Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Page 28

Reviews/Essays | 1996
Transcription WORKS OF IMAGINATION
William Gilmore Simms

The following essay by Simms appeared in Magnolia, 1 n.s. (July 1842),
pp. 50-51. It is as wise and significant a critical statement about truth in poetry and
fiction as exists during its day and provides even more evidence that Simms had
developed a consistent theory of Realism. Here, Simms echoes his 1841 credo of
Realism that "a writer is moral only in proportion to his truthfulness." (See John
Guilds, Simms: A Literary Life, p. 103) Like Poe, Simms understood that
literature should not be didactic, or, as he says here, should not be sermons. Its
morality exists in its verisimilitude, of truthfully holding the mirror up to nature.
Similarly, in the Charleston Mercury (6 February 1856), Simms declared: "Stories
should never be written with reference to a specific moral. Written with due heed to
general truth, as they were designed to be, they carry with them a thousand
wholesome morals, which are superior to maxims." Simms had been twice
criticized for "immorality" in Martin Faber (1833) and "Caloya" (1841), and had
answered his detractors in similar fashion in 1835 and 1841. This 1842 essay is
yet another clear statement of his critical beliefs.
The essay goes further in presenting his views on realistic character
portrayal--that even a very bad man will have some good in him, and that the most
interesting fictional creations are always those of "mixed" nature. This statement
presents the critical underpinning for the portrayal of his complex major characters.
It defines what in modem terms constitutes the "round" character.
Here follows Simms's essay in its entirety as reproduced from the pages of
Magnolia:






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