The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018


Fugitives: A group of sixteen Southern poets, most of whom were faculty, students, or alumni of Vanderbilt University, who met in Nashville, Tennessee, to discuss their work and who were best known for The Fugitive (1922—25), an amateur journal of poetry and criticism.

Members of the Fugitives began meeting regularly in 1915 to discuss philosophy, aesthetics, and literature; following World War I, they shifted their focus to poetry, using the meetings to read and critique their own work. Key figures included Donald Davidson, Sidney Hirsch, Merrill Moore, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren. In 1922, the group began publishing The Fugitive, managing the journal collectively and contributing their work under pseudonyms. With reference to the moniker “Fugitive,” Ransom wrote in the inaugural issue that “THE FUGITIVE flees from nothing faster than the high-caste Brahmins of the Old South.”

Although The Fugitive was short-lived as a literary journal, many would say it inaugurated the Southern literary renaissance, especially the development of the modern Southern novel, as exemplified by William Faulkner. Fugitive poetry and criticism emphasized form (especially allegorical form), technique (with particular attention to prosody), and language, placing intellect on an equal level with emotion and eschewing sentimentality. The Fugitives also drew on classical humanism and Southern traditions of gentility. After their Fugitive period, Ransom, Tate, and Warren contributed significantly to the development of the New Criticism, a type of formalist (text-based) literary criticism that reached its height in the 1940s and 1950s.

Although there is some overlap between the Fugitives and the Agrarians, another group of Southern writers with major ties to Vanderbilt University, it is a mistake to conflate the two groups. The Fugitives, active from about 1915 to 1928, were a nonpolitical, nonideological, tightly knit literary group focused on poetry and criticism and concerned chiefly with poetry as a carefully crafted literary form. The Agrarians, by contrast, came together around an ideology of agrarian regionalism, were active from about 1928 to 1937, and pressed for political and economic reform. Their controversial manifesto, I’ll Take My Stand (1930) attacked industrial capitalism and promoted an agricultural base for the American economy. Only four Fugitives — Davidson, Ransom, Tate, and Warren — were also Agrarians.

The last work published by the Fugitives was Fugitives: An Anthology of Verse (1928), a volume of poems, about half of which were reprinted from The Fugitive journal. Although the group continued to meet sporadically up to 1962, it did not engage in any further collaborative literary efforts.