Reconsidering a reform novel: George Washington Cable and The Grandissimes

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Paul Budnick (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Scott Romine

Abstract: This paper is an assessment of George Washington Cable's 1880 novel The Grandissimes, its engagement with history and the logic of its racial poetics. Paying particular attention the text's black and mixed-blood characters, I argue that Cable's treatment of Southern racial conflict, specifically its relation to the legacy of slavery, is more complex and nuanced than previous criticism has allowed. In an era in which literature dealing with racial conflict and sectional reunion was becoming increasingly defined by its discarding of history in favor of the image of romantic reconciliation, Cable's The Grandissimes is a firm reminder that any legitimate attempt to understand postbellum racial conflict must first begin with a re-examination of the past. My argument centers on the Bras-Coupe episode and its formal meaning as well as its significance to 19th century New Orleans. Often discussed simply as a black victim of white oppression, I argue that Bras-Coupe is better understood as a figure whose consistent denial of stable representation fractures any sense of a stable, essential "black" identity at all. As a result, this subversive Bras-Coupe becomes an historically-situated symbol of black insurrection while simultaneously standing as an ineradicable symbol to the white characters of the urgent (if not intractable) racial tensions produced by the legacy of slavery, Middle Passage, and institutional racism.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2009
Bras-Coupe, George Washington Cable, Grandissimes, Race, Reconstruction, Southern
Cable, George Washington, $d 1844-1925.
Southern States $x In literature.
African Americans in literature.
Race relations in literature.

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