Messing with Romance is a reinvestigation of southern literary history and a case study in the potentials of genre criticism. Offering contextualized readings of novels produced by representatives of the southern elite between 1824 and 1854, the study traces a development that is as fascinating as it is contradictory: from pretences of realism to bold fantasies of fiction's socially transformative power, and eventually toward the collapse of the discourse of romance to which southern novelists had contributed with such desperate determination. Along the way, prominent critical cliches come under scrutiny: firstly, that antebellum southern literature followed a clear-cut course of radicalization; secondly, that literary conventions can easily be identified as the determining formats of ideological discourses.