THE LAZY SOUTH by David Bertelson


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How does the old song go? ""The strings were on the banjo and the fiddle was in tune/And we reveled in the plenty that we thought could never pass/And lingered at the julep in the ever-brimming glass..."" The idyllic, indolent South, land of honey-toned hospitality or bone-lazy sloth? These stereotypes are analyzed in an amiable, modestly acute socio-historical inquiry extending from the sixteenth century to the Civil War, with some concluding reflections on the contemporary picture, especially vis a vis W.J. Cash's damning, but rather ambiguous, portrait. Bertelson relies heavily on the dual image: ""On the one hand, (the South) represents graciousness, harmony, easy living...on the other, violence, hate, cruelty...,"" and juxtaposes the plantation ethos against both the anti-idleness fervor of the original colonial settlers and the later puritan busybee activity of the industrial North. Paying close attention to much of the writing and opinions of the time, he sketches the dissenting temper of the various critical Southerners on such matters as slavery, revivalism, and the role of ""the gentleman,"" and also documents the decline of the public-spirited aristocracy represented by Jefferson and its changing face between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Economic peculiarities, the faith in King Cotton, political disagreements, and the ""ideal of leisure"" are all shown as shaping the South's ""sense of distinctiveness"" and its consequently largely illusory values. Psychologically skimpy, but a sturdy enough assessment.

Publisher: Oxford