Early 19th-century Alabama was a society still in the making. Now Philip Beidler tells how the first books written and published in the state influenced the formation of Alabama's literary and political culture. As Beidler shows, virtually overnight early Alabama found itself in possession of the social, political, and economic conditions required to jump start a traditional literary culture in the old Anglo-European model: property-based class relationships, large concentrations of personal wealth, and professional and merchant classes of similar social, political, educational, and literary views.Beidler examines the work of well-known writers such as humorist Johnson J. Hooper and novelist Caroline Lee Hentz, and takes on other classic pieces like Albert J. Pickett's History of Alabama and Alexander Beaufort Meek's epic poem The Red Eagle. Beidler also considers lesser-known works like Lewis B. Sewall's verse satire The Adventures of Sir John Falstaff the II, Henry Hitchcock's groundbreaking legal volume Alabama Justice of the Peace, and Octavia Walton Levert's Souvenirs of Travel. Most of these works were written by and for society's elite, and although many celebrate the establishment of an ordered way of life, they also preserve the biases of authors who refused to write about slavery yet continually focused on the extermination of Native Americans. First Books returns us to the world of early Alabama that these texts not only recorded but helped create. Written with flair and a strong individual voice, it will appeal not only to scholars of Alabama history and literature but also to anyone interested in the antebellum South.
“Thoroughly researched and copiously documented, First Books is an original and provocative contribution to Southern studies. Beidler’s book shows how the first writers of one Southern state created through their books an image of their culture that conformed to dominant sociopolitical assumptions of the time. Equally significant, his book also implicitly provides a viable foundation for considering the validity of cultural mythmaking as it may pertain to the first books produced in other states of the antebellum South.”
—South Atlantic Review
”A lively, critical reading of selected antebellum texts appearing in book form and an analysis of their authors’ social milieu.”
—Journal of the Early Republic
“Beidler has mastered his subject matter and presents it very effectively and with good balance. . . . Beidler has made a solid contribution to our understanding of the evolution of culture in early Alabama, as reflected in its literary creations.”
—Journal of Southern History