From The Bower to “Gone With the Wind” by Jim Surkamp Click Here. TRT: 14:22.
What began at the The Bower in Virginia in 1832 turned, in a century, into “Plantation Tara” and its tragic state in the movie, “Gone With The Wind,” immortal in a million imaginations, where “tomorrow is another day.”
“Swallow Barn”‘s scenes of “thriftless gayety” danced torrentially from his pen, and was finished on New year’s Eve in 1831. Publisher Henry C. Carey in Philadelphia read it and books were on the shelves in five months, and it was read all over the South and North, even published in Sweden.
Kennedy observed his great success in the introduction to the second edition of Swallow barn in 1852, with his typical, self-deprecating charm:
“The outward public award on this point was kind, and bestowed quite as much praise as I could have desired and much more than I expected when the former edition appeared. But ‘the progress’ has brought out many competitors since that day, and has, perhaps, rendered the public taste more scrupulous.”
Charles H. Bohner wrote in his biography of Kennedy: “If ‘Swallow Barn’ deserves attention as an authentic document in the social history of the South, it also holds a significant place in literary history as the prototype of a persistent and influential theme in American literature – the southern plantation tradition. ‘Swallow Barn’ stands at the head of a long stream of novels of the Old South, novels that increasingly romanticized their materials until they all but lost their anchorages in reality and became . . . a pastoral and feudal mythology.” He adds: “This tableau is familiar to everyone today, owing chiefly to the phenomenal popularity of Margaret Mitchell’s ‘Gone With the Wind’ and the motion picture made from the novel – certainly the apogee of the plantation tradition. . .” (“NOTES”-JS).
“Gone With the Wind” in 1939 served up a romanticized, antebellum South that fed the South with the salve of a communal tragedy and enchanted the conquering North with a wistful evocation of a once-agrarian past of charm and grace, since crushed by the industrial age.
Professor Crystal Feimster of Yale, remembered: “As a young girl growing up in the South, I was forced to watch ‘Gone With The Wind’ throughout my primary and secondary education. As May dwindled into June, teachers grew weary of lecturing on multiplication tables or constitutional history and resorted to ‘historical films’ to pass the time, with ‘Gone With The Wind’ at the top of the list.”
But Kennedy, unlike succeeding planation novelists, stayed realistic and even changed the second edition of “Swallow Barn” to reflect his souring view of the dark side of the life of thriftless gayety. He wrote in the introduction: “I wish it to be noted that Swallow Barn is not a novel. I confess this in advance, although I may lose by it. It was begun on the plan of a series of detached sketches linked together by the hooks and eyes of a traveller’s notes; and although the narrative does run in some by-paths of personal adventure, it has still preserved its desultory, sketchy character to the last.”
Swallow Barn pp. 9-11.
Wrote Serena Catherine Dandridge: “The resources of the house were manifest, fat cattle in the pastures, poultry in the surrounding hills, many gardens in the rich bottom lands in front with fifty servants always at one’s beck and call. . . Back of the house lay numerous terraces and plots, planned by the artistic taste of my grandmother . . . We gloated on the Paradisical beauty of the beloved home & loved to put a wealth of flowers about it.”
But Kennedy disguised The Bower as a place in The Tidewater in his final draft, partly because the traditional planter aristocracy there seemed more unchanged or less in decline; than where the Bower was. The area around The Bower and Martinsburg was becoming commercialized. Probably Kennedy also hoped that the switch might make less recognizable some close resemblances between his stories and the realities of life at The Bower. In shifting his locale, however, Kennedy did not materially alter the vision of plantation life that The Bower afforded,” according to Bohner.
Kennedy stayed close to fact behind the pseudonyms.
Lucinda MacKethan wrote in her in-depth introduction to a recent re-issue in 1986 of the 1852 edition: “Kennedy expanded and rephrased the chapter, called ‘The Quarter.’ Never a defender of slavery, Kennedy in this treatment of blacks in ‘Swallow Barn’ shows how ever more deeply even he became entangled in the pastoral mystique of the world he set out to satirize.”
In the revised “Swallow Barn,” he deletes the mention in the first edition of the near-use of a stick to strike an offending enslaved man. He described, in the first edition, the dispute over the capacity of a mill, similar to three mills on the Opequon on The Bower’s lands:
“After a slave had grinned ‘saucily and good-humoredly’ at his master’s stupidity, ‘it is said that my grand uncle looked up at the black with the most awful face he ever put on in his life. It was blood red with anger. But bethinking himself for a moment he remained silent, as if to subdue his temper. He did not speak one word. If he had not constrained himself by this silence, he would probably have attacked his slave with his stick.’”
A real-life “Lucy” at the Bower was an inspiration to Kennedy’s fictionalized character – “Mammy Diana,” according to Professor Bohner.
Also writes Professor MacKethan: “In his revised book, Kennedy expends a great deal of time and effort on the image of the grief-crazed old mammy, Lucy. Her mournful visage remains with us much as does the visage of Mollie, who dominates ‘Go Down Moses’ through Faulkner’s concluding portrait of her sorrow for her grandson, returned in death to the society that betrayed him. ‘Swallow Barn’s stories of Abe and Lucy, in their turn, seem to lead Kennedy on a search deep into history for a positive image of Virginia’s heritage with which to close the book.”
In “Swallow Barn” Kennedy writes:
“Lucy’s cottage was remote from the rest of the cabins, and seemed to sleep in the shade of a wood upon the skirts of which it was situated. In full view from it was a narrow creek, or navigable inlet from the river, which was seen glittering in the sunshine through the screen of cedars and shrubbery that grew upon its banks. A garden occupied the little space in front of the habitation; and here, with some evidence of a taste for embellishment which I had not seen elsewhere in this negro hamlet, flowers were planted and in order along the line of the enclosure, and shot up with a gay luxuriance. A draw-well was placed in the middle of this garden, and some few fruit trees were clustered about it. . . .
“When we arrived at this little dwelling, Lucy was alone, her daughter having, a little while before, left her to make a visit to the family mansion. The old woman’s form showed the double havoc of age and disease. She was bent forward, and sat near her hearth, with her elbows resting on her knees; and her hands (in which she grasped a faded and tattered handkerchief) supported her chin. She was smoking a short and dingy pipe; and . . . was beating one foot upon the floor with a regular and rapid stroke, such as is common to nurses when lulling a child to sleep. Her gray hairs were covered with a cap; and her attire generally exhibited an attention to cleanliness.
open window, and looked demurely out upon the garden – as if soberly rebuking the tawdry and garish bevy of sunflowers that erected their tall, spinster-like figures so near that they almost thrust their heads into the room.”
After the real drama and tragedy of the Civil War overtook the reading of escapist potboilers, The Bower, like Tara, slipped down the long, dusty path to ruin, impoverished at war’s end. But it recovered as the sons of the Dandridges,
A fire burned out the Bower in 1892 leaving only its walls, which everyone rebuilt and filled up with a happy home.
Bohner, Charles H. (1961).” John Pendleton Kennedy, Gentleman from Baltimore.” Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press. Print.
Bohner, Charles H. (1961). “John Pendleton Kennedy, Gentleman from Baltimore.”
Internet Archives: Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music, and Wayback Machine. 31 July 2008 Web. 3 March 2011.
———. “Swallow Barn: John P. Kennedy’s Chronicle of Virginia Society.” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 68 (July 1960): 317-30.
Dandridge, Serena K. (1935). “A Sketch in the Life of Adam Stephen Dandridge.”
Hamstead, Elsie.(2000). “One Small Village: Kearneysville 1842-1942.” Hagerstown,MD: Hagerstown Printing and Binding. Print.
Tuckerman, Henry T. (1871). “The Life of John Pendleton Kennedy.” New York, NY: G.P. Putnam & Sons. Print.
Tuckerman, Henry T. (1871). “The Life of John Pendleton Kennedy.” Internet Archives: Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music, and Wayback Machine. 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 3 March 2011.
Kennedy, John P. (1832). “Swallow Barn; or A Sojourn in the Old Dominion.” Introduction by Lucinda H. MacKethan. Reprint, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986. Print.
Kennedy, John P. (1832). “Swallow Barn; or A Sojourn in the Old Dominion.” Introduction by Lucinda H. MacKethan. Google Books. 19 July 2008. Web. 24 Dec. 2010.
Kennedy, John Pendleton. (1851). “Swallow Barn Or, A Sojourn in the Old Dominion,
Revised Edition, With Twenty Illustrations by Strother.” New York, NY: George P. Putnam. Print.
Kennedy, John Pendleton. (1851). “Swallow Barn Or, A Sojourn in the Old Dominion, Revised Edition, With Twenty Illustrations by Strother.” Aug. 2009. Web.
Kennedy, John Pendleton. (1852). “Swallow Barn; or, A sojourn in the Old Dominion.” New York, NY: George P. Putnam. In Two Volumes. Vol. 1. Print.
Kennedy, John Pendleton. (1852). “Swallow Barn; or, A sojourn in the Old Dominion – Vol. 1.” Documenting the American South: The University of North Carolina Library.
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Kennedy, John Pendleton. (1852). “Swallow Barn; or, A sojourn in the Old Dominion.” New York, NY: George P. Putnam. In Two Volumes. Vol. 2. Print.
Kennedy, John Pendleton. (1852). “Swallow Barn; or, A sojourn in the Old Dominion – Vol. 2.” Documenting the American South: The University of North Carolina Library. 22 Aug. 2008. Web. 28 Dec. 2010.
“The Bower.” (1978). National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form. United States Department of the Interior. Print.
“The Bower.” (1978). National Register of Historic Places.
Start date unavailable. Web. 20 May 2011.
Myers, Walter D. (1991). “Now Is Your Time!: The African-American Struggle for Freedom.” New York, NY: Harpers Collins. Print.
Myers, Walter D. (1991). “Now Is Your Time!: The African-American Struggle for Freedom.” Google Books. 19 July 2008. Web. 24 Dec. 2010.
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