Date of Award

1990

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

John May

Abstract

Since before the time of the so-called Southern Renaissance of the 1920's, critics have been debating the existence and the value of a literature of the South. Although they agree on little else, most would concur that such a literature would share certain characteristics: a belief in the importance of community and the past; a tendency to prefer myth, or a perception of reality, to reality itself; a religious sensibility, especially a pervading sense of sin and guilt; an emphasis on place; and the use of elements of the Gothic. For thirty-five years Shirley Ann Grau has been writing fiction which demonstrates the influence of life in the South and of the Southern literary tradition. The few scholars who have commented on her writing tend to group her with other Southern women writers, especially for her early works, but no one has tried to define her Southernness or to show that it exists even in her later stories not set in the South. Filled with regional overtones, her earliest works do emphasize place, but more importantly, they deal with the issues of community, myth, and the past in defining individual identity. Her later works experiment with non-Southern settings, but issues remain the same. The results have ranged from the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Keepers of the House (1964) to the rather disappointing Nine Women: Short Stories (1985). In every book, however, Grau's Southern background is unmistakable. Though the characteristics associated with the South appear at times as ideals to be admired and envied, they appear at others as empty or even dangerous. A thinking, modern Southerner, Grau has continued to grapple with those old questions: is there a Southern tradition and is it worth saving? Her ambivalence about the answers to those questions reflects an uncertainty about the future of the South itself.

Pages

180

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