Wednesday, February 08, 2006

"The Mind of the South" on the Internet

Book Cover: The Mind of the South

Last week, while volunteering at my local library branch, I came across an interesting volume in the "for sale" section. Someone seems to have donated his or her collection of yellowed paperbacks from college days. Where else would these essay collections on John Milton have come from? Of course, I have my own set of yellowing paperbacks on John Milton, so I only purchased W.J. Cash's The Mind of the South (Vintage), published in 1941.

Book Cover: The Education of Henry Adams

I was initially interested when I spotted some favorite Appalachian stereotypes, but I soon found some insulting quotes from The Education of Henry Adams, and I was hooked. Clearly,W. J. Cash was an angry Southerner, but was he most angry at his fellow Southerners, or at dismissive Yankees like Mr. Adams?

I turned to an Internet search engine to find out what I could about Mr. Cash. Strangely, the top results were mostly content-free. Therefore, I'm assembling the fascinating resources I found in one of my little lists, for future reference.

  • Book Cover: W.J. Cash W.J. Cash: A Life by Bruce Clayton. (Not a close relative, but I will be checking the genealogy charts. After all, he's from Missouri.) Here's the Library Journal blurb on the amazon.com page:
    Clayton plumbs the mind and milieu of the man who authored The Mind of the South, a classic of historical literature never out of print since Knopf published it in 1941. Probing the book's autobiographical foundations, Clayton traces the steps of the South Carolinian born in 1900 and christened Joseph Wilbur Cash. From his reversal of names to Wilbur Joseph, through his college days at Wake Forest and his unhappy stint teaching English, to his years as a newspaperman, Cash comes to life in Clayton's prose as a sensitive and sympathetic Southern son seeking to explain himself and his native region. Clayton shows that the sense of sorrow and profound tragedy stalking Cash's South also haunted him to the day his wife found him hanged in their Mexico City apartment. Clayton's insights into the man and his time and place make this book essential for collections on the South.--Thomas J. Davis, Univ. at Buffalo, N.Y.
  • "Cash, W.J.." Encyclopedia Britannica. Short and sweet--three paragraphs. It describes his single book thus:
    In The Mind of the South, Cash tried to debunk the idea of an "aristocratic" Old South and a "progressive" New South and sought to describe the romanticism, antiintellectualism, and prejudice that he believed arose from a peculiar Southern climate, landscape, frontier violence, clannishness, and Calvinism.
  • Random House, Inc.'s Mind of the South page promotes Cash's book, saying:
    Ever since its publication in 1941, The Mind of the South has been recognized as a path-breaking work of scholarship and as a literary achievement of enormous eloquence and insight in its own right. From its investigation of the Southern class system to its pioneering assessments of the region's legacies of racism, religiosity, and romanticism, W. J. Cash's book defined the way in which millions of readers -- on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line -- would see the South for decades to come.
  • W. J. CASH: QUANDARIES OF THE MIND is a candidate for a "Websites that suck" listing, although it is consistently the first page Google returns. There is probably useful information here, but good luck trying to read the pages.
  • On Being Southern - perspectives from all over. This interesting collection of literary quotations is from the Hampstead, NC Chamber of Commerce web site. It features quotes from Cash, but includes many other interesting excerpts on the South. I would like to know more about the author of the page, but all I can find out is that he made the Hampstead Web page.
  • Typewriter used by W.J. Cash in the creation of "The Mind of the South." Yes, it is a photo of his typewriter. There is a typewriter like this in my past, but, alas, I have no photo to include in my personal archive.
  • Wilbur J. Cash Collection at the Wake Forest University Library. Google did not return this result in its first 100 hits, although it is the gateway to the most interesting and important Web site concerning W.J. Cash. I found it by backtracking from the typewriter photo. The Table of Contents to the W.J. Cash Collection lists their collection of Cash's papers available on the Internet as text and photos. I can't resist quoting this letter to Cash from Ellen Glasgow:
    You will see how carefully I have read your book when I pause to take issue with a quotation. Why, I wonder, should you accept Henry Adams as the final authority upon the Southern mind? "The Education " is one of my favorite books, and I am willing to admit that accuracy is often the point of offense in Henry Adams's malice. Nevertheless, I remember that there are unorthodox opinions concerning even in the mind of Adams. Do you recall an amusing passage in "New England: Indian Summer"? "He (John La Farge) dreamed ,after one of (their arguments) that he heard the mind of Adams making a great clatter in the room. He awoke,--it was only a rat."
    Amazing, eh? Ellen Glasgow dishing Henry Adams to W.J. Cash! I'm so glad I looked at that typewriter picture.
  • Internal orientalism in America: W.J. Cash's The Mind of the South and the spatial construction of American national identity. David R. Jansson, Department of Geography, The Pennsylvania State University, 302 Walker Bldg., University Park PA, 16802, USA Political Geography 22 (2003). This is the only interesting scholarly article I found that was freely available without a subscription. It's a .pdf file; I found it quite fascinating.

3 comments:

Mary K. Elkins said...

Hello there, I'm a relative of Cash's. His sister was my grandmother. I'm glad that you found the Wake Forest papers so interesting. I do too, they used to be in a dusty box in my parent's bedroom that i would pour through on sick days as a kid. My family donated it to WFU about 15 years ago, and I'm so happy that they preserved it AND put it online. As for wjcash.org, that was done by my .. um .. eccentric uncle, although he doesn't claim it anywhere on the site, which I think is funny... "The Website Editor" or some such. Sheesh, isn't it awful?

KMD said...

I think you guys are being a bit harh on the whcash.org webpage. While certainly not a "sexy" webpage, it actually does a lot of good. First, it publishes a lot of Cash's editorials from his newspaper days, a number of which are, to be frank, very hard to come across. He also has included the American Mercury articles. While the design certainly needs some improvement and I often find myself skipping over the introductions to the articles, I think the site remains very valuable. Instead of throwing insults, we should be thankful for this wonderful tool for scholars. The site proves that Cash had a lot more to say than what can be found in the one book.

Rebecca Clayton said...

My frustration with the wjcash.org site is based on its illegibility. I was unable to tell whether it contained useful information or not, because it was unreadable on all the web browsers to which I have easy access. The "fancy" formatting and the background images hid the text from my middle-aged eyes.

The worst thing is that all these "decorations" were unnecessary. The information could have been conveyed perfectly well by plain text on a plain background.