Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Cub of the Panther: A Hunter Legend of the ''Old North State'' >> Afterword >> Page 259

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Page 259

Novel (Romance) | The University of Arkansas Press | 1997
Transcription AFTERWORD 259
and the snobbish Edward Fairleigh than in telling the legend of the "Cub
of the Panther." Except for the rather sentimental death of Rose Carter, the
reader feels that everyone comes to a deserved end. Although the conclu-
sion introduces some problems in dating the narrative, the final paragraph
neatly concludes the history of the hunters, declaring that they were in
their seventies, alive and well, only a few years ago.
II
Life after the Civil War was very difficult for Simms. The plantation had
suffered alternating drought and monsoons for years. Living in
Charleston in 1868 and overseeing the reconstruction of his home at
Woodlands from the ruins left for the second time when Union army
stragglers burned it in 1865, Simms had now rebuilt four rooms and was
seeking secondhand furnishings. His grown family was scattered in sev-
eral locations, and he tried to secure medicines for his grandchildren and
care for his own motherless child of six at home with him. His friends
and widows of friends were destitute. The local blacks, now free and
often homeless, were growing more bold, and Simms was worried about
violence.5 Writing in this atmosphere for a postwar audience that
included Northerners was a delicate and wearing task.
Simms had to try to portray Southern life before the Civil War in a
way that would be acceptable to a postwar Northern audience and still
be truthful his first criterion for fiction; for, as he wrote toward the end
of this last novel, the moral "is always present in the perfect truth, which
is, however paradoxical it may seem, the true secret in all perfect fiction."
Thus, Simms selected a new order of domestic society where distinctions
between common sense and pretense and between class and crass could
not be easily symbolized merely by the possession of happy and occa-
sionally outspoken Negro servants. Simms's selection of mountain
material for four of his last five fictions represents not merely a geo-
graphical and historical divide, but also a psychological one. In spite of
its supposed legendary theme, Simms devoted at least half of the novel
to the domestic drama of manners, as he already had done in scores of
books. But to portray servitude and class in 1868, he had to find a mode
for examining and understanding the values and social mores appro-
priate to his "new," soon to be "reconstructed," homeland.
Setting The Cub of the Panther in the North Carolina mountains did
three things for Simms: (1) It evoked the germ of the narrative, along
with the scenery and folklore, from the notes in his journal and several