Elevate Difference

Entitled to the Pedestal: Place, Race, and Progress in White Southern Women's Writing,1920-1945

I have to be honest. This was not the easiest book to read or absorb. It reminded me of a book that might appear on a required reading for a college literature course. The author covers a lot of ground in her analysis of the construction of “the myth of white southern womanhood.”

In her extensive analysis, Lewis reviews the works and autobiographical histories, private correspondences, essays and lectures of five female southern white writers over a period of twenty-five years (1920-1945).

The five authors Lewis shines a spotlight on are: Julia Peterkin, Gwen Bristow, Caroline Gordon, Willa Cather and Lillian Smith. Not being familiar with the works of female southern writers also placed me at a disadvantage in reading Lewis’s critique, but inspired me to add Willa Cather and Lillian Smith to my reading list.

In her painstakingly researched critique, Lewis offers a new perspective on the role these female authors played in the reinforcement of plantation mythology and the position of white women in the complex structure that was southern society at the time. In introducing her thesis to the reader, she writes: similarities and differences among these writers not only deconstruct the white southern womanhood monolith, they also lay bare in this myth and the Plantain mythology a yet unrecognized heterogeneity…it is obvious to me that without the presence of white southern women of means, the social economies and gender politics born out of the myth of White Southern Womanhood and Plantation Mythology neither happen nor endure.

Lewis ends her book with her last chapter “Old Sites of Authority,” in which she describes how the film industry and popular culture continue to reinforce and reinvigorate these myths and stereotypes with films like Bringing Down the House starring Queen Latifah and Steve Martin. She points out that the blockbuster hit earned an estimated $31,680,000 and a number-one rating in its premiere week at the box office.

Written by: Gita Tewari, June 6th 2007

Yes. The author did mention that Cather was a lesbian. She describes Cather and her partner, Edith Smith as "white southern (-born) aristrocratic lesbians."

Just curious: does this book note that Cather was a lesbian, and a friend of Truman Capote? She was hardly conventional.

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