View Full Version : chifferobe

05-14-2009, 12:59 PM

Wow! This term came back to me today when the lady who cuts my hair asked me to help break up an old piece of furniture. The lady got the reference!

Southern Gothic is a subgenre of the gothic novel, unique to American literature.


Like it's parent genre, it relies on supernatural, ironic, or unusual events to guide the plot. Unlike its predecessor, it uses these tools not for the sake of suspense, but to explore social issues and reveal the cultural character of the American South.

The Southern Gothic author usually avoids perpetuating antebellum stereotypes like the contented slave, the demure Southern belle, the chivalrous gentleman, or the righteous Christian preacher. Instead, the writer takes classic Gothic archetypes, such as the damsel in distress or the heroic knight, and portrays them in a more modern and realistic manner transforming them into, for example, a spiteful and reclusive spinster, or a white-suited, fan-brandishing lawyer with ulterior motives.

One of the most notable features of the Southern Gothic is "the grotesque" this includes situations, places, or stock characters that often possess some cringe-inducing qualities, typically racial bigotry and egotistical self-righteousness but enough good traits that readers find themselves interested nevertheless. While often disturbing, Southern Gothic authors commonly use deeply flawed, grotesque characters for greater narrative range and more opportunities to highlight unpleasant aspects of Southern culture, without being too literal or appearing to be overly moralistic.

This genre of writing is seen in the work of such famous Southern writers as William Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Harper Lee, Harry Crews, Lee Smith, John Kennedy Toole, Cormac McCarthy, Davis Grubb, Barry Hannah, Katherine Ann Porter, Lewis Nordan, and William Gay among others. Tennessee Williams described Southern Gothic as a style that captured "an intuition, of an underlying dreadfulness in modern experience." However, the genre was itself open to criticism, even by its alleged practitioners. As Flannery O'Connor remarked, "anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic."[1]

05-14-2009, 01:49 PM
Oh, so you are bustin up chiffrobes now!

Careful, the South will rub off on you. :p

Yes, the e in chifferobe often dissappears in the common speech in some parts of the region--primarily the southern mountains. One of the few instances that we turn a 3 syllable word into a two syllable word--instead of a 5 syllable word.

In a related story: When the aunts moved to clean out the family farmhouse, I was off in Texas in graduate school. My Mother asked me what I wanted, and I said "I want what nobody else wants--if its on the truck to go on to the dump, take it to your house" This did not please Mama, with her houseful of elegant French furniture, but she did. And, when I came home a few weeks later, I sent them back for more--a bed I knew to be in the corn crib, a matching wardrobe I knew to be in pieces, tied with a rope in the rafters of the shop, a pie safe with a missing door, full of moused books in the top of the rock house, a dresser in use as a mount for a vise.

All this furniture sat for several years in their basement until I had need of it. Then, I listed certain pieces and made arrangements for a refinisher to pick them up.

And one piece was missing. Mother asked Daddy "What did you do with the wardrobe?" He emphatically stated there was never a wardrobe in the load. I talked about the wardrobe, reminded him where it was stored. No dice. I drove the 200 miles back up there, climbed up in the shop and assured myself that it was indeed gone, and just figured another cousin had it, and let it go.

The funiture came back from the refinisher, its golden oak gleaming after the removal of layers of brown enamel paint. Daddy helped me put it into place and then said "Now honey, I know this is a small house, but why don't you want the chiffrobe that matches this set?

My parents discussion of the difference between a wardrobe and a chifferobe lasted several weeks. :p

05-14-2009, 02:12 PM
Mrs Lawson,

I got to ask you this...
Did your Daddy ever tell you what "he" thought you were talking about when you asked him about the wardrobe?
That is such a classic Southern story... thanks for sharing
Blair Taylor

05-14-2009, 02:45 PM
Really simple--

Chiffrobe--large closet shaped thing, with a hanging rod or hooks. One door.

Wardrobe--large closet shaped thing, with hanging rod or hooks ON ONE SIDE, and drawers or shelves on the other. May have one door, or may have two doors opening out from the middle.

05-14-2009, 05:31 PM
And, what makes it worse

wardrobe: <a href='http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/wardrobe'> (http://<a href='http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/wardrobe'>)

chiffrobe: <a href='http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/chifferobe'> (http://<a href='http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/chifferobe'>)

05-14-2009, 05:48 PM
Mayella Ewell: I was sittin' on the porch, and he come along. Uh, there's this old chifforobe in the yard, and I-I said, 'You come in here, boy, and bust up this chifforobe, and I'll give you a nickel.'

I got a haircut and a cup of coffee!