Saturday, July 02, 2005

Shelby Foote Obituarists

Shelby Foote - The Homer of the Old South? By Field Maloney: "Our nation's obituarists responded to the death of the Civil War historian Shelby Foote on Monday night by splitting, roughly, into two familiar camps: those above and those below the Mason-Dixon line. The tenor of the Northern praise was respectful, occasionally admiring, but restrained—at least compared to the Southerners, a number of whom had reverential firsthand tales of droll conversations and shared bourbons with the elegant, puckish Mississippian. One columnist from North Carolina called Foote's history of the Civil War 'the Iliad of our nation,' while a reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution lamented, 'we've lost a modern day Homer.' One Washington Post writer boldly ventured that with Foote's passing now the Civil War could 'finally be over.'

As Edmund Wilson wrote in his introduction to Patriotic Gore, the 'period of the American Civil War was not one in which belles letters flourished, but it did produce a remarkable literature which mostly consists of speeches and pamphlets, private letters and diaries, personal memoirs and journalistic reports.' Has there ever been another historical crisis of the magnitude of 1861-65 in which so many people were so articulate?" Much of the considerable power of Foote's epic comes from the way he—drawing on his novelistic instincts—wove together all the these disparate voices into one seamless narrative.

...[Foote's] scene[s] ha[ve] tremendous pathos, and the postcript[s are] the kind of quietly devastating flourish one might come across in Chekhov. Foote's epic history is filled with thousands of such small moments. They make the Southern obituarists' claim that Foote's opus is the Iliad of our nation seem not quite as outlandish."
A nice summary piece on Foote - worthy of a quick read before you delve into the real stuff.

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