". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Thomas Nelson Page, Thomas Dixon, Owen Wister, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson

Entertainment affects and shapes political thought and actions. The connections keep being made.

Another Virginian lawyer turned author, born 1853, Thomas Page Nelson was Woodrow Wilson's Ambassador to Italy, and remained so during the period Wilson maneuvered the U.S. to enter the conflict of World War I.

Thomas Nelson Page was beyond doubt the best-known Southern author during the last years of the nineteenth century.  To members of his generation, he was the foremost champion of the Lost Cause.  “It is hard to explain in simple terms,” Grace King wrote, “what Thomas Nelson Page meant to us in print as a Southerner, and his stories, short and simple … showed us with ineffable grace that although we were sore bereft, politically, we had now a chance in literature at least.”  Even into the twentieth century, James Branch Cabell,  [another Virginian, not to be confused with Louisiana writer, George Washington Cable, who, considered a traitor to the Cause after he began publishing, moved north] speaking for a new generation of Southern writers, complained that “The ghost of Thomas Nelson Page still haunted everybody’s conception of the South, keening in Negro dialect over the Confederacy’s fallen glory.”

Nelson's writings make the perfect Virginia bookend to Lost Cause literature, revisionist history of the Civil War, the making of the KKK and Jim Crow, with Carolina's Thomas Dixon,

another college friend of Woodrow Wilson,  (author of  a vilely racist trilogy of novels that inspired the vile D.W.Griffith's Birth of A Nation and helped revive the KKK) on the other end.

There were so many of these writers, who were very successful in the North, not only in the South, not least among whom was Owen Wister, who created The Virginian friend of Theodore Roosevelt, attacker of Wilson as a coward -- Wister, though a Philadelphian, had his family out of Georgia -- and sometimes viewed as the U.S. Kipling.  

It's  difficult for me to accept Wister as the grandson of Fanny Kemble, the great actress who wrote Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation 1838-1839.

The connections between entertainment, politics and history, Gore Vidal dramatized in the final four novels of  Narratives of Empire, his own entertainment of American History. These were deeply influenced by Henry Adams's Histories of the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison -- and, not least, for bridge novel from the past to our future dominated by media, Vidal's novel, 1876. 1876 was deeply influenced by Adams's novel of the same period, Democracy -- which features as the romantic lead, a Virginian Lost Causer come north to Washington D.C. and New York City, to renew his family's fortunes ....

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