Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 4: No 1) >> Revolution, Patriarchy, and Orestes: Porgy's Ambivalence Toward His Father in Woodcraft >> Page 9

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Secondary Scholarship | 1996
Transcription 9
Porgy hesitates to succumb to Mrs. Eveleigh's attractions. Not that he is
not in the least attracted by her charm; he admires "the sweet graces of her
intellect; her quiet, gentle, always just and wholesome habit of thought; the
pleasant animation of her fancies; the liveliness of her conversation" (Woodcraf
370), but he cannot help thinking that "no woman can properly comprehend her
husband, who is not prepared to recognize his full superiority" (Woodcraft 374).
Mrs. Eveleigh, "a f a i r and comely dame, scarcely forty, ... tall, yet somewha
inclined to embonpoint, though her carriage was equally dignified and graceful"
(Woodcraft 9), looms large in his eyes, making him object to "the fat" (Woodcraf
370). He fears her prosperity, the outcome of her perseverance, because it
undermines the Southern patriarchal order to which he adheres. Her virtues have
"a manly air which girded his pride" (Woodcraft 399). When she awes M'Kewn
by saying that she can lift the weapon of the man "for the assertion of my
womanly dignity" (Woodcraft 390), Simms compares her to "Boadicea at the head
of her Britons," and "Zenobia at the moment of her greatest confidence, when she
defied all the strength of Rome" (Woodcraft 390-391). Here, Mrs. Eveleigh
surely plays the role of Athene as powerful goddess of war.
Thus Mrs. Eveleigh's plantation seems to be ordered on the matriarchal
principle, but it essentially depends upon patriarchy. Take, for example, her so
Arthur, who objects to his mother's remarriage, thus making her hold on to her
husband's heritage. She has planted her roots deeply in Southern soil through
economic stability, to the extent that she throws no doubt on the Southern way
of life. She even keeps herself apart from the involvement in the Revolution
exactly because her husband remains a Loyalist. She is involved in the Southern
household as "the dominant unit of production and reproduction" (Fox-Genovese
50), but it is still dominanted by paternalism.
Aeschylus's Athene, an advocate of paternity, stands up for Orestes,
although she refuses to marry a man. Mrs. Eveleigh offers to help Porgy out of
his debts, but declares positively that she will remain single. This seeming
parallel creates an ironic contrast. In Aeschylus's world, matriarchy is replace
by patriarchy through Holy Persuasion. Athene stands for a new revolutionary
set of values, while the Furies adhere to established conventions. Mrs. Eveleigh
by contrast, clearly embodies the paternal patronage, embarrassing and irritatin
Porgy just as "the furies that hunted the steps of Orestes" did. Her
conventionalism reminds Porgy of his father who was not afflicted with the least
doubt about accumulating colossal wealth, nor knew how to teach a proper
industry to his children. It would be fallacious to say that the slave economy o
the Old South is openly attacked here by Simms, yet the argument seems
indisputable that Simms openly lets Porgy feel confused by Hobson's choice. The
union of Mrs. Eveleigh and Porgy would never secure a "beautiful and
admirably-conceived condition for human beings" (Woodcraft 512).
Porgy has another choice, but also finds it to be wanting in something
crucial. Whenever he is not quite satisfied with the beauty of Mrs. Eveleigh, th
form of Mrs. Griffin rises vividly before his eyes. He thinks she is "a fine
woman undoubtedly; good, gentle, humble, affectionate" (Woodcraft 371). Yet
he is not altogether contented with her character. She has "no resources, no