Author: M. Katherine Grimes

an associate professor of English at Ferrum College

Fathers, The (1938)

The Fathers (1938) is the only novel by Allen Tate, a Kentucky-born poet most famous for his “Ode to the Confederate Dead” (1928). Set just before and during the American Civil War (1861–1865), the book details the tragic fall of two families joined by marriage—the Buchans, of Fairfax County and the Poseys, of Georgetown in the Distict of Columbia. Their violent and psychologically complex story, narrated by the elderly doctor Lacy Buchan, is intended to mirror the decline of “Old Virginia” and the rise of a new society unbound to traditional, agrarian codes. The Fathers was initially well received by critics, with the Washington Post calling it “a sensitive and successful re-creation of the divided moods of Virginia at the outbreak of the Civil War,” and the New York Times labeling it “a quiet yet relentless exploration of the darker places of human character.” The novel soon fell out of favor, however, with critics arguing that it was lifeless and overly symbolic and abstract. The novel’s current critical neglect may reflect the social and political eclipse of Tate’s Southern Agrarian ideology, which extolled the moral virtues of the antebellum South against encroaching modernity. Far from being a mere Lost Cause tract, however, The Fathers is widely considered to be an enduring, if flawed, piece of art.