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A Posthumous Revenge

The death mask of Robert E. Lee

467 words

Translator’s Note:

The following excerpt is taken from the concluding chapter of Venner’s Gettysburg, one of two books he’s written on the War of Southern Secession. Like Maurice Bardèche’s Sparte et les sudistes [Sparta and the Confederates], it reflects the other side of that European anti-liberalism which crusades against everything contemporary America has come to represent. Indeed, Venner’s defiant image of the Confederate legacy testifies not just to what we whites have lost, it validates the tradition we hope to regenerate. — Michael O’Meara

Ruined by war and Reconstruction, the [insurgent] South would survive the somber era [of its defeat] through her lost sons, the great western outlaws, Jesse James, Cole Younger, John Wesley Hardin, and Bill Doolin. Denounced in the North as vicious bandits, the former Confederate guerrillas, forced to continue the war on their own terms, would be extolled in song and story from Texas to Kentucky as modern-day Robin Hoods.

The Old South would also live on in myth, in the image of an idealized past projected onto the future. Implicit in this image was a condemnation of a society dominated by economic imperatives and the pursuit of individual gain, a condemnation that seems strangely germane to our own age.

Through art’s royal way, the Confederacy achieved a surprising, posthumous revenge.

The first expression of this was perhaps D. W. Griffith’s Birth of A Nation (1914), one of the monuments of the silent cinema.

Aspects of the South’s chivalrous ideal were also perpetuated in the western, with its celebration of the free life and the great, open spaces, its sense of honor, its contempt for Puritan hypocrisy, and its respect for feminine virtues.

An entire generation of novelists would add further gild to Dixie’s already gilded legend. Thomas Nelson Page, like Joel Chandler Harris. The South would indeed become one of the privileged places of American literature. Erskine Caldwell, William Faulkner, Henry James, Robert Penn Warren would all find their inspiration there.

But more than any other, it was the admirable novel of Margaret Mitchell (in no way disserved by the film of Victor Fleming) that would resurrect the white plantations with their trees of honeysuckle and magnolia, their young girls in crinoline dresses, the gallant planters and gentlemen seized by the torment of their inexorable fate.

Gone With the Wind wiped away the insufferable memory of the Yankee victory at Gettysburg, along with that of its own defeat.

For Southern children — and for certain others, no doubt — Pickett’s charge on July 3, 1863, [the failed infantry assault on Cemetery Ridge, which sealed the Confederacy’s defeat] is always something to be tried again. As Faulkner says, perhaps one day it will succeed.

Source: Dominique Venner, Gettysburg (Paris: Eds. du Rocher, 1995).

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