Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 4: No 1) >> Revolution, Patriarchy, and Orestes: Porgy's Ambivalence Toward His Father in Woodcraft >> Page 6

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Secondary Scholarship | 1996
Transcription 6
to teach it [a proper industry] to their children, or presumed on the absence of
any necessity that they should learn" (Woodcrqft 206). Mrs. Eveleigh attributes
his dissipation to "a too common error of our people in these parishes; allowing
hospitality and good fellowship to fling prudence out of the windows" (Woodcraft
347). But when the Revolution breaks out, Simms declares, Porgy has been sadly
punished by the Furies for "his absurd vanities and excesses" (Woodcrq t 206).
Porgy never suffers himself to justify his profligacy, nor is he willing to lay th
guilt upon his father.
The problem of the father-son relationship in Woodcraft invites us to
question whether or not Southern values were being transmitted from one
generation to another in the Southern family. Assuming antebellum college life
to be a microcosm of Southern life in general, Jon Wakelyn maintains that student
experiences "prepared many to pattern themselves after their dominant fathers"
and that "[f]ahhers who were less paternal perhaps took delight in the ways of
college life, especially in peer relations, made independent sons who learned to
compete in both agribusiness and the growing professional world of the Old
South" (Wakelyn 122). This father-son relationship is explored well in Simms's
Guy Rivers. Here, Ralph Colleton, Sr. sends his son to his brother "mostly in
the contemplation of the youth's growth and development" (Guy Rivers 39), to
further his education. We must surely admit, then, that Woodcraft offers a
special situation behind which lies something more important than Porgy's "mere
vanities and excesses."
Simms calls our attention to the aristocratic refinement of Southern life.
He describes Porgy as a typical planter, a gentleman who enjoys reading
Shakespeare, Milton, and Dryden and makes educated, polished and polite
conversation. Porgy defends his cherished values inherited from his father
against Millhouse's utilitarian thinking:

Everybody seems to wish for education. I have heard you
deploring, very frequently, the fact that you had no schooling.
Now, schooling and education are meant for this very purpose, to
give us an ear for music . . . which is not only sweet, but wise--
which not only pleases but makes good; for, after all, the great
secret of education is to open all the ears--which we call senses—of
a man, so that he can drink in all the harmonies of that world of
music, which we commonly call life! . . . Now, Millhouse,
whatever interests a man is valuable, though it neither works nor
sings. Whatever may amuse a man is an important agent in his
education. Whatever exercises the ingenuity of man, though it be
a fool's brains, or a reel in a bottle, is worthy of his care and
consideration. (Woodcraft 284-286)

While Millhouse's appreciation of the value of things and men depends wholly
upon whether they are useful in the limited sense, Porgy emphasizes the
importance of a life of leisure. In terms of planter paternalism which is
distinguished by Eugene Genovese from modern capitalism based on the wage