Toinette, 1874 (as Henry Churton; better known as A Royal Gentleman, 1881)
A Fool’s Errand, 1879
Bricks Without Straw, 1880
Hot Plowshares, 1883
Murvale Eastman, Christian Socialist, 1890
The Code of Civil Procedure of North Carolina, 1868
A Digest of Cited Cases, 1878
The Invisible Empire, 1880
Albion W. Tourgée (toor-ZHAY), a Union soldier in the Civil War, wrote to justify the Radical Republican idea of Reconstruction. Other minor American writers used Reconstruction themes, but unlike Tourgée they were native southerners, they did not experience Reconstruction directly, and they were not involved in its politics. Tourgée was thus unique.
Tourgée grew up in Ohio and graduated from Rochester College in 1862. His war career lasted less than two years, and in 1865 he moved to North Carolina. As a carpetbag lawyer he wanted to help establish racial equality and generally to improve and enlighten the South. He later realized how radical and naïve these ideas were. Disillusioned, he fictionalized his experiences under the title A Fool’s Errand.
The book is the best of his more than twenty novels. It is largely autobiographical–the central figure of the fool is an idealistic Michigan lawyer who moves to the South and finds himself persona non grata as he tries to help African Americans obtain their rights. A certain amount of suspense and violent action helps rescue the book from Tourgée’s heavy burden of moralizing. Particularly memorable are the vivid accounts of Ku Klux Klan threats and atrocities. Comfort Servosse, the fool, finally realizes that the South cannot change instantly. He admires the courage and courtesy of southern aristocrats but hates their stubbornness and prejudice. His sad concluding moral is curiously prescient, calling for federal action to help educate blacks and hoping that strong black leadership will arise. Tourgée departs from accurate self-portrayal in that he idealizes the fool beyond credibility. He himself was frequently intemperate and slanderous, a contrast to the dignified character of Servosse.
Most of Tourgée’s other novels are thought of as pieces of third-rate sentimentalism–bad imitations of his idol, James Fenimore Cooper. Stereotyped characters and wholly implausible situations abound. When, as in A Fool’s Errand, he confined himself to the times and situations he knew, he managed to rise to second-rate status. Other novels in this category are Bricks Without Straw, dealing with the rise of an African American protagonist, and A Royal Gentleman, with a miscegenation theme, showing how one southern gentleman could not give up his belief in the inferiority of blacks. Tourgée’s earliest books were his best. In addition to his writing, he served variously as superior court judge, codifier of state law, newspaper columnist, magazine editor, and consul to Bordeaux.