ed into a more general understanding.nI do not want to claim too much.nSimms possessed a high order of talent,nnot genius. He did not write MobynDick or The Scarlet Letter. His poetry,nwhich he regarded highly, will not bentaken too seriously today. Any authornas prolific as he was is bound to suffernfrom unevenness. He is sometimesncareless and melodramatic, not, as innthe conventional Parringtonian account,nbecause his art was underminednby a romantic and extroverted Southernnsociety, but because a restless temperamentnled him ever onward to newnmaterial. However, at his best, Simmsncould tell an important story well, withngreat dramatic conviction and a seriousnconfrontation of moral and socialnissues.nI do not want to put down Cooper,nwhom I admire and who has an essentialnplace in American literature. Moreover,nCooper preceded and made possiblenSimms’s literary exploitation ofnthe materials of the American Revolutionnand frontier. Nevertheless, comparisonnwith Cooper is the most tellingnthat can be made for Simms. I wouldncontend that in his best works Simmsnwas a better storyteller than Cooper, anbetter plotter, a better psychologist.nMoreover, he had a much amplernhistorical and social imagination as wellnas a vast fund of something Coopernlacked entirely—humor. Most readersnhave found Simms’s frontiersmen andnIndians superior to the more famousncharacters of Cooper. Moreover,nSimms truly anticipated many of thengreat achievements of 20th-centurynSouthern literature, whereas Coopernhas no real progeny.nMost of Simms’s major work, andnmuch of the lesser, is found in thenthree series of novels, or “romances” asnhe called them, that he produced morenor less simultaneously from the 1830’snto the 1850’s: those set in the colonialnSoutheast {The Yemassee, The Lilynand the Totem, The Cassique ofnKiawah, and others); those concernednwith the American Revolution innSouth Carolina {The Partisan,nMellichampe, The Scout, KatharinenWalton, The Forayers, Eutaw, Joscelyn,nand Woodcraft); and the “border romances,”nset in the newer Southernnstates {Guy Rivers, Richard Hurdis,nBorder Beagles, Beauchampe, andnothers).nIn these books Simms created annall-encompassing, Balzacian panorama,nfrom the 16th to the 19th century,nof’ the history and society of thenregion south and west of Virginia, anregion that is, after all, large and authenticallynAmerican, even if seldomnnoticed, except negatively, in Boston.nIn the process he explored as extensivelynas anyone ever has the great dramasnof colonial settlement. Revolution, andnthe conquest of the frontier, and portrayednfully every social class — thenaristocracy, lesser gentry, yeomen,npoor whites, frontiersmen, slaves, Indians.nAt their best these books displayndrama, humor, robust realism, largenand complex historical themes, and ansophisticated treatment of manners.nBy a twist of fate even more curiousnthan the popularity of The Yemasseenthere is a lingering impression thatnSimms was a prudish, stilted writer, fullnof wooden figures of Southern ladiesnand gentlemen. Though he did paynsome allegiance to ideal aristocraticntypes, as models for a society that wasnemerging from the lawlessness andncrudity of the frontier, the impressionnof artificiality is far from just. In fact, innhis own time and later, Simms wasnusually subjected to the opposite criticism.nThe New Englanders thoughtnthat he was too graphic and realistic inndealing with the hard facts of sex,nviolence, and human drives. Later,nwhen Victorian standards were beingnabandoned for “realism,” he was dismissednas a mere romanticist. He was,nthus, first condemned for not beingngenteel enough, and then for being toonmuch so.nIt is closer to the truth to say thatnSimms, like Faulkner and the othernSouthern greats, dealt with a full rangenof characters well, especially vividly andnconvincingly with the middle order ofnSouthern society, the nonaristocraticnwhites, and that his most predominantncharacteristic and greatest virtue as anwriter is a robust and often sophisticatednrealism. Contrary to an oft-repeatednjudgment also, Simms’s women are asnclose to flesh and blood as those of anyncontemporary male writer, as Anne M.nBlythe shows in discussing the range ofnfemale characters in her essay herein onnThe Cassique of Kiawah. The samencan be said about the strong andnSXui*’*-^-‘nEdited bv John C. Guilds ^^^ correspondentn„. „« (1806-1870) was a poet, cntvc, novel ,^^gjj,ry.nWlliamGilmoreSimmsjm^^^^^^nc^ei^itisr-“-nnnA Second Look.ns ^nTHE UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS PRESSnFAYEHEVILLE 72701n(501)575-3246nMAY 1989/27n