shows how political and publication pressures informed the humorous
> verse and cartoons of the era. Though her claim that humor allowed for
> repressed dissent is conventional, Fahs sheds light on an extended and
> brutal culture of war humor that is so often eschewed in favor of more
> sentimental war literature.
> In her final chapters Fahs explores how popular literature made material
> links between the war and post-war periods. In her chapter on juvenile
> fiction, Fahs contends that the proliferation of boys' war fiction made an
> "important link to a postwar juvenile culture that stressed adventure and
> excitement" (p. 258). While Oliver Optic, Horatio Alger, and the other
> authors of boys' fiction Fahs examines might be more familiar to readers,
> her reclamation of the little-known girls' book, _Dora Darling, the
> of the Regiment_, is notable (p. 275). And in "The Market Value of
> Fahs once again encourages us to look afresh at what has always surrounded
> Civil War scholars-those ubiquitous tomes of Civil War-era histories.
> chapter offers a useful catalogue of those texts and includes some
> material on subscription practices during the war and in the immediate
> post-bellum era. Most interesting are the implications of this chapter
> historigraphy: Fahs implies that the (il)legitimacy of war histories
> the battleground over what constituted valid history writing. Given how
> much war-era material she has taken on, Fahs' "Epilogue" can only gesture
> towards the legacy of the war's popular literature in the post-bellum
> What I like best about this impressive book is that Fahs refuses to offer
> easy answers, looking for "imagined differences" (p. 9) as often as she
> notes rhetorical similarities between northern and southern literary
> culture, sensation and sentiment, antebellum and war-era literary
> productions. etc. As she concludes, the war "invited a diverse spectrum
> ordinary people to imagine themselves as part of the conflict" (p. 311).
> Fahs has produced a study that is itself diverse and suggestive, a
> well-written book that highlights crucial and previously overlooked texts.
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