left to right:Legends of the Old Plantation cover; title page
from Uncle Remus and his Friends (1892); title page from The
Complete Tales of Uncle Remus (1955).
INTRODUCTIONSIn the author introductions Joel Chandler Harris wrote for many of his Remus collections,
he took the art of self-deprecation to a new level. With the exception of the first volume, which he seemed to take more seriously, his statements claim that his tales will be ignored except by humor readers, that he is merely
an unskilled recorder of what he has been told, that black folk tales have no
intrinsic literary value, and so forth. Ignoring humility and examining other motivations for
such statements, recent scholarship has pointed to Harris' tenuous social standing in the 1880s and '90s as a reason for him to downplay the significance of a selection of African-American literary achievements.
These same scholars, many of whom claim Harris did in fact have black racial
uplift as his underlying agenda, also argue that the white-superiority statements Harris made in some introductions and in his non-folklore Remus stories are basically a cover: a young man hoping to get ahead in post-Reconstruction Atlanta did not act eg
The tone of his introductions, however, leads us to believe that he had in fact inherited some of his region's class beliefs;
that a man like Harris, otherwise quite open, honest and self-deprecating, was deliberately pretending to be racist is a bit too much to believe. His introductions give a relatively straightforward account of how he viewed the Remus stories: entertaining
, valuable because of their unique voice, but not of any lasting literary merit. Harris may indeed have wanted to improve black social standing, but he does not seem to have worked toward that goal with his Remus stories, at least not during the nineteent
(by Harris and editors)
Several other introductions are included, ending with one by Richard Chase, the editor of the most recent and complete collection of Remus tales, as refrence points to illustrate changing views of the Remus tales and their value over time.
Introduction to Legends of the Old Plantation
Introduction to Uncle Remus and his Friends (1892, Harris)
Introduction to The Tar Baby and Other Stories (1897, Harris)
Introduction to The Seven Tales of Uncle Remus (1948, Thomas H. English)
Introduction to The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus (1955, Richard Chase)
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