The Reconstruction Novels


In contrast to ‘Toinette, there is no final reconciliation of the races in A Fool’s Errand; there is no remorseful acknowledgement of injustice and acceptance of racial equality on the part of the Southern aristocracy as there is in ‘Toinette. The "Fool," Servosse, like Tourgee, eventually acknowledges that the social barriers of the Southern slave culture cannot be broken down – his Northern roots and compassion for the formerly enslaved makes him odious and dangerous to the Southern white elites, while that same compassion makes the poor whites and freedmen alike distrust and avoid him, as he confronts the old social order without regard to consequences that may be more severe to those he wishes to help than to himself.

The growing violence against both whites and people of color, his and Emma’s gradual ostracism from society and the quest for more steady income motivated the move to Mayville.  In 1879, Tourgee published Figs & Thistle and in 1880, his third Reconstruction-themed novel, Bricks without Straw came out. This last novel told the story from the perspective of African Americans through the character of Nimbus Ware, leader of a community of freedmen called Red Wing. It is not the Klan that causes the ultimate collapse of the community, but rather the sectional reunification of northern and southern interests (symbolized in a romance between a Northern schoolteacher and Southern ex-Confederate soldier) at the expense of racial equality and social justice.

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Photograph, Albion Winegar Tourgée, at his office at Thorheim, circa 1890. Courtesy of Chautauqua County Historical Society.

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