Perhaps the preeminent contemporary scholar of southern letters, Fred Hobson is adept at cutting through the many myths and self-illusions spun about the South and exposing a far more intriguing reality. In his inaugural collection of essays, Hobson offers both an astute and deeply personal take on American and southern life. He touches on history, literature, religion, family, race, and sports as he ponders various famous and obscure biographical and autobiographical figures. Rife with stimulating writing and thought,The Silencing of Emily Mullen informs, moves, and entertains all at once.
Hobson's own great-grandmother inspires the title essay, in which he investigates the whispered family rumor that Emily Mullen Gregory committed suicide by jumping down a well in the late nineteenth century. Besides the facts of Mullen's death, Hobson inquires into the plight of southern middle-class women's lives generally in that era. A happier female relative animates another absorbing chapter: Hobson's great aunt who left the benighted South with the intent of bringing enlightenment to China as a missionary and teacher from 1909 to 1941, and who became both friend and critic of Madame Chiang Kai-shek.
Ruminative appraisals of H. L. Mencken, W. J. Cash, progressive journalist Gerald W. Johnson, social critic James McBride Dabbs, man of letters Louis D. Rubin, Jr., African American author Mary Mebane, novelist Richard Ford, and twentieth-century southern literature add incrementally to the collection's overall intellectual pleasures. Hobson's concluding three pieces take a more intimate turn. He reflects on his connection to the hills of North Carolina, the impact the book The Mind of the South had on him, and the love of college basketball he shared with his father.
The Silencing of Emily Mullen captures both the richness and deficiencies of the South within the American society at large. It is a book that makes for exceptionally rewarding and enjoyable reading.
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