Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 7: No 2) >> Guy Rivers's Self-esteem Deficit and the Psychological Prescience of William Gilmore Simms >> Page 5

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Secondary Scholarship | 1999
Transcription Guy Rivers's Self-esteem Deficit and the Psychological
Prescience of William Gilmore Simms 1

Kevin Collins


Prescience is a slippery concept. For many reasons, it is difficult to
determine the degree to which an intellectual development associated with a
given period has been prefigured by an earlier work. Much that seems prescient is
accidental: not every pre-Newtonian dropped fork was an effort to codify
gravitation. Other examples, not quite accidental, may foreshadow later
developments in effect, but be based on less-than-complete understandings of the
conditions that lead to those developments. Many, perhaps most, works of pre-
nineteenth century fiction, for instance, contain passages and elements that are
characteristic of literary realism. A much smaller number of these, though, were
constructed in reflection of the artistic and social assumptions that would define
realism. The most significant sorts of prescience are those that not only hint at
certain development to come, but do so with an understanding similar to the ones
that will come to underlie it.
It is this more significant sort of prescience that Simms displayed in
prefiguring the psychological condition that would come to be known, more than
a century after Simms wrote, as self-esteem deficit. In the creation of the
eponymous Guy Rivers, a character whose perception of his own inadequacy
actively contributes to his failures, Simms enacted a cause-and-effect chain that
may always have existed in the human psyche, but that has only recently come to
be named and studied. The significance given to this character's self-esteem
deficit indicates both that Simms's prescience was not accidental and that it
reflected an understanding that is common today but that was unheard of when he
was writing.
Prior to the establishment of the field of psychology, study of the self was
conducted primarily in the domain of philosophy. Descartes, Locke, Hume, and
other philosophers laid some important ground work for the study of self-esteem

1 A version of this paper was an honorable mention for the Simms Prize at the
Simms/ Faulkner Symposium in New Orleans in December 1997. Collins notes:
To avoid confusion, I refer to the main character consistently as "Guy Rivers,"
even though the name as a child and under which he practiced law was Edward
Creighton.