Southern Scholarly Conversation

Alabamian Clarence Cason (1896-1935) as a writer experienced the continuing sectional bias of Northerners toward the South as he sought to describe and explain the culture of his native region. His well-known book “90 Degrees in the Shade” made it known that the slow pace of life and work in the South was the result of the sultry climate, and helped create the region’s unique culture, cuisine, and outdoors lifestyle coveted by Northerners.

Bernhard Thuersam,


Southern, Scholarly Conversation

“Wishing to be complimentary, a forthright city editor of a Manhattan newspaper once proclaimed that young men from the South make excellent reporters provided they can rid themselves of malaria and gentility. This characterization may be accepted as a fair statement of the reputation of Southerners abroad in the land. By malaria the city editor meant not so much the pathological state induced by the mosquito’s sting, as that dreamy and miasmic attitude of mind usually associated with the disease.

And by gentility the editor intended to imply a false assumption of gentlemanly graces and immunities, especially an immunity from a conscience which holds steady work to be a duty.

From his own point of view the Manhattan journalist of course spoke with accuracy. But from the point of view of the indigenous Southerner he was altogether wrong. For the terrestrial aims of the Southerner are not the same as those of the New Yorker or New Englander. To be properly appreciated for his native qualities, the honest Southern person should stay at home.

When I went north to college, a dean, after learning the region of my nativity, asked in a tone of slight facetiousness what I considered the aim of Southern scholarship. Did I also think Southern scholars had to do nothing but sit pleasantly on a vine-covered back porch and drink lemonade?

I shall always feel that one of the tragic failures of my experience was that I did not, to our common astonishment, say, “Yes — provided the scholarly conversation is graceful, well-mannered, and leisurely enough.”

(Culture in the South, Middle Class and Bourbon, Clarence Cason, UNC Press, 1934, excerpt, pp. 478-481)


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