Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 10: No 2) >> Simms: Speaking English with a Charleston Accent >> Page 12

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Page 12

Secondary Scholarship | 2002
Transcription morning. Dickens tramps through the black streets of London poverty. Ned and
Dick ramble through the prosperous King Street shopping district. Dickens must
have a scheme to get his story finished before Christmas. Ned and Dick devise
schemes to acquire promises of love and marriage from each of their lady loves
by the time the Bulmer family celebrates its 100th Christmas anniversary.
The borrowing of fact for use in fiction continues throughout the story as
does the borrowing from master writers. Simms has given us one of the most
comprehensive and authentic descriptions of a Southern Christmas. Those who
read it today are experiencing a ghost story, a story of Christmas past as it was
lived in the Lowcountry of South Carolina during its antebellum period.
In The Golden Christmas Simms accented his home in Charleston. The
vast majority of Simms's work accents Charleston and the coastal area in one way
or another. Yet even in those books, stories, and poems where the emphasis is not
Charleston, he accents a Charleston point of view.
This said, we can return to Simms as a man speaking English with' a
Charleston accent and explore the ways his accent helped him as a writer. First,
there is a musical quality to the Charleston accent. Stress and emphasis are given
to sounds within a word in much the same way stress and emphasis are given to
notes in music. The pitch and tone are well-modulated. The sound produced is
soft as opposed to shrill. There are also prominent pauses which, in the second
place, give rise to contemplation and open the speaker to careful choice of words.
In The Golden Christmas there is a scene in which Ned Bulmer flings a steady
stream of words at his father, a barrage which is so prolonged that the father
finally says, "Take breath, 'Ned, take breath,—or let me breathe a little."
In polite conversation of the kind preferred in Charleston, the listeners
have the place of importance. The well-mannered speaker keeps this in mind,
looks them in the face, watches their body language to see how his words are
being received, and adjusts his pitch, tone and speed accordingly. In Charleston,
conversation is conversation —a give and take, a speaking and listening encounter.
It is not a shouting match, nor is it verbally aggressive and abusive.
Simms learned conversation skills early in life. These carried over into his
writing. He gives his readers pause for thought and credit for understanding. He
would never repeat himself as Dickens does, for instance, in the opening
paragraphs of A Christmas Carol. :

Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about
that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the
clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it.
And Scrooge's name was good upon `Change, for any thing he
chose to put his hand to.
Old Marley was dead as a doornail.