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Source: From ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SOUTHERN CULTURE edited by Charles Reagan Wilson and William Ferris Copyright (c) 1989 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.

Thomas Nelson Page, 1853-1922

Page, Thomas Nelson 1853-1922, Writer. Thomas Nelson Page, author of short stories, novels, essays, and poetry, is best known for his role as literary spokesman for the glories of the Old South. Born in 1853 and only 11 years old when the Civil War ended, Page, writing in the plantation genre of John Pendleton Kennedy and others, created of the antebellum South a mythical, would-be land of noble gentlemen and ladies, of contented slaves, a society ordered by the laws of chivalry.

A descendant of the prominent but no longer wealthy Nelson and Page families, and a native of Virginia, Page attended Washington College and later studied at the University of Virginia for a legal career. Page married in 1886, and his wife died two years later. He practiced law in Richmond from 1876 until 1893, when he moved with his second wife, the former Florence Lathrop Field, to Washington. Although Page became active in the social life of the capital and later served six years as ambassador to Italy under Woodrow Wilson, he continued in his writing to depict Virginia and the passing of the old order there. His works, set for the most part in the South, comprised 18 volumes when they were published in a collected edition in 1912.

In Ole Virginia (1887) was Page's first collection of short stories treating the antebellum South. Other works dealt with later periods in southern history. For example Red Rock (1898) was a sympathetic portrait of the South during Reconstruction, and John Marvel, Assistant (1909) depicted the New South of the early 20th century. Page was consistently a proponent of the southern way of life, and in such stories as "Marse Chan" in In Ole Virginia his finest sketches were realized. In this story, told by a faithful exslave, of a young southerner who died for the southern cause and who placed duty and honor above all personal gain, Page postulates a kind of heroism that seemed to be missing from modern life. Page's South, of course, was finer than any real place could ever be, but he satisfied the nostalgia of his readers for what might have been—a place where heroic men and women adhered to a code of perfect honor. Only in the 20th century would Ellen Glasgow and, later, the writers of the Southern Literary Renaissance dispel the romantic image of the Old South so carefully fashioned by Thomas Nelson Page.

Anne E. Rowe
Florida State University

Theodore Gross, Thomas Nelson Page (1967); Kimball King, "Introduction" to Thomas Nelson Page, In Ole Virginia or Marse Chan and Other Stories (1969).

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