An insightful new introduction by Scott Romine places this Southern classic in its cultural context and examines the literary reception it has received since its 1909 serialization in The Atlantic Monthly.
Education reformer Nicholas Worth was only a boy during the Civil War, but he’s haunted by its repercussions his whole life. Harvard-educated, Worth champions public education reform in his native South Carolina. The proponents of the romantic Lost Cause are in his way at every turn, with veterans who “frightened us into actions that we did not approve, for we feared to offend them… they were our fathers and they were brave; but we did not become ourselves till they were buried, if indeed we are become ourselves yet.”
In The Southerner’s sights are not only the educational system, but also party politics, the press, the church, and all institutions invested in lionizing the Confederacy. Progressive ideas about social and economic and racial reconciliation are thwarted at every turn as election returns are “delayed” and each state is viewed as its inhabitant’s mother, not to be changed or criticized.
The first-person narration enhances this view of the post-Civil War South from its protagonist’s frustrations. Presaging William Faulkner’s Quentin Compson, Nicholas Worth loses in love and social standing in order to fight the battle of his generation, one that is still being fought one hundred years later. Though the writing sometimes sacrifices storytelling narrative to essay, the ideas expressed are so compelling and still relevant that it is a welcome republication. Scott Romine’s analysis illuminates the text, its time, and the reactions of contemporary critics, some of whom claimed that it was “made to fit the New England theory of the South.”