The Southern Lady

The prologue to Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady by Florence King, ISBN 0-312-05063-1


There are ladies everywhere, but they enjoy generic recognition only in the South. There is a New England old maid but not a New England lady. There is a Midwestern farm wife but not a Midwestern lady. There is most assuredly a California girl, but if anyone spoke of a California lady, even Phil Donahue and Alan Alda would laugh.

If you wish to understand the American woman, study the Southern woman. The sweetening process that feminists call "socialization" is simply a less intense version of what goes on in every Southern family. We call it "rearing." If the rearing is successful, it results in that perfection of femininity known as a lady.

I was reared. On the day in 1948 that I got my first period, my grandmother gave me a clipping. I suppose it came from the Daughters' magazine since she never read anything else. It said:

When God made the Southern woman, He summoned His angel messengers and He commanded them to go through all the star-strewn vicissitudes of space and gather all there was of beauty, of brightness and sweetness, of enchantment and glamour, and when they returned and laid the golden harvest at His feet, He began in their wondering presence the work of fashioning the Southern girl. He wrought with the golden gleam of the stars, with the changing colors of the rainbow's hues and the pallid silver of the moon. He wrought with the crimson that swoons in the rose's ruby heart, and the snow that gleams on the lily's petal. Then, glancing down deep into His own bosom, He took of the love that gleamed there like pearls beneath the sun-kissed waves of a summer sea, and thrilling that love into the form He had fashioned, all heaven veiled its face, for lo, He had wrought the Southern girl.

That my mother referred to this paean as "a crock of shit" goes far to explain why Granny worked so hard at my rearing. She was a frustrated ladysmith and I was her last chance. Mama had defeated her but she kept the anvil hot for me and began hammering and firing with a strength born of desperation from the day I entered the world until the day she left it.

This is the story of my years on her anvil. Whether she succeeded in making a lady out of me is for you to decide, but I will say one thing in my own favor before we begin.

No matter which sex I went to bed with, I never smoked on the street.