1. 4.Growing Up Southern: The Ferrol Sams Trilogy

4.Growing Up Southern: The Ferrol Sams Trilogy

James M. Vardaman 早稲田大学


Although he had written virtually nothing with the exception of the medical records of his patients, in a small town south of Atlanta, since his freshman year in university, Dr. Ferrol Sams (born 1922) had longed to write about his memories of growing up in the Georgia countryside. He claims that in his 58th year he had intimations of mortality and decided that if he was ever going to write in the fictive mode he had better get started. Getting started so late in life was not easy and his first writings were gracefully deposited into the circular file, but gradually he found the voice that his readers recognize instantly today?one that is distinctly southern and perhaps closer to Eudora Welty than almost anyone else. Over a ten-year period he produced a trilogy that he describes as “hung on the central tree of reality” that has made him highly popular among readers who know the South and its various inhabitants. His characters are memorable and his tales are resonant with a sense of place and time.

Sams’ alter-ego protagonist is Porter Osborn, Jr., who we first meet in the years of the Depression on a red-clay farm in rural Georgia in Run with the Horsemen (1982). We follow him to university in 1938 in The Whisper of the River (1984) and on to medical school and the military at Omaha Beach in When All the World Was Young (1991). Precocious as well as mischievous, Porter reminds the reader of Huck and Holden, and Sams is a master storyteller throughout.

While the focus of the presentation will be on the trilogy, reference will be made to his short stories as well. Taken together they portray with both warmth and perception the struggle of a small-town southern boy coming to terms with his own position in the world and the greater issues of poverty, racism, religion and warfare. Due to the fact that Sams is not widely read abroad, I will dwell less on the details than with the main sweep of the trilogy and Sams’ place in the southern tradition of letters.