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Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South


Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South Cover


Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award, hailed in The Washington Post as "a work of enormous imagination and enterprise" and in The New York Times as "an important, original book," Southern Honor revolutionized our understanding of the antebellum South, revealing how Southern men adopted an ancient honor code that shaped their society from top to bottom.

Using legal documents, letters, diaries, and newspaper columns, Wyatt-Brown offers fascinating examples to illuminate the dynamics of Southern life throughout the antebellum period. He describes how Southern whites, living chiefly in small, rural, agrarian surroundings, in which everyone knew everyone else, established the local hierarchy of kinfolk and neighbors according to their individual and familial reputation. By claiming honor and dreading shame, they controlled their slaves, ruled their households, established the social rankings of themselves, kinfolk, and neighbors, and responded ferociously against perceived threats. The shamed and shameless sometimes suffered grievously for defying community norms. Wyatt-Brown further explains how a Southern elite refined the ethic. Learning, gentlemanly behavior, and deliberate rather than reckless resort to arms softened the cruder form, which the author calls "primal honor." In either case, honor required men to demonstrate their prowess and engage in fierce defense of individual, family, community, and regional reputation by duel, physical encounter, or war. Subordination of African-Americans was uppermost in this Southern ethic. Any threat, whether from the slaves themselves or from outside agitation, had to be met forcefully. Slavery was the root cause of the Civil War, but, according to Wyatt-Brown, honor pulled the trigger. Featuring a new introduction by the author, this anniversary edition of a classic work offers readers a compelling view of Southern culture before the Civil War.

About the Author

Bertram Wyatt-Brown is Richard J. Milbauer Professor Emeritus at the University of Florida and a Visiting Scholar at Johns Hopkins University. The author of House of Percy: Honor, Melancholy, and Imagination in a Southern Family and The Shaping of Southern Culture: Honor, Grace, and War, he is past president of the Southern Historical Association, the Society for Historians of Early American History, and the St. George Tucker Society. He lives in Baltimore.

Table of Contents

Preface to Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition

Part One: Origins and Definitions

1. Honor in Literary Perspective

2. Primal Honor: Valor, Blood, and Bonding

3. Primal Honor: The Tensions of Patriarchy

4. Gentility

Part Two: Family and Gender Behavior

5. Fathers, Mothers, and Progeny

6. Male Youth and Honor

7. A Young Man's Career: Cultural and Familial Limits

8. Strategies of Courtship and Marriage

9. Women in a Man's World: Role and Self-Image

10. Law, Property, and Male Dominance

11. Male Custom in Family Life

12. Status, Law, and Sexual Misconduct

Part Three: Structures of Rivalry and Social Control

13. Personal Strategies and Community Life: Hospitality, Gambling, and Combat

14. Honor, Shame, and Justice in a Slavocracy

15. Policing Slave Society: Insurrectionary Scares

16. Charivari and Lynch Law

17. The Anatomy of a Wife-Killing

List of Abbreviations and Short Titles



Product Details

Wyatt-brown, Bertram
Oxford University Press, USA
Wyatt-Brown, Bertram
null, Bertram
United States - Antebellum Era
Social history
United States - State & Local - South
History, American | Southern
United States / Civil War Period (1850-1877)
History, American | S
World History-General
Edition Number:
Edition Description:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
5.3 x 7.8 x 1.3 in 1.6 lb

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Americana » General
History and Social Science » Americana » Southern States
History and Social Science » US History » 19th Century
History and Social Science » Western Civilization » General
History and Social Science » World History » General
History and Social Science » World History » Western Civilization
Humanities » Philosophy » Ethics

Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South New Trade Paper
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Product details 640 pages Oxford University Press, USA - English 9780195325171 Reviews:
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