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This article is taken from PN Review 185, Volume 35 Number 3, January - February 2009.

Native to the Grain David C. Ward

Surely Robert Lee Frost must be the only baby born to a father from Massachusetts after the Civil War to have been named after the South's great general. Frost's father had admired the Confederacy and had even run away from home to try to enlist in Lee's army during the War. William Frost's support of the South was probably a product of his almost reflexive contrarianism - the desire to stand out from the crowd - rather than any ideological allegiance to the Old South and its Peculiar Institution of slavery. But we can intuit that the South's appeal to William was due, in part, to his alienation from the respectable values and received opinions of Massachusetts intelligentsia and middle class. When Frost voted with his feet by trying to join the Army of Virginia, he was voting against the seemingly stifling conformity of New England respectability; the beau sabreur who was the Virginia cavalier seemed infinitely more appealing than the sober, repressed New Englander and his (or her) support of moral reform and good works. It is not surprising that William Frost left stifling New England as soon as he could, 'lighting out for the territories' in Twain's great phrase, and fetching up in San Francisco where his son, the future laureate of New England would be born.

Ideology is not passed in DNA and William Frost's early death kept him from being able to form his son fully in his own image, yet ...


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