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Creating a Mythic South

Augusta Jane Evans took the South’s defeat very hard.   She had to ‘strangle’ her ambition to write a history of the Confederacy.   Instead she wrote a book, St. Elmo, that was its own form of history, portraying the superior culture she believed the South to be.   In the video interview on this page, Nina Baym, a New York native, wonders if the romanticized South portrayed in Augusta’s books ever existed.   John Sledge notes that nostalgia for the ‘moonlight and magnolia’ South began in earnest in the 1880s and saw perhaps its most prolific author in Joel Chandler Harris.  The high point of this fascination with the South and its Lost Cause was Gone with the Wind, a gigantic success when it was published in 1936.  

Diane Roberts calls St. Elmo the Gone with the Wind of its day because of its enormous popularity.    Nina Baym sees Gone with the Wind -- which features a rakish hero much like St. Elmo Murray and a heroine as defiant as Edna -- as a re-run of St. Elmo.   There a number of major differences but one stands out:  in St. Elmo Augusta allows only one brief reference to the recent Civil War that had left much of the South in ruins.    The characters were noble as well as savage, but in the end nobility won out.   Augusta was creating a romanticized South before the dust had even settled on its destruction.