Swamp Fevers

John Mayfield

in Counterfeit Gentlemen

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print March 2009 | ISBN: 9780813033372
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813039480 | DOI:
Swamp Fevers

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Henry Clay Lewis's collection Odd Leaves from the Life of a Louisiana Swamp Doctor is part humor, part horror, and part autobiography. Here he explores issues that were conditioned by their Southern context and involved a Southern sense of manhood. One was the matter of Lewis's profession itself. Medicine was not his first choice of career, and it was not traditionally accorded the kind of respect and deference that he craved. A second source of anxiety was the patriarchal decay Lewis saw around him. The solvent effect of the frontier seemed to degenerate noble qualities of manhood into laziness and/or self-serving pretensions. And third, there was Lewis's own preoccupation with death — a thing which drove him to dissect dead babies but which, in the swamp, threatened to dissect him. Southerners had a particular vision of how real men faced death; meeting it nobly was the final act of manly assertion, and it required courage, self-control, and mastery. Lewis's fantasies of death speak to the heavy burden Southern men may have secretly felt behind their public pronouncements of fearlessness.

Keywords: Henry Clay Lewis; manhood; frontier; patriarchal decay; death

Chapter.  9733 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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