Struggling with Robert E. Lee

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Struggling with Robert E. Lee

by Michael Fellman
Southern Cultures, Vol. 8, No. 3: Fall 2002

"To be sure, Lee was an enormous flirt his entire life, and he may have acted on his erotic impulses outside the bonds of matrimony."

On a recent essay on Anton Chekhov published in The New Yorker, Janet Malcolm asserted that “the letters and journals we leave behind and the impressions we have made on our contemporaries are the mere husk of the kernel of our essential life. When we die, the kernel is buried with us. This is the horror and pity of death and the reason for the inescapable triviality of biography.” As a biographer, I agree with Malcolm in some absolute sense. Writers are capable of capturing only part of experience, though you don’t have to be a raving postmodernist to dispute her essentialism: after all, the power is always in the most creative possible telling of a particular version consistent with the data, even if the book offers only one of several possible stories.