Sitting in Darkness: New South Fiction, Education,
And the Rise of Jim Crow Colonialism, 1865-1920
by Peter Schmidt
Complete Notes and Discussion for Chapter Twelve
Supplementing the print edition of this book
1. Philip Butcher’s solid discussion of Lovers of Louisiana remains the best overall, despite being several decades old. Also worth consulting are analyses by Edmund Wilson (601-04) and John Cleman (178-81); Wilson disparaged the novel and perhaps never even finished it (see his comment on 602 regarding Philip’s suit), but everything he said about its topics made me want to read it immediately. Arlin Turner’s biography of Cable ignores the novel but gives important biographical facts relating to the time of its composition, including Cable’s several triumphant returns to his beloved New Orleans between 1909 and 1915. It is also worth noting that William Dean Howells strongly praised Lovers as a return to Cable’s strengths (see Butcher 177n2), and that Randolph Bourne gave it a mixed review in The Dial (Turner, Critical Essays 145). For one articulation of the consensus that after 1890 Cable’s literary work increasingly presented romantic views of the South to suit Northern tastes, see Kreyling, “After the War.”
I have immensely benefited from Barbara Ladd’s and George Handley’s discussions of Cable’s early and middle career. Handley stresses Cable’s typically white Creole unease with the racial and cultural mixtures generated by the slavery and postslavery plantation racial systems (61-73), while Ladd argues for more ambivalence and undercurrents in The Grandissimes (37-84). As I hope to show, similar contradictions afflict the more modern Lovers of Louisiana (particularly its abhorrence of Zéphire and its romance with “rational” British colonialism), but the novel cannot be reduced to its flaws.
2. Letters from Charles Scribner, Cable’s publisher, confirm that the firm tried to serialize Lovers of Louisiana in popular magazines like Collier’s Weekly, The Century, and those owned by Charles Hearst, but was turned down. A letter from Maxwell Perkins to Cable on April 9, 1917, notes that “the editors of the magazines to which we have submitted it speak with admiration of its qualities but seem to find it less ‘timely’ than the sort of fiction they are especially in search of.” See also letters dated December 29, 1916, and February 13, 1917. Scribner’s apparently received the manuscripts for both Lovers and The Flower of the Chapdelaines on November 9, 1916. Tulane University, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Special Collections, Cable Papers, Box 62.
3. Philip’s request that his listeners forget he is white implies he wants them to consider his positions instead as the result of rational and universalist thinking, not self-interestedly advocated in favor of one race or class. Ignoring the effects of race in order to solve racism is a familiar argument, one that has also been frequently critiqued in recent years by anti-racist activists: for one example of such critique, see Frankenberg, whose books on claims of race neutrality and the social construction of whiteness had a pronounced influence on so-called “whiteness studies” in the academy in the 1990s. Philip’s position indeed reflects the assumptions governing many who think they are being liberal or progressive on race matters, including Cable in 1914 and many today. Ironically, the naïveté of this request does seem eternal, rediscovered and relearned with each generation, even if its blindnesses are not.
4. This passage in Lovers of Louisiana was little revised in typescript, but later speeches by Mr. Murray as the scene continues (pp. 26-27 in the published novel) contain important additions added in revision in Cable’s handwriting to the typescript. In particular, the paragraph of Mr. Murray’s speech beginning, “‘No, you don’t know either how big it is,’” contains extensive revisions, the most important of which perhaps was the addition of the word “—inside—” to the sentence beginning, “We make them as white—inside—as we can…” (27). The overall effect of these changes was to heighten not just Mr. Murray’s idiosyncratic speaking style, but to dramatize the racial politics of “whitening” behind his endorsement of colonial solutions to the race question, in contrast to the U.S. South’s supposedly less enlightened policies of exclusion and suppression. More than any of Mr. Murray’s other speeches, this one also explicitly assumes that the U.S.’s “internal” racial dynamics must be evaluated in the context of global colonialist policies, especially Britain’s. Tulane University, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Special Collections, Cable Papers, Box 103.
5. A generation younger than Cable, Bassett joined him in exile in Northampton, Massachusetts, after the furor raised by articles such as “Stirring Up the Fires of Race Antipathy” (1903) in The South Atlantic Quarterly, which he founded; Cable’s Philip Castleton is certainly in part a tribute to Bassett. But elements of Philip’s thought can be found in many other intellectuals of Bassett’s generation and earlier, including Walter Hines Page; William P. Trent and John Bell Hennemann at Sewanee, Tennessee; Andrew Sledd at Emory; and William C. Dodd at Randolph-Macon. Dodd authored a piece for The South Atlantic Quarterly that certainly would have appealed to Philip Castleton: “Some Difficulties of the History Teacher in the South.” The one clear difference between Cable’s Philip and these other intellectuals is that no mention is made in Lovers of Louisiana of any danger to Philip’s job security. Another troublesome history professor in New South fiction of course was fired—Walter Hines Page’s Nicholas Worth. For Page’s vigorous defense of Bassett, see Cooper, Walter Hines Page 214-16. For essential background on this younger generation of academics represented by Nicholas Worth and especially Philip Castleton, see Gaston, New South Creed; and Hobson, “The Rise of the Critical Temper.”
6. We also learn that many of Philip’s ideas are elaborations of his deceased father’s work; he is carrying his father’s fight to a new generation. The poignancy of this is enhanced by knowing that Cable lost a son, William, only a few years before composing Lovers of Louisiana; William Cable in 1914 would have been close to Philip’s age, 26. Philip’s grandfather, a key secondary character in the novel, is close to Cable’s age when he composed the book. In several significant ways, therefore, the plot of Lovers of Louisiana configures for us an author who understands himself to have fought, died, and been incarnated anew. Cable may have been more enamored with his hero Philip than any of the other characters, even Rosalie, but it was not an uncritical love.
7. Cable includes in his novel no parallel to the Leninist arguments in Du Bois’ “African Roots of the War,” but various points made throughout Lovers by Philip and Murray are the equivalent of a trenchant condensation of Du Bois’ attack on imperialism abroad and white supremacy at home. I have not found written proof that Cable read Du Bois’ essay in the Atlantic, a journal well known to him, but the convergence of key ideas is certainly remarkable. Du Bois in Darkwater sometimes shares Cable’s idealism regarding how colonial development may be properly managed in an un-racist way.
8. Incisive Ovide sometimes is, but he is also striking for his controlled decorum. He never expresses anger or sarcasm directly, though I wonder at the tone of the “Sir” he uses to address Philip in the scene just quoted. Ovide’s dignity surely functions in part to rebuke stereotypes about predatory blacks common in current U.S. popular culture. But something is also lost by Cable so stressing Ovide’s restraint. Cable’s characterization of Ovide may be contrasted with the other important black character from Cable’s late career, the quadroon slave Phyllis in Gideon’s Band (1914), and of course Bras-Coupé and the “real” Honoré Grandissime from the earlier Grandissimes.
9. The parallels between Lynch’s and Philip’s points may not indicate direct borrowing or influence, but rather that Cable drew upon a precariously shared national discourse defending Reconstruction that was still circulating—not just among blacks—in 1913 and 1914. I know of no proof Cable knew John Roy Lynch or Lynch’s history of Reconstruction, though he may have, given his familiarity with the history of Reconstruction and the Republican party. What is intriguing is how close certain themes in Lynch’s Facts of Reconstruction are to Philip Castleton’s favorite points, or Cable’s earlier published positions. For instance, Lynch deplored President Grant’s refusal to send federal troops to enforce the Constitution in Mississippi in 1874. He recounts demanding an explanation from Grant, who then admitted he had refused to send troops to Mississippi for fear of losing Ohio to the Democrats in the Presidential election. Lynch also extensively paraphrases Grant’s fears for “the future of our country,” particularly the sovereignty of the Constitution in the face of open white rebellion against Reconstruction amendments and legislation (Facts 150-55). Both Grant’s and Lynch’s arguments are close to those made by Philip Castleton, as is Lynch’s concluding peroration in favor of the Fifteenth Amendment and the Republican party’s stance for “liberty, justice, equal rights, and fair play” (324).
10. Philip Castleton’s and Mr. Murray’s praise of Bermuda in Lovers in Louisiana as an example of a working multiracial democracy seems rather overblown, though Bermuda’s government was certainly a more just and multiracial a system than Jim Crow. The oldest British colony, Bermuda never supported a plantation economy but thrived via maritime trade. In the late nineteenth century, when Britain abolished elected legislatures and imposed Crown Colony governments, only Barbados and Bermuda continued to be governed by elected legislatures. To vote for members of Bermuda’s House, a Bermudan had to be a landowner; thus some blacks could vote. The Legislature and the economy, however, were long dominated by a select group of white mercantilist families known as the “Forty Thieves,” who used an extensive patronage system to reward their followers and retain power. Before World War II, three separate school systems were set up—for whites, for Portuguese, and for blacks. But the island does have a long tradition of pluralist competition among its main ethnic groups. Given my emphasis here, a particularly relevant social history of Bermuda is Frank E. Manning’s study of black gaming clubs in Bermuda; the book opens with a historical and ethnographic survey (3-26).