Ohio History Journal

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Albion W

Albion W. Tourgee: Propagandist

And Critic of Reconstruction







gee was referred to as "the most neglected figure in American

literature." Increasing interest in the writers of the Civil War

and Reconstruction era has caused a swing in the pendulum,

and now his name crops up often in the growing literature

dealing with this period in our history. Tourgee's work has

always interested a small but devoted group of literary critics,

who are aware of his strange mixture of romance, realism,

and local color. And his Reconstruction novels have always

held interest for an equally small, but also equally devoted,

group of literary historians, who recognize the importance

of his acute, though biased, account of post-Civil War life

in the South. It is worth noting that the bibliographical sup-

plement to the Literary History of the United States, pub-

lished in 1959, lists in detail for the first time Tourgee's works

and the still meager list of articles discussing the man and

his writings. The two Tourgee novels to be examined here,

perhaps his best known, A Fool's Errand and Bricks Without

Straw, will be used to illustrate his shrewdness as a social

critic and his bias as a radical Republican propagandist and

critic of southern traits. Before discussing the novels, how-

ever, it is first necessary to understand Tourgee's life. Only

in this way can his social criticism and historical analysis of

Reconstruction be fairly evaluated. It is important to note


* Ted N. Weissbuch is an instructor at the University of Iowa. His doctoral

dissertation on Reconstruction literature in the North and South is nearing com-