Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Cub of the Panther: A Hunter Legend of the ''Old North State'' >> Afterword >> Page 255

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Page 255

Novel (Romance) | The University of Arkansas Press | 1997
Transcription AFTERWORD 255
and of the people were a very conscious attempt to draw a true picture
of life in the backwoods areas of North Carolina in the 1840s. In this
effort, Simms lost track of the legend he set out to tell. He became so
involved in recording the minutiae of his characters' lives that the legend
of the Cub is postponed until the last third of the novel. In fact, the Cub
himself is not even born until the eighth installment, and the first twelve
years of his life are compressed into a single chapter.
One example of Simms's preoccupation with setting down a histor-
ical record occurs in the first of the deleted chapters. In trimming down
the book to fit the length allotted by the magazine, the editor (perhaps
judiciously, perhaps through sheer blundering luck) cut out a long,
sometimes tedious digression.' The occasion of the chinquapin hunt
allows Simms not only to describe the fruit, the tree, and the game of
gathering the nuts, but to go on for some ten manuscript pages about the
accompanying games played at the hunt. This material is taken, many
phrases copied exactly, from the notebook Simms kept on his trip to the
mountains in 1847. In transcribing this folk material into the novel,
Simms left his characters to pursue their own ways, though he did pick
up one of the games in the succeeding chapter. The lengthy record of the
customs involved in chinquapin hunting in the 1840s is perhaps inter-
esting to "the future antiquary" Simms had in mind, for indeed he
describes some children's play not included in the seven-volume collec-
tion of North Carolina Folklore.
Similarly, the extended conversations, especially those between the
Widows Fairleigh and Carter, can be tedious. Although it is clear that
Simms meant to depict these two widows as long-winded, and his tran-
scription of the content, vocabulary, syntax, and pronunciation of the
tiresome old ladies is no doubt accurate, the length of their dialogue
impedes the story, perhaps unnecessarily. Simms explained that Mrs.
Fairleigh's "long speech was meant to be quite overwhelming. It pro-
posed to take the Widow Carter by storm. But the good lady, though
highly flattered by the sweet things of the speech, found it rather tedious.
She was impatient herself to speak." And the Widow Fairleigh, two pages
later, "was fairly overcome, overwhelmed! . . . Mrs. Fairleigh gasped for
breath." The reader is scarcely less overwhelmed than was Mrs. Fairleigh!
"But Mrs. Carter, even at the close of her speech, betrayed no symptoms
of exhaustion.
A third problem with the novel is not so much a defect in the writ-
ing as it is an unexpected tone in the narrator's voice. There seems to be
a strain of bitterness that is not typical of Simms and is not altogether