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The Making of Robert E. Lee Paperback – April 7, 2003
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Civil War scholar Michael Fellman investigates the psychology and beliefs of that conflict's most admired general in an intriguing intellectual biography. From his days as a cadet at West Point, Robert E. Lee (1807-70) struck his companions and teachers as "a full-blown aristocratic beau ideal ... tall, stunningly handsome, bright, manly, commanding." His brilliant leadership of the Confederate army against daunting odds only increased Southerners' reverence, which came to be shared by many white Northerners after the partisan passions of the war had faded. Fellman probes behind the façade of the "Marble Man" to discover the conflicts and uncertainties that seethed there. Son of an American Revolutionary legend who ended his life in bankruptcy and disgrace, Lee felt that he must redeem his family name and become the perfect Southern gentleman; yet, he struggled to reconcile his ideals of Christian virtue, self-denial, humility, duty, and honor with his desire for fame and success. "In a very real sense," Fellman writes, "the Civil War rescued Robert E. Lee from marginality and obscurity. In it, he learned to focus his values, his talent, and his deepest feelings on the terrible martial problems at hand." Exploring those values, Fellman unsparingly reveals their roots in racism, repression, and hypocrisy; yet, he acknowledges and admires (with reservations) Lee's sincere adherence to them. "He walked not above but within all the contradictions of a specific society," Fellman writes. "This makes him far more interesting than some boring marble representation of the supposedly unitary and perfect saint." Some ardent worshippers of "Saint Robert" might disagree, but most students of American history will find this a stimulating reassessment. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Canadian historian Fellman's biography of Robert E. Lee is a more psychological appraisal than William J. Cooper's book on Davis. In general terms, Fellman (Citizen Sherman , 1995) tracks the life of the great Confederate general in a chronological fashion. But within that framework, his analysis of Lee is presented in thematic chapters, including discussions of Lee's ideas on race, slavery, marriage, fatherhood, and the "lost cause." Fellman argues that for Lee, "the struggle for self-mastery--the effort to repress every potentially disruptive impulse and emotion--was perpetual." Like Jefferson Davis, his commander-in-chief, Lee was highly principled, and readers follow the evolution and practical execution of his principles. But Fellman is careful to ensure that Lee is seen as a real person with complications and contradictions, a "far more interesting [individual] than some boring marble representation of [a] supposedly unitary and perfect saint." Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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In my opinion Fellman goes too far to try to break the myth that is Robert E. Lee and in this effort he becomes transparent and not objective. In reading this book I found myself scoffing numerous times, raising a perplxed eyebrow and even speaking out loud saying "Oh, come on now". Several of Mr. Fellman's conclusions and speculations simply were not borne out of the text or letter(s) he develops his view from (I actually researched a few of the referenced letters for the full context and still found myself disagreeing strongly with Mr. Fellman's reading of them and wondering how any sensible person could arrive at his conclusions).
I was originally sorry that I had purchased the book, but after concluding it and in reflection, am actually glad that I read the book...for at least I see how historical revisionist go about trying to rewrite public opion on favorable historical figures.
As for a much more enjoyable read in which Lee comes alive, you would be better severed with Douglas Southhall Freeman's "Lee"...even if (as Fellman contends) he is biased to paint a positive portrait of Lee.
Although there IS ample scholarly reference to actual documents, the great preponderence of discussion seems bent on proving a laughable hypothesis that Lee was an adulterous, back-stabbing, bigot and snob, who simply had one lucky year in the saddle of martial command. Perhaps Mr. Fellman's real aim WAS contraversy. But don't mistake this book for history.
So it 's a happy book for those who simply want to once again rail against the South for the rebellion. But I wouldn't expect much of value in understanding the substance of one's of America's most noble and heroic individuals. It sets up one negative premise after another, and while referrring to actual historical testimony, proceeds to wax subjective on tiny bits, speculatively taken piecemeal and out of context.
So we pretty much learn the author didn't care much for Robert E. Lee. Great. Thanks for sharing. Credit Mr. Fellman with cheapening American heritage just one more merchandisable bit. Nothin' new here but the bitchy point of view.
Robert E. Lee was notable for freeing slaves left to him and his wife. His first impulse at the beginning of the war was to serve in the U.S. army -- in fact, Lincoln's administration offered him post as commander in chief of the U.S. forces. Does that mean he believed in equality of the races, as we do today? Of course not, it implies nothing of the kind.
This is the basic flaw with Mr. Fellman's book. Like most p.c. revisionists, he seems to demand that all the light of his subject be reflected through the prism of modern sensibilities. Most _modern_ people couldn't abide such scrutiny. The problem of p.c. revisionism of all kinds is that p.c. people see only one point of view and do not recognize any other as valid, and anyone who disagrees with them in a jot or tittle is "intolerant" (tolerance defined as being what they believe) and they destroy posthumously anyone in a past culture who does not reach their exalted level of "tolerance", despite the fact that they haven't had the advantages of a modern educative process where the mind is carefully groomed.
Lee was a model citizen for his time (perhaps for any time). Loyal to his family and friends. Second in his class at West Point, and he got through with no demerits. He had the benefit of name; but his father was poor, and died from injuries received protecting the free speech rights of a printer who opposed the War of 1812, and Lee inherited little from his father except his surname, a love of country and Constitution and an admiration of his father's dear friend George Washington (Lee even married into the family of Washington's step-son).
Every aspect of Lee has recently come under attack. His generalship has had many books and articles assailing it. Now the man's character is dismantled, piece by piece, by an author who seems to have no sympathy for his subject at the start.
One of the most abhorrent features of modern biographers is their need to "psychoanalyze" their subjects in retrospect. He puts Lee on the couch, so to speak, but whereas in psychoanalysis the doctor and patient exchange questions and answers, the biographer supplies both, so naturally whatever his research gives him dovetails with his presuppositions.
I won't go so far as to say this is a pure hatchet-job, though I wouldn't be surprized if it was. I'll assume the author made a genuine attempt to understand his subject and failed.
Not a recommended biography of the general who did more to knit the two factions of this country into a whole than any man after the war. If you're wary of Douglas Southall Freeman and Clifford Dowdy, both of whom spent their lives studying the man, using the same sources as Mr. Fellman, then I would heartily recommend Emory Thomas'_ROBERT E. LEE: A BIOGRAPHY_. Prof. Thomas taught at UGA when I was a grad student there; he's a fair man and his book is a BALANCED treatment of his subject. It's well worth the money.
However, if you already are predisposed to think that anyone who joined the Confederacy, for whatever reason, is inherently evil and don't want to read books that challenge your preconceptions, you'll enjoy this book immensely.