Battle of the Contraries: Glory of War or Gory War in De Forest’s
Miss Ravenel’s Conversion From Secession to Loyalty
According to Jay Martin, John William De Forest presents many “contraries” in the spirit of writing a novel realistic in its portrayal of Americans and American life (Martin 30, 33). Using a central historic theme of the Civil War, the two opposing contraries are romanticism and realism, or “antiromantic[ism]” (Martin 31). De Forest reveals both the Civil War’s antiromantic horrors and romantic strengthening by hardships the soldiers face in Miss Ravenel’s Conversion From Secession to Loyalty.
De Forest casts aside traditional romantic tendencies of Civil War ...view middle of the document...
De Forest’s agenda reveals itself by both intentional and unintentional methods. He wrote his main accounts of the war during the time of war, and not later as many others have. His writing less likely suffers memory distortion or the golden glaze of nostalgia, or as Michael Adam writes, tales “softened by time” (Adams 224).
Opposing all of deglorifcation of battle, however, is De Forest’s glorification of what battle has done to the characters, in particular, Colburne’s men. Colburne feels great “pride to the hardihood of soul” all of the “hardships had given to [his] soldiers” (323). They have been “tempered to steel by hardships [and] by discipline” (323). Their experiences have made them stronger.
It can also be said that in a very Puritanical way, he believes in strength through suffering (Cecil 356). In McConnell’s review of De Forest’s A Volunteer’s Adventures, a Union Captain’s Record of the Civil War, he interprets De Forest’s writing as those of one who tires of the “monotony of camp life and wishes for a baptism of fire” (McConnell 376). He narrates Colburn as one “exalted by the fever of bodily weariness and spiritual sorrow,” his heart and soul heavy with the death of his mother and all the suffering he has seen firsthand in the Civil War (71). Only in the midst of pain can a person seem to find their greater self. He progresses from the once shy individual, unsure of himself in the beginning of the novel to a man of confidence in the end of the novel.
At the novel’s conclusion, Colburne portrays the war’s best while Carter shows the worst. Colburne passed through and triumphed De Forest’s trial by fire and in a rather romantic fashion is rewarded with the love of Lillie. Carter on the other hand, falters in this hellish trial and fails, a drunken Colonel blaspheming a few seconds before his mortal wound (409).
Why does De Forest present these contraries? He writes that “[y]ou must learn to accept the...