A major consequence of the rise of New Criticism in the 1950s was a reversal in the assessment of Southern literature. From early on the South had failed to develop literary institutions equivalent to New England and New York. After the Civil War the South became marginalized economically and politically as well as culturally. By the 1920s H. L. Mencken could describe the South as 'The Sahara of the Bozart' (i.e. beaux arts) and as late as the 1970s Sacvan Bercovitch could write a book, The Puritan Origins of the American Self, the title of which assumes Puritan New England as the fount and origin of American Identity. In fact the fIrst permanent English colony was that of non-Puritan Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 and the first American book was John Smith's 1608 account of this colony. It is arguable that there is a Chesapeake Bay origin of the American self, a Southern, relatively secular and materialistic self that was at least as much a model for future American identity as the Puritan version. 1 It is true that the religious evangelicism that swept over America from the 1730s on ultimately left its strongest imprint on the South, leading to its displacement of New England - itself increasingly tending towards religious liberalism - as the stronghold of Calvinistic religious intensity, yet a Southern fascination with hard materialism and cultural lowlife persists from Ebenezer Cooke's The Sotweed Factor (1708) and William Byrd's The History if the Dividing Line (1728) through such nineteenth-century Southern humorists as Augustus Baldwin Longstreet and George Washington Harris, and from them on to contemporary Southern fIction. If the cultivated narrative voices of Cooke, Byrd and Longstreet maintain a condescending superiority to the vulgarities they portray, a certain relish in the piquancy of 'poor white trash' behaviour and locution is equally apparent. Indeed Cooke's narrator is unreliable, easily duped by some of the Marylanders to whom he
condescends and oblivious to the good-humoured hospitality of others while Harris openly sides with his character Sut Lovingood's contempt for the moral code of respectable society. From Cooke on, Southern writing poises values of ethical cultivation and civility against those of raw materialism and self-assertion, sometimes privileging one side of this opposition, sometimes the other and sometimes playing both ends against the middle. Ellen Glasgow, especially in The Sheltered Life (1932), and Allen Tate in The Fathers (1938) poise family traditions of civility and restraint against the new, expressed as unmediated, uncivilized desire, a theme that carries over to the work of Katherine Anne Porter and Eudora Welty.