The Broad River
…the good-natured critic and novelist replied with a Broad River, which warmed and cheered his great-great-grandfather 150 years ago on Broad River in Georgia. The old gentleman had 24 children and lived to be 97 years old.
“Pour one quart of Peach Brandy into a silver goblet on and off during the day. After sundown a glass (or part of a glass) of water may be drunk.
– From So Red the Nose
So here we are once again, with me spending too much time and money hunting down quaintly dated liquors while the 21st century continues swilling pumpkin spice vodkatinis in blissful ignorance.
Oh, sure, you can buy all sorts of glorified cough syrup at your local wine depot, but finding a company willing to mash up actual peaches and ferment them into brandy is a lot harder. I ended up being pretty happy with this one, which is even sealed in an old timey bottle and comes with an adorable little peach charm. (I promise I am not a shill. I don’t have enough of a readership to shill. I aspire to shilldom.)
Anyway, unless you make your own or live in a location convenient to one of the few peach brandy breweries, I’m going to assume this blog post will be your one and only experience with this particular fruit liquor. So allow me to take you on that journey right now:
First, there’s a smell so pungent you’re sure your nostrils are afflicted with second degree burns. Nevertheless, you take a sip, and experience a surprising contrast: a lightness, a sweetness. A taste that is definitely brandy, yet with just a hint of wonderfully fruity, autumny deliciousness. The denouement of our little tale: a Fuzzy Navel that doesn’t taste like plastic.
He may be represented here by Feliciana, but author Stark Young was much better known for his bestselling, post-Civil War Southern romance So Red the Rose, before its place in popular culture was usurped by another bestselling, post-Civil War Southern romance you may have heard of (This is not the first popular epic I’ve mentioned whose glory was overshadowed by Gone with the Wind. There’s no end to the dreams that book destroyed.) More interesting to my purposes, So Red the Rose is obviously also the source of our favorite cocktail book’s punny title.
But Feliciana is what we got, so Feliciana is what we shall discuss. And if So Red the Rose has been forgotten, then Feliciana has been abandoned; I’m pretty sure this blog will be is the longest thing written about it in the past 80 years. Or maybe ever.
And I can see why, although it’s a beautiful little book. Feliciana is a diverse collection of vignettes that appear to be first person accounts from Young’s own life, “appear” being the key word. He provides us with absolutely no context for these stories, no why, when, or consistent where for them. While most of stories are indeed set in his (apparent) hometown of Feliciana, Louisianna, the rest are literally all over the map, from the Texan desert to Livorno, Italy.
And Young’s connection to each of these stories is not always clear. The Italy travelogues and most of the slice-of-life depictions of the South are clearly personal narratives, but his links to the other stories are much more tenuous.
One of the early chapters, for example, is about a good ol’ Southern boy abroad who is accused of misrepresenting reality in his sketches of fantastical buildings from the Middle East. He is kicked out the Paris elite, rejected by his French fianceé’s family, and forced to make his way home. Later in life he is vindicated, of course, with the advent of photography. Oh, and his niece works her way into the plot somewhere along the way.
But as engaged as I was in this charming and unusual little story, I also had no idea what, exactly, I was reading. Young never makes it clear if the tale is his own fiction or another true story, or even a “true” story. And if nonfiction, he never explains how he knows these people and/or such intimate details about their lives.
To be fair, after more than a year of reading dusty midcentury literature, I’m glad to be spared slogging through another long, boring prologue. But Young could have given us something, some kind of connective tissue to make this feel like a cohesive work rather than the literary equivalent of his sketch book.
Nevertheless, the individual stories are very well-written, and I can imagine why his other work was so popular without even having read it. As for whether this proto-Margaret Mitchell can also appeal to modern readers, though, all depends on the answer to one question:
Was Young just another racist, or can we finally have our mint juleps and hoop skirts without the white guilt?
Well, don’t get your hopes up. I haven’t read Gone with the Wind in about 15 years, but from what I remember, it and Feliciana are about on par as far as racial sensitivity goes. That is to say, Feliciana is affectionate rather than hateful, but it does have the icky combination of a jeering attitude and patronization toward its (surprisingly several) black characters. For instance, the second story in the book is about a descendent of slaves now living in New York, and Young has this gross “isn’t it cute how she thinks she can be fashionable?” attitude toward her (For what it’s worth, I would read the hell out of a book about the newly freed living it up in 1930’s New York. Somehow I think the truth was a lot darker.).
There’s also a horrifyingly humorous account of a cowboy type who had the hilarious quirk of killing Native Americans and Mexicans every time he was in a mood. At least that story is one of the few times Young acknowledges his narrator (the cowboy’s niece) might not be a reliable one. I hope to God he was right.
Forgotten Classic or Better Left in the Past?
I can’t see modern readers being that interested in something this confused. It’s lovely in a slow-moving way, but that also means it’s, you know. Slow-moving.
The prose really is gorgeous though, especially when describing Young’s stereotypically romanticized view of the South. And one positive I can say about Young’s version is it’s not completely centered around the idle rich. His descriptions of the familial love between servants; of the dreams of honest, hard-working farmers; of Mexican families eating elotes on a hot summer day, are just as lovely as the ones of rich Christmas cakes, lush plantation gardens, and candle-lit riverside weddings.
I don’t know what it is about Southern literature that has that kind of picturesque idealization down. Everything from To Kill a Mockingbird and Huck Finn to the Southern Vampire Mysteries has enough literary magic to make me forget all about the mosquitoes, humidity, alligators, and confederate flags.
I would say check out So Red the Rose instead of Feliciana, but I don’t really have a strong enough stomach for romanticized oppression. So just go ahead and dig into some Sookie Stackhouse novels. That’s a Southern literary tradition everyone can enjoy.
Feliciana is available from Amazon in used form only.
Next time: My first Halloween post. Boooooooooooooooo!