Patrick Modiano's Novellas of Memory and Things Past
Note: My thanks to Yale University Press which made this translation of Modiano's Suspended SentePatrick Modiano's Novellas of Memory and Things Past
Note: My thanks to Yale University Press which made this translation of Modiano's Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas available through Netgalley. This publication, ISBN 9780300198058, became available for purchase on November 11, 2014 and is available for a purchase price of $16.00. The edition is published in paperback. Translation is by Mark Polizotti.
“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”― Marcel Proust
Modiano, the first novel, 1968, age twenty-three
I wondered if those members of the Yale University Press involved in the publication of this collection of three novellas by Patrick Modiano had a remarkable sense of prescience. For the Nobel Committee announced on October 9, 2014, that Modiano was awarded the Nobel for Literature...
"for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation".
Modiano, Nobel Winner, 2014, age sixty-nine
Peter Englund the permanent Secretary to the Nobel Committee freely admitted that Modiano was not well known outside of France. However, Modiano is the author of nearly thirty books, most of which have been translated into European languages. Before winning the Nobel, Modiano had been recognized by Germany for his first novel "La Place de l'étoile" published in 1968 about a Jewish collaborator during World War II as one of the great Post Holocaust Novels in 2010. He received the Prix Goncourt in 1978, Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française in 1972, the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca from the Institut de France for his lifetime achievement in 2010, and the 2012 Austrian State Prize for European Literature.
Yet, few of Modiano's works are available in English. The Nobel Committee's announcement had many Americans and English scratching their heads wondering just who Patrick Modiano was. I certainly was. The name flickered somewhere in my memory, but I could not place it. Over the days following the Nobel announcement, Modiano and his world began to emerge. Then his name and his image clicked with me. The film "Lucien, Lacombe," directed by Louis Malle with the screenplay co-authored by Modiano. Dealing with a young member of the French Gestapo, it was a portrait of Occupied France, a theme to which Modiano returns to time and again. The screenplay is available in English. See: Lucien Lacombe, New York, Viking, 1975.
The haunting film from 1974 captures the division of Occupied France, a theme evident in "Suspended Sentences
The three novellas were written over a five year period. However, in the French Omnibus edition, Modiano wrote in his introduction that these books
"form a single work...I thought I'd written them discontinuously, in successive bouts of forgetfulness, but often the same faces, the same names, the same places, the same sentences recur from one to the other."
Clearly, these novellas are highly autobiographical in nature. Modiano does not deny this, although, he maintains that the characters are "fictionally autobiographical." By implication, for this reader, Modiano's statement is one on the nature of memory, for memory is internal to the keeper of memory. It is unique to the owner of the memory. And while those people may be remembered by many, each person's perception of the person remembered may be completely different. But what is real? How accurate is memory? Or is perception reality?
Afterimage "Chien de printemps," Dog of Spring, (1993) The story of a photographer, Jansen, who had meticulously recorded a Paris that no longer existed, a city changed by new construction, a photographer who had taken portraits of people long gone, some dead. Jansen had been a student of Robert Capa. Capa, the famous war photographer, on the beaches at Normandy, who photographed France's Indochina war, dying May 25, 1954, when he stepped on a Viet Minh landmine.
The story is told by an anonymous narrator, easily enough supposed to be Modiano. He tells us he met Jansen in 1964 when he was only nineteen, which would have been Modiano's age. How easily memory is triggered. He is writing this story in 1992, having found a picture Jansen had taken of him and his girl friend in the spring of 1964. But, "[t]he memory of Jansen pursued me all afternoon and would follow me forever: Jansen would remain someone I'd barely had time to know."
Curiously, Jansen and, shall we say Modiano, had gone to Jansen's studio after meeting. Modiano perused Jansen's huge collection of photographs. On the walls were portraits of a younger Jansen and a smiling Capa. There was a portrait of a beautiful woman, Colette Laurent, gone now. Jansen had no catalog of his many photographs. The young man took it upon himself to catalog them, because it was a photographic history of a past that must be preserved. Jansen took to calling his young pupil his scribe. He identified each individual in each photograph. Yet, Jansen will disappear leaving the young Scribe with only a catalog of photographs that no longer exist, memories that cannot be grasped, people that cannot be known, for they are Jansen's alone. This is a signature theme of Modiano to introduce us to those whose personalities cannot be grasped. There is a vague detachment, and the uncomfortable fact that life is not as certain as we might like it to be.
Suspended SentencesRemise de peine (1988)
"After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.”― James Agee, A Death in the Family
This novella most strongly represents Modiano's central themes of memory and the Occupation of France, for me. What makes it most intriguing is that Modiano sorts through his childhood memories of living with his brother in the care of Annie and her associates with whom his mother, an actress, has left them while she is on tour in a stage production.
The hero of this novella is Patoche, a diminutive of Patrick. His brother is unnamed. Patoche illustrates how the memories of childhood may shine with crystalline brilliance in the knowledge of names, faces, and places. However, the significance of the people that surround a child, and their connections to one another have no meaning to a child without explanation. Memory still leaves questions which can never be answered and may haunt us through our lives.
It is tempting to us Modiano's autobiography, Un pedigree, written in 2005, as a reader's guide to these novellas, especially Suspended Sentences. For there are so many things in Modiano's life that emerge in the pages of Patoche's memories that seemingly occurred in real life.
The woman, Annie, in whose care Patoche is left, was really Suzanne Bouqueran. Frede, Annie's close friend, is the nickname of Suzanne Baule' who ran a nightclub. Could it be that Annie and her compatriots who come and go, seemingly without reason, are members of the Carlingue, a gang of collaorateurs during the Occupation? Here they are the Rue Lauriston gang.
The Carlingue, "French Gestapo," Convicted and Condemned following the Liberation
Patoche and his brother are sometimes visited by their father. He is frequently accompanied by a number of business associates. There is an indication that he had once been a dealer in wines and liquors by the truckload. Father speaks of a chateau, now in ruins, to which he takes the boys to tour. The property had been seized by the United States Army as the product of illegal gains. Father tells the boys to keep an eye on the place because the Marquis who had owned the Chateau would return one day, although he and his wife had fled France at the end of the War. Another member of the Carlingue? There is no definite answer. Some questions have no answers. With memory comes mystery.
Modiano plays with the reader as a cat does a mouse. Patoche takes us forward in time to his twenties when he meets Jean D., who used to come to Annie's home when Patoche was ten. Jean D. has done time in prison--seven years. Jean and Patoche speak of the old days. Patoche tells him he is writing his first book.
Patoche reveals that during the War his father had been arrested as a Jew. However his father was released through the efforts of a man named Eddie Pagnon. Why was his father arrested? His father will not tell him.
The answer must lie with Pagnon. But Patoche cannot talk to him. He was a member of the Rue Lauriston Gang, condemned and shot. Only his childhood memories may lead him to a garage he remembers, a garage that Annie drove to when he rode along with her. Why did she give him a cigarette case? Where did she go? Where did everyone go? Where did his brother go? Why was the house where he had lived empty one day?
Oh, Annie, how kind you were to me, Patoche. Perhaps I loved you a little bit. I remember how you looked, the smell of your hair, the softness of your shoulder, the blouse you wore with the skirt, the wide belt cinching your waist, I liked you best that way. Not in the tight pants, the boots, the cowboy jacket.
Brothers Rudy and Patrick Modiano. Rudy died of Leukemia at the age of ten in 1957. His death is just a whisper in Suspended Sentences
Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel Like a snowball down a mountain, or a carnival balloon Like a carousel that's turning running rings around the moon Like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space Like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind--Alan and Marilyn Bergman, 1968
Ruined Flowers Fleurs de ruine (1991)
"I reached Rue d'Ulm. It was deserted. Though I kept telling myself that there was nothing unusual about that on a Sunday evening in this studious provincial neighborhood, I wondered whether I was still in Paris. In front of me, the dome of the Pantheon It frightened me to be there alone, at the foot of that funereal monument in the moonlight and I veered off into Rue Lhomond."
April 24, 1933
A young married couple commits suicide for no apparent reason.
It's a strange story that occurred that night in the building at number 26 rue des Fosse's-Saint-Jacques, near the Pantheon, in the home of Mr. and MMe. T.
What possible connection can there be here? Ah. Our narrator from the present has acquired a copy of the police report of the 1933 suicide. He is tracing their same route of that evening in 1933. But why?
As he follows in the doomed couple's footsteps, our present day narrator thinks back to having lived in the Montparnasse Quarter in 1965 with Jacqueline. Before he went to Vienna. How our memories dart through our minds, a chain reaction of events, but smoothly, a stream of consciousness. Private. Our own. No one else's. No one knows what we are thinking.
He recalls his neighbor. A veteran of the Algerian War. Not quite truthful. Something a little false about a textile concern.
Back and forth. Back and forth. Following the route of that long dead couple, memories of his former neighbor twirling around inside his mind. Duvelz. That was his name. Insisted that he and Jacqueline come around and meet this woman. The face opening the door. A woman with a scar on her cheek.
Things go rather squirrely. Duvelz introduces the woman. Our man can't remember her name. She and Duvelz were even engaged once, but she had to go marry someone else. Oh, her husband's out of town. They can all go out together. Or not. Duvelz strokes the scar on the woman's cheek. He opens her blouse and fondles her breast. Casually, "We were in a serious auto accident a while back."
Are you not spellbound? Can you stop reading? I could not. Where do the dots connect? Do they connect? Is this Modiano seeking out mystery for the sake of mystery? Sometimes he looks for it where there is none. He will tell you so.
Ruined Flowers is a series of spiraling puzzles that links the Paris of today to a Paris that was, some of which has vanished forever. Those memories which appear to be linked with reality perhaps are those that haunt us the most.
This is a solid FOUR star read. Highly recommended. These novellas served me well as an entrance to the world of Patrick Modiano. They should do the same for any reader.
Whereupon all members of the congregation are seated.
On Being Br
William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner
Whereupon all members of the congregation are seated.
On Being Brought from Africa to America
'Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land, Taught my benighted soul to understand That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too: Once I redemption neither sought nor knew. Some view our sable race with scornful eye, "Their colour is a diabolic die." Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain, May be refin'd, and join th' angelic train.
Randy Thornhorn's The Kestrel Waters:Gospel Music,Love, Bobnots, Lychs,and Life
Randy Thornhorn, a teller of tales of places you do and don't want toRandy Thornhorn's The Kestrel Waters:Gospel Music,Love, Bobnots, Lychs,and Life
Randy Thornhorn, a teller of tales of places you do and don't want to be
Mama may have, papa may have But God bless the child that's got his own
Them that's got shall get Them that's not shall lose So the Bible said and it still is news Mama may have, papa may have But God bless the child that's got his own That's got his own
Yes, the strong gets more While the weak ones fade Empty pockets don't ever make the grade Mama may have, papa may have But God bless the child that's got his own That's got his own
Money, you've got lots of friends Crowdin' 'round the door When you're gone and spending ends They don't come no more
Rich relations give, crust of bread and such You can help yourself But don't take too much Mama may have, papa may have But God bless the child that's got his own That's got his own
God bless the child God bless the child got his own
Billie Holliday, Arthur Herzog, Jr., 1941
If you read The Kestrel Waters: A Tale of Love and Devil, and I recommend you do, prepare to set your imagination free. Randy Thornhorn has created a work combining elements of the Appalachian tall tale, Southern folklore, gothic literature, that draws together threads of Celtic and Germanic mythology.
Thornhorn strongly believes that Southern literature is one of the true genres of regional story telling that exists in this country today. I happen to agree with him. You'll find many of the markers of that genre in these pages, but much more. There is a strong sense of place and setting here. A strong sense of family, dysfunctional though it may be. There is a definite degree of eccentricity displayed by particular characters. Plot lines meander leisurely. Some of these characteristics drive folks nuts. They don't get it. My wife and I have a saying, "Quirky? We like quirky." Think of one of Robert Altman's later films, "Cookie's Fortune," filmed in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1999, and you have the lighter side of "The Kestrel Waters."
This is the story of the Family Brass. The patriarch is Daddy Malakoff Brass who runs a somewhat shady business down on the Savannah waterfront. Daddy left the family home, inherited by Mother Georgianna Brass from her father, a naval officer. It's down on Officer's row, a magnificent mansion, that requires a tremendous amount of upkeep.
Are the Brothers Brass in today?
Mama has done her connubial duty producing two sons, Glenn and Kestrel, the title character. And that's enough connubial bliss for Mother Brass. Daddy Brass, a force of nature, larger than life, a man of great appetites, carnal and otherwise, has a peach of a secretary, Miss Plum who attends to his business, personal and private.
Turns out Glenn and Kestrel are gifted with voice and instruments. Mother Brass promotes her two sons as gospel singers. They become the Brothers Brass. And they will become hits at gospel jamborees, tent shows, you name it. Picture them as very, very wholesome Everly Brothers who have the natural gospel pitch to their audiences.
The Brass Brothers have a surprising resemblance to the Everly Brothers
But that tag, the Brothers Brass, has a familiar ring. Think the Brothers Grimm.
Because this tale can be rather grim
While there's a bright and sunny side of life, there's a very dark and stormy side, too. It's far away from Savannah. Somewhere in the hills of Appalachia. In this dark world there's a place where you don't belong to be. It's Riddle Top, a mountain, where a fellow named Bob Nottingham rules. Think an endless night on Bald Mountain.
A place you don't belong to be
Now, reader, you have a choice here. You may decide, as I did, that Bob Nottingham is the Devil. Or, you may decide he is a twisted, malevolent god.
Frankly the road of Faith has been a rocky one for me. Many times during my long years as a career prosecutor I have often thought it easier to believe in the existence of a Devil than God. Or is it that troublesome question of free will? Does anyone truly know? I don't.
Whatever you decide, reader, this much is true. Bob Nottingham wants to get back whatever he loses. And he will stop at nothing to retrieve his lost treasure. Anything or anyone who stands in his way is forfeit.
Who, or what is it that Bob Nottingham seeks? It is a young girl named Bettilia, child like, but fortunate enough to have escaped from Riddle Top. She loves to sit among the high limbs of trees. My mind immediately went to Rima of Green Mansions by William Henry Hudson.
This is Bettilia to me
The only book Bettilia owns is a child's reader. Tiny in stature, she is great in spirit and the power of love. It will come as no surprise that she and Kestrel fall in love and that she is completely accepted by every member of the Brass family. Bettilia is the epitome of the meaning of love and the willingness to do anything to show that love to those whose circle she enters.
A Devil has his demons, or, if you prefer another term, his thralls. These are strangely sharp featured creatures, seemingly without will, who serve as Bob Nottingham's messengers and spies. In the world of Riddle Top they are known as Lyches. The leap to the image of leaches is not difficult. When one of them appears, Nottingham is not far behind.
It is incredibly difficult to review this novel without revealing too much. However, it should come as no surprise that Kestrel loses Bettilia. The question is will he get her back? Will Kestrel and Bob Nottingham meet on Riddletop? Who will prevail? Love or Devil? There will be a reckoning.
I sat down for lunch yesterday with Randy Thornhorn. It was a very interesting conversation. Thornhorn is a native of East Texas. He began writing at the age of fourteen, although he was not writing professionally until his late twenties. The world of Riddle Top is a kingdom that began to take shape in Thornhorn's mind in childhood. Sitting in the dark, in his aunt's living room, as she would be cooking breakfast, the moving shadows became the Lyches that would one day become part of Riddle Top. Yes, Celtic mythology influenced him. As did Germanic. Was he a reader of H.P. Lovecraft? Why, yes. He was. Thornhorn begins writing at 3:15 am. That's the time I was just getting to bed reading this novel. Curse you, Brother Thornhorn!
Will there be a sequel to "The Kestrel Waters?" He's not saying. Will there be other Riddle Top stories? Definitely.
For a read that is definitely a refreshing break from the norm, allow your imagination to take flight. Settle back, remember the magic and power of the tales that entranced you in your youth and rejoice that such stories still exist. If you can't return to the days a book could do that, don't even try. You won't get it.
WHEN Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old man-servant--a combined gardener and cook--had seen in at least ten years.
Those words first appeared in print in Forum: The Magazine of Controversy, in the April edition, 1930. It was fitting. Forum was at its height as a magazine of literary significance and had served as a clarion call on issues of social significance since the 1890s. It ceased publication in 1950. I can only surmise the editorial staff threw up their hands in the face of rising McCarthyism.
I KNOW it's not the April issue. I couldn't find one! "A Rose for Emily" is in it!"
These Thirteen, First ed.,Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, New York, 1931
As always, you can find contradictory opinions by William Faulkner regarding the value of Novels, Short Stories, and Poetry. He has referred to writing short stories as "whoring," especially when he was sending stories off to The Saturday Evening Post, his favorite market for his short fiction. However, consider his remarks while writer in residence at the University of Virginia.
Yes sir. You can be more careless, you can put more trash in [a novel] and be excused for it. In a short story that's next to the poem, almost every word has got to be almost exactly right. In the novel you can be careless but in the short story you can't. I mean by that the good short stories like Chekhov wrote. That's why I rate that second – it's because it demands a nearer absolute exactitude. You have less room to be slovenly and careless. There's less room in it for trash. Faulkner in the University,Introduction by Douglas Day,Frederick Landis Gwynn, Joseph Blotner,University Press of Virginia, 1995
I ascribe to that statement by Faulkner where "A Rose for Emily" is concerned. For this story is a remarkable construction of plot, characterization, theme, and the use of a unique narrative technique. It is only through close reading, repeated reading, that the perfection of this story reveals why this story has become the most anthologized American short story.
Alas, Andalusia, aka Martha Jo, aka "The Queen" has decreed that I, who has decreed himself Jeeves around this abode WILL squire her to Kentuck, the local festival of Arts. And here, Dear Reader, I will leave you until I have returned, covered in the dust of the trodden paths, bearing objects of art, smelling of funnel cake, deafened by strains of music played too loudly through poor public address systems. Goodbye Faulkner. I will think of your story while I am gone.
Actually in route, I have in mind the ideal photograph for Miss Emily's house. Paint peeling, the grey cypress revealed underneath. And our town's oldest cemetery along the way. Perhaps time well spent. Happy reading.
The afternoon has passed as I told you, reader, it would. I have shaken the dust of well trodden paths from my shoes, my beloved is content with purchases made. I am content with photographs taken, downloaded, edited, and shortly to be uploaded and shared.
Ah, Mr. Faulkner. There you are. Well, you weren't whoring with this one. Nor were you telling a straight forward ghost story, although you have said so more than once. Your favorite themes are there, rising from the page. The changing South is there. Miss Emily's house itself is a symbol of it. The past is never past. That's there.
Once the Grierson mansion was a brilliant white on the finest street in town. Now it is falling into disrepair. No longer on one of the finer streets, it is surrounded by businesses, within the sound of the passing trains, near the cemetery where the rows of Union and Confederate dead lie. Miss Emily herself, dead, is a monument.
And we begin the story in the present with Miss Emily taking her place among the eternally peaceful. It is all fairly straight forward. Those first few paragraphs.
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.-Edgar Lee Masters, The Hill, Spoonriver Anthology, 1915
However, Mr. Faulkner tells his story in anything but a conventional manner after the seemingly innocent beginning narrative. Time becomes non-linear. The initial narrator who might have been an omniscient third person observer, a single first person voice, becomes the curiously effective first person plural narrator. The narrator is not I but We. Should you be patient and count, you will find "we" used forty-eight times. It is not a mere whim. Faulkner did nothing by whim.
Through multiple sets of eyes, through multiple generations, we learn the story of Emily Grierson's life and her place in the community.
Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town, dating from that day in 1894 when Colonel Sartoris, the mayor--he who fathered the edict that no Negro woman should appear on the streets without an apron-remitted her taxes, the dispensation dating from the death of her father on into perpetuity. Not that Miss Emily would have accepted charity. Colonel Sartoris invented an involved tale to the effect that Miss Emily's father had loaned money to the town, which the town, as a matter of business, preferred this way of repaying. Only a man of Colonel Sartoris' generation and thought could have invented it, and only a woman could have believed it.
When the next generation, with its more modern ideas, became mayors and aldermen, this arrangement created some little dissatisfaction. On the first of the year they mailed her a tax notice. February came, and there was no reply. They wrote her a formal letter, asking her to call at the sheriff's office at her convenience. A week later the mayor wrote her himself, offering to call or to send his car for her, and received in reply a note on paper of an archaic shape, in a thin, flowing calligraphy in faded ink, to the effect that she no longer went out at all. The tax notice was also enclosed, without comment.
Read carefully. It's like asking Salvador Dali for the time.
Emily's father found no suitor acceptable for his daughter. He stood in the doorway, chasing them away with a horse whip. He left her nothing but the house. So the good Old Colonel Sartoris fabricated the scheme to save her the taxes. Notice the narrator(s) observed her to have an angelic appearance.
The Griersons always had that superior attitude. The town resented that. However, Emily was to be pitied. Left a spinster at her father's death. No wonder she denied he was dead and the preachers had to talk her into surrendering his body after he had been dead for three days.
We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that. We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.
Faulkner continues to play with time. He plays with the reader. Unless particularly wary, the reader does not realize he is being played by a master but merciless mouser.
That was two years after her father's death and a short time after her sweetheart--the one we believed would marry her --had deserted her. After her father's death she went out very little; after her sweetheart went away, people hardly saw her at all. A few of the ladies had the temerity to call, but were not received, and the only sign of life about the place was the Negro man--a young man then--going in and out with a market basket.
Then there's that peculiar odor that emanates from Miss Emily's house shortly after the missing sweetheart was believed to have married Emily.
So the next night, after midnight, four men crossed Miss Emily's lawn and slunk about the house like burglars, sniffing along the base of the brickwork and at the cellar openings while one of them performed a regular sowing motion with his hand out of a sack slung from his shoulder. They broke open the cellar door and sprinkled lime there, and in all the outbuildings. As they recrossed the lawn, a window that had been dark was lighted and Miss Emily sat in it, the light behind her, and her upright torso motionless as that of an idol. They crept quietly across the lawn and into the shadow of the locusts that lined the street. After a week or two the smell went away.
An idol is feared as much as it is worshiped. Or did they not want to know the truth?
Faulkner spins the hands on the clock again. The sweetheart was Homer Barron, a common laborer and a Yankee at that. A drinker who enjoyed the company of young men whom he told he was not the marrying kind. The Town decided reinforcements were necessary, summoning two Grierson cousins from Alabama.
Barron leaves town, but returns when the Grierson cousins leave. The Town decides it's just as well. Those Alabama Griersons were more superior than Mississippi Griersons.
Emily buys a man's dressing set with the initials "HB" on each piece. A man's nightshirt completes the ensemble. After Homer enters Emily's home he's never seen again.
Emily offers china painting lessons to a generation of Jefferson's children. Until the children stop coming.
The hands on the clock spin wildly.
She carried her head high enough--even when we believed that she was fallen. It was as if she demanded more than ever the recognition of her dignity as the last Grierson; as if it had wanted that touch of earthiness to reaffirm her imperviousness. Like when she bought the rat poison, the arsenic. That was over a year after they had begun to say "Poor Emily," and while the two female cousins were visiting her.
"I want some poison," she said to the druggist. She was over thirty then, still a slight woman, though thinner than usual, with cold, haughty black eyes in a face the flesh of which was strained across the temples and about the eyesockets as you imagine a lighthouse-keeper's face ought to look. "I want some poison," she said.
"Yes, Miss Emily. What kind? For rats and such? I'd recom--"
"I want the best you have. I don't care what kind."
The druggist named several. "They'll kill anything up to an elephant. But what you want is--"
"Arsenic," Miss Emily said. "Is that a good one?"
"Is . . . arsenic? Yes, ma'am. But what you want--"
"I want arsenic."...
So THE NEXT day we all said, "She will kill herself"; and we said it would be the best thing.
Time passes inexorably. Miss Emily is thirty when she abandons noblesse oblige and takes up with Homer Barron. She dies at the age of seventy-four. At last in death she can be openly acknowledged as one of the community's own. Her air of superiority is gone. Her peculiarity is gone. There is no trace of madness. She is no longer a burden or a duty. Two generations have passed. It is a new generation that rules Jefferson now. Only a few remain of Emily's own age. And they remember her as they wish to.
...and the very old men --some in their brushed Confederate uniforms--on the porch and the lawn, talking of Miss Emily as if she had been a contemporary of theirs, believing that they had danced with her and courted her perhaps, confusing time with its mathematical progression, as the old do, to whom all the past is not a diminishing road but, instead, a huge meadow which no winter ever quite touches, divided from them now by the narrow bottle-neck of the most recent decade of years.
There is but one thing more for Faulkner to do, the final pronouncement of the omniscient "we" that gives "A Rose for Emily" its indelible shudder up the spine of generations of readers.
Already we knew that there was one room in that region above stairs which no one had seen in forty years, and which would have to be forced. They waited until Miss Emily was decently in the ground before they opened it.
Just who knew about that closed room? How many knew?
(view spoiler)[Behind the door the body of Homer Barron rots inside his night gown into the bed. Beside his grinning face there is an indentation on the pillow. There is a single iron gray hair in the hollow there. (hide spoiler)]
It is this knowledge that not only establishes the town as narrator but also accomplice. We act not only affirmatively but also by failure to act, by passivity, indifference, and our own self interest. Rest well Emily, Homer, for all, all, will sleep, sleep, sleep on the hill.
Mr. Chekhov,allow me to introduce you to Mr. Faulkner.
Twilight: William Gay's Novel of Madness and Murder
“There’s folks you just don’t need. You’re better off without em. Your life is just a little bett
Twilight: William Gay's Novel of Madness and Murder
“There’s folks you just don’t need. You’re better off without em. Your life is just a little better because they ain’t in it.”
William Gay, October 27, 1941-February 23, 2012, Hohenwald, TN
I had the good fortune to meet William Gay on two occasions. The first was on his book tour with Provinces of Night. I had read The Long Home when it appeared in paperback, recognized there was a special voice that had burst on the scene, and acquired a first edition of his first novel. When his anthology of short stories, I Hate To See That Evening Sun Go Down: Collected Stories appeared I bought that too. Each work was an exceptional read. At the time I bought those first works by Gay, I had no idea if I would ever meet him or not.
Gay always struck me with his easy going way. His form of dress was unconventional. Both times I met him he was wearing carpenter's overalls, rough boots, and either a shirt of insulated underwear or a river neck shirt. I imagine it was a simple underwear shirt.
The last time I saw Gay was on his tour with Twilight. He sauntered in The Alabama Booksmith in Homewood, Alabama. He had added a checked flannel shirt to the outfit I had seen him in previously. Jake Reiss, the owner, asked him if he was about ready to get started. "Right after I go to the bath room and step outside to burn one. I waited for Gay to approach the door to the porch outside and asked if he minded company. "Naw. Come on." We went outside and burned a cigarette. I've never escaped that vice, nor apparently did he.
We talked a little about his books. I told him I had "The Long Home" and "I Hate to See that Evening Sun Go Down." He nodded. "I'm happy to sign them." Then he looked over and said, "Wait until you meet Sutter." I told him I'd be looking for him. "You can't miss him," Gay said.
We went inside. The signing began. Some folks didn't know what to make out of William Gay. He wasn't what they were accustomed to seeing at a book signing. I suppose that's one of the things I liked the best about him.
For what it's worth, "Let's burn one" entered my phrases of Southern idiom. I reserve it for my smoking friends. There are a few of us left. We huddle on the screened porch in the winter. A cup of hot coffee helps. If it's night time and the mercury's really dropping, a shot of whiskey in the coffee helps a little more. We sweat on the screened porch in the summer, trying to catch a breeze from old time oscillating fans. A glass of lemonade goes down good. We recognize we are persona non grata, and try to spare our non-smoking friends and loved ones the second hand hazards of our vice that we know is probably shortening our lives.
Call it a recognition of "twilight," an intimation of mortality. We are rather resigned to it. At one time or another all of us have said, "None of us is gettin' out of here alive."
When you read "Twilight" by William Gay, the image of twilight is repeated a number of times at key sections of the book. The timbre of the light changes, too. At times, the light is so obscured by mist you can't tell which way is up or down, or what direction you're headed. You're lost. Whether good or evil is going to prevail is any body's guess almost to the last page.
Are you comfortable with the twilight of your life?
My grandmother always told me there's people in this world that just don't look quite right out of their eyes. Over the years, I learned she was right. There are those people you look into there eyes, and there's nothing behind them. There's no conscience, no sense of remorse. Fact is, they'd just as soon kill you as look at you.
William Gay draws you into a page turning frenzy. His prose is spare, lean, and devoid of words unnecessary to propel his story forward. Then the man can amaze you with vivid imagery that is more poetry than prose. You get the sense that each word has been carefully parsed from every other possible synonym that might have been dropped into the same place. But without that careful parsing, the words wouldn't have been right.
The novel is divided into two parts. For the sake of brevity, I'll call the first part "The Town, and the second part "The Harrikin." Each is a setting unique unto itself. Peopled with characters that you would not find in other than the place Gay put them. They wouldn't fit. That is, no one but Granville Sutter and Kenneth Tyler who become parts of both worlds.
The story line is fairly simple and straight forward. However, as you read it, you realize you are in the hands of a master writer.
“The bodies of the newly dead are not debris nor remnant, nor are they entirely icon or essence. They are, rather, changelings, incubates, hatchlings of a new reality that bear our names and dates, our image and likenesses, as surely in the eyes and ears of our children and grandchildren as did word of our birth in the ears of our parents and their parents. It is wise to treat such new things tenderly, carefully, with honor.” --Thomas Lynch, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade
The time is 1951 in a small Tennessee Town.
Kenneth and Corrie Tyler, the offspring of bootlegger Moose Tyler have made a startling discovery. Fenton Breece, the town undertaker, got good money from the Tyler family to put Moose away right, including an expensive vault. At Corrie's insistence, she's had Kenneth dig up the grave. The vault's gone. Moose only has half a suit on. He's naked from the waist down. Somebody has mutilated him, taking his male unit and family jewels. The inspection of other graves yields further proof that Fenton Breece has some peculiar notions for dealing with the dead, male and female alike.
Breece is the butt of jokes of the town's men. His weak efforts of showing interest in women are rebuffed by raucous laughter. One citizen says, "You know Fenton Breece isn't lying when his mouth isn't moving."
Corrie makes it her mission to extract justice from Fenton Breece. Kenneth questions what she expects to accomplish. After all, Kenneth isn't that interested. His Daddy had been a terror to him when Kenneth was a child.
“What do you think we ought to do? she asked. Do? Put his sorry ass away. Tell the law and let them open the graves themselves. Put him away forever in some crazyhouse. They’d have to. You think they would? I know they would. What would you do with him? There’s supposed to be respect for the dead. It’s the way we evolved or something. It’s genetic. This man here…he wouldn’t cull anything. He’d do anything.”
Corrie's about right. Folks in these parts hold great respect for their dead. Go messin' with a cemetery or desecrating the corpse of a beloved ancestor is worse than stepping into a nest of yellow jackets.
Out in the country in the churchyards there are old sagging dinner tables that have been there most likely for generations. Attend a dinner on the grounds. Listen to the hymn singing and watch the living attend to the graves of their dead. In my county one old cemetery was vandalized. Ancient tombstones turned over and broken. Young people obviously. They had the bad sense to leave spray painted pentagrams identifying themselves as devil worshipers in the minds of the aggrieved. "No, we can't give'em the death penalty."
Dinner on the Grounds
Corrie confronts Fenton Breece.
“You buried my father, she began. He nodded unctuously. He couldn’t wonder what this was about. He remembered the girl, and he remembered the old man, but he couldn’t fathom what she wanted unless someone else was dead. He kept glancing at the purse, and he couldn’t remember if it had all been paid or not. Maybe she owed him money. Mann Tyler, she said. He had an insurance. We paid for an eight-hundred-dollar steel vault to go over his casket, and it’s not there anymore. The room was very quiet. She could hear rain at the window. Breece got up and crossed the room. He peereddown the hall and closed the door. He went back and sat down. His hands placed together atop the desk formed an arch. He was watching her and she could see sick fear rise up in his eyes. Just not there, she went on. And that’s not all. He’s buried without all the clothes we bought for him, and he’s been…mutilated. She just watched him. A tic pulsed at the corner of one bulging eye like something monstrous stirring beneath a thin veneer of flesh.”
“What do you want? You’re finished. You don’t begin to suspect how finished you are. When all these people hear about what you’ve done to their folks, they’re just going to mob you. They’d hang you, but you won’t last that long. They’ll tear you apart like a pack of dogs.”
Fenton sputters that he'll make things right. That he'll replace the vault, that he'll make reparations.
Tension ratchets up when Kenneth steals Breece's briefcase which holds the demented mortician's ugly secrets. There's an ugly stack of photographs. Fenton Breece is a necrophiliac. Fenton is capable of committing acts that raise the hair on the back of your neck. But he lacks the spine to get his own dirty secrets covered up.
As Gay said, "Wait till you meet Sutter."
Granville Sutter is one of those men my grandmother would have said didn't look right out of his eyes. He's gotten off of a murder charge on a lesser included offense. He has the knack of terrifying the populous of the entire town. When Sutter tells anyone he'll see them later, nothing good will come of it.
Breece cuts a deal with the devil. Get his photographs back, he'll pay Sutter $15,000.00. Sutter has no compunction about killing Corrie and Kenneth Tyler. They just don't know a hell hound is on their trail, yet.
Even Breece recognizes he's made a dangerous deal.
“It was the first time they had ever talked face to face and Breece divined in a moment of dizzy revelation something about Sutter that no one had noticed before. Why, he is mad, Breece thought. He’s not what people say about him at all. He’s not just mean as a snake or eccentric or independent. He’s as mad as a hatter, and I don’t know how they’ve let him go so long.”
Something happens to put Corrie into the clutches of Fenton Breece. Don't ask me. I'm not telling.
“When Tyler fled and Sutter pursued him, this was the closest thing to a wilderness there was, and there was really no thought of going anywhere else, and as these fugitives, mentor and protégé, fled from a world that still adhered to form and order they were fleeing not only geographically but chronologically, for they were fleeing into the past.”
Mentor and protégé? Wait. Are you feeling a bit uneasy?
The Harrikin, where a man gets lost, where a compass won't show true north
It's a one on one contest between Kenneth Tyler and Granville Sutter. Kenneth is on his way to Ackerman Field where there's a Sheriff Bellwether who can't be bought. There's a District Attorney itching to bring Sutter to justice, too.
All Kenneth has to do is cross the Harrikin, a tangled wilderness, where it's so easy to lose one's way. People have gone in there and never come out of there again. Folks who live there now don't want to be found. They don't have social security numbers, don't care for the government, and the government long ago lost interest in them. It started in 1933 with a storm, a tornado or hurricane that blew into Tennessee up from Alabama.
It is a world that might have been the creation of the Brother's Grimm. Perhaps, Hieronymous Bosch. It is haunted by abandoned towns. It is a world of abandoned mines with shafts overgrown by weeds, where a man might step, slip, and never be heard to hit the bottom. A witch woman lives deep in the heart of the Harrikin.
Nearby is the old Perrie Mansion, formerly the scene of many a ball and party. Until a balcony filled with merrymakers were spilled from it when it collapsed. Now the witch woman tells Kenneth that on some nights you can still hear the music, the laughter, and then the screams.
The witch woman advises Kenneth,
“There’s somethin about you. Some folks say more than they know. You say considerable less. There’s somethin about you, and I don’t know if it’s a great good or a great evil. Well. You being a witch and all, looks like you’d know. I would if you wadn’t blockin it out. You’re hidin somethin.”
There's things in this world better let alone. Things sealed away and not meant to be looked upon. Lines better not crossed, and when you do cross 'em you got to take what comes."
There is Bookbinder, the old man who raises goats and keeps them as pets. He shares coffee with Kenneth.
There is a family, mother, father, daughter, son. They feed Kenneth.
On the chase for Kenneth, Sutter will encounter many that Kenneth has met. Some will live. Some will die.
From time to time Sutter will sleep. His sleep is troubled by dreams.
"After a while he slept or thought he slept. He dreamed or dreamed he did. Anymore the line between dreams and reality was ambiguous at best. For years he'd felt madness sniffing his tracks like an unwanted dog he couldn't stay shut of. He'd kick it away and it would whimper and cower down spinelessly and he'd go on, but when he looked back over his shoulder it would be shambling toward him, watching him with wary apprehension but coming on anyway."
A reckoning is coming. William Gay's prose drives you relentlessly to a haunting conclusion. When you've reached the end, ask yourself a question. If one contends with evil too much, too long, can you escape without being caught in its tendrils? Gay leaves the reader much to ponder.
One last word of advice. If a 1950 Black Buick Roadmaster pulls up and you're hitchin' a ride, keep walkin'.
Sophie's Choice: William Styron's Novel of Choices, Hobson's and Otherwise
This novel was chosen by members of On the Southern Literary Trail as a grouSophie's Choice: William Styron's Novel of Choices, Hobson's and Otherwise
This novel was chosen by members of On the Southern Literary Trail as a group read for September, 2014.
Sophie's Choice, First Ed., First Prtg., William Styron, Random House, New York, New York, 1979
The gate to Auschwitz, where those in charge choose who lives and who dies
Life is but a series of choices, is it not? Some easy, quickly made, given no further thought. Others are more difficult. We worry about the outcome, the consequences. After much thought, we arrive at a choice, live with it, find we worried over nothing, or become haunted by consequences we never envisioned. Call it free will.
When we are very young life is much simpler, is it not? Our decisions are made for us. By our parents, our caretakers. Perhaps caregivers sounds better. We do not know about the idea of free will, so we do not worry about it. We just take what comes. We are grateful if we have kind parents and caregivers. No, that's not right, we are simply happy because that is what we learn to expect. Many children learn to expect nothing good to happen. Neither the happy children or the sad children have a choice in the matter. It is simply the way it is.
A child who expected nothing good to happen, from the film "Schindler's List
But Sophie's Choice by William Styron deals with choices made principally by his title character in a setting where the choices are given under duress, which are choices not freely made, or choices which have no satisfactory outcome, the classic Hobson's choice. Sophie is an Aryan, not Jewish. However, she is Polish. The Nazi regime despises the Poles as they did the mentally ill, physically imperfect, the gypsies, homosexuals, and dissident intellectuals. All will go to the camps. And all will only leave up through the chimneys of the crematoria.
Styron's method of telling Sophie's story is a master stroke of plotting. Rather than resort to the omniscient "god" like narrator, Styron inserts himself into the story as his younger self. "Call me Stingo." Echoing the words of Herman Melville,"Call me Ishmael," Styron relates key facts of his life as a young manuscript reader at McGraw-Hill Publishing who aspires to become a writer. Following his brief stay there, he is terminated. He must move to more affordable lodging.
His search lands him in a boarding house in 1947 Brooklyn, a time when trees still grew there. The older Styron writes of himself as a younger more callow figure. Stingo tells us,
“To make matters worse, I was out of a job and had very little money and was self-exiled to Flatbush—like others of my countrymen, another lean and lonesome Southerner wandering amid the Kingdom of the Jews.”
Oh, yes. Stingo is a Southerner. A Virginian, born and bred, with a degree from Duke University. Not only is he close to impoverished and lonesome, he is lonesome for female company. Among his scant belongings is an unopened box of condoms upon which he casts a wistful look from time to time.
Stingo's feverish libido is fired by the nightly sounds of unbridled and enthusiastic celebrations of the ars amatoria from the room above his. It is difficult to sleep, to even think. To write is impossible. Bed springs squeak and a head board beats against a wall with a steadily increasing rhythm. There are brief interludes of silence and then the sounds of the circle of life slowly begin again rising to crescendoing heights. It drives Stingo to distraction.
Then we meet the unabashed coupling couple. One Nathan Landau and Miss Sophie Zawistowska. Nathan is Jewish. Sophie is not. She is a Polish Catholic who survived internment at Auschwitz.
Stingo walks into the boarding house to find the couple arguing. Not all is well with the two lovers upstairs.
At the house Sophie and Nathan were embroiled in combat just outside the door of my room...
"Don't give me any of that, you hear," I hear him yell. "You're a liar! You're a miserable lying cunt, do you hear me? A cunt!...[T]hat's what you are, you moron--a two-timing, double-crossing cunt! Spreading that twat of yours for a cheap, chiseling quack doctor. Oh, God!" he howled, and his voice rose in wild uncontained rage. "Let me out of here before I murder you--you whore!
Then Nathan turned his attention on Stingo.
"You're from the South," he said.. "Morris told me you were from the South. Said your name's Stingo. Yetta needs a Southerner in her house to fit in with all the other funnies...Too bad I won't be around for a lively conversation, but I'm getting out of here. It would have been nice to talk with you...We'd have had great fun, shootin' the shit, you and I. We could have talked about sports. I mean Southern sports. Like lynching niggers--or coons, I think you call them down there...Too bad. Old Nathan's got to hit the road. Maybe in another life, Cracker, we'll get together. So long, Cracker! See you in another life."
Odd, how those who are the targets of prejudice are among the most intolerant, is it not so?
Stingo immediately goes to comfort Sophie. However, his feelings are conflicted. Although his choice is to comfort her, his wish is to possess her. He is captured by her beauty. And Styron will make it clear through the novel that men are frequently drawn to Sophie by her beauty.
One important thing that the reader must realize is that Styron is dealing with two time frames. He is dealing with the present in which he is writing the book. He is dealing with the present of 1947 in which the action actually occurs. It is through this distancing that Styron is able to set up throughout the novel moments of foreshadowing. It must never be forgotten that Old Stingo/Styron knows how this tale ends. It is a flashback within a flashback.
Styron gradually reveals to us that Nathan Landau is brilliant, wealthy, but mentally ill. He is capable of great charm, care, and generosity. Nathan has chosen upon meeting Sophie who is still suffering from the after effects of her internment in Auschwitz to bring her back to health and save her life. He takes her to his brother Larry who is a physician who treats her and refers her to other physicians. Upon their meeting Sophie suffers from scurvy, has endured typhus, scarlet fever, and malnutrition. She has lost her teeth.
Nathan has provided perfect dentures for her. Clothing. Most important to Sophie, music in the form of the latest model phonograph and records, extremely expensive in that day. And Nathan restored her eroticism to her the sense of which was totally lost to her in Auschwitz.
Nathan will also make the positive choice to befriend Stingo. Stingo will become part of a threesome, included in Nathan's and Sophie's adventures. Nathan will come to praise Stingo's writing giving him the confidence to complete what will become his first novel, Styron's Lie Down in Darkness. The novels most charming moments are when the three are together on one of Nathan's elaborately planned adventures. It has the sense of Truffaut's "Jules et Jim."
Old Stingo will recall,
“There are friends one makes at a youthful age in whom one simply rejoices, for whom one possesses a love and loyalty mysteriously lacking in the friendships made in after-years, no matter how genuine.”
Oddly enough, Nathan's misgivings about Stingo were not totally inaccurate. Stingo has his share of Southern guilt with which to live. It seems that his family once had a slave named Artiste and he was put out to work. The value of that work was a large sum of money which came into his father's possession. His father sent Stingo his share of that burden of Southern history. It was that largesse that allowed him to continue to live in Brooklyn and write. The reveal of this information instantly brought a comparison of Stingo to Quentin Compson. "I don't hate it," Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; "I don't hate it," he said. "I don't hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: I don't. I don't! I don't hate it! I don't hate it!" Absalom, Absalom!, by William Faulkner.
Nathan chooses to self medicate with amphetamines and cocaine. An employee at Pfizer Laboratories, he easily obtains what he needs. The "Bennies" the cocaine make him fly. It is when he begins to crash that his Mr. Hyde personality appears. Sophie can only hope that barbiturates can ease him into sleep before he emotionally abuses her or physically harms her.
It is during those periods of time that Nathan abandons Sophie that Stingo becomes her confidant. Though she has lost her faith in the horror of Auschwitz, she treats Stingo as the priest in the confessional. Stingo is a safe confidant. John Steinbeck reminded us in East of Eden, “Perhaps the best conversationalist in the world is the man who helps others to talk.” Stingo helped Sophie to talk. It is in Sophie's narration to Stingo that we are gradually led to Sophie's Choice. Old Stingo/Styron repeatedly reveals bits and pieces that lead us to believe that it was horrible indeed. It was.
In a novel as dark as this a reader is grateful for any brief respite of humor. Styron provides it here in young Stingo's pursuit of sexual satisfaction. There is the divine Leslie Lapidus who loves to talk dirty, and can talk the talk with expertise but cannot bring herself to do the deed. She envisions Stingo with his Southern accent as some Cavalier officer of the Confederate army.
“I mean, I don't know much about the Civil War, but whenever I think of that time—I mean, ever since Gone With the Wind I've had these fantasies about those generals, those gorgeous young Southern generals with their tawny mustaches and beards, and hair in ringlets, on horseback. And those beautiful girls in crinoline and pantalettes. You would never know that they ever fucked, from all you're able to read." She paused and squeezed my hand. "I mean, doesn't it just do something to you to think of one of those ravishing girls with that crinoline all in a fabulous tangle, and one of those gorgeous young officers—I mean, both of them fucking like crazy?"
"Oh yes," I said with a shiver, "oh yes, it does. It enlarges one's sense of history.”
Then there's Sally Ann, the Baptist, she of the stalwart hand. She leaves Stingo wrung out like a limp wash rag. Stingo complains he could have done that better himself.
But we must return to Nathan, Sophie, Stingo, and Auschwitz.
The last time Nathan broke with reality, he threatened to murder Sophie and Stingo. He believed they had made love. He was wrong about that.
Stingo was determined to save Sophie from Nathan. He persuaded her to go with him to a farm owned by his father in Virginia. It was on that trip Sophie revealed her choice at Auschwitz. It was on that trip that Sophie made love to Stingo. And she asked if there was a Berlitz language school near there so she might learn to write in English.
"There are so many things that people still don't know about that place!" she said fiercely. "There are so many things I haven't even told you Stingo, and I've told you so much. You know, about how the whole place was covered with the smell of burning Jews, day and night. I've told you that. But I never even told you hardly anythng about Birkenau, when they begun to starve me to death and I go so sick I almost died...Or..." And here she paused, gazed into space, then said, "There are so many terrible things I could tell. But maybe I could write it as a novel, you see, if I learned to write English good, and then I could make people understood how the Nazis made you do things you never believed you could...I was so afraid! They made me afraid of everything! Why don't I tell the truth about myself? Why don't I write it down in a book that I was a terrible coward, that I was a filthy collaboratrice that I done everything that was bad just to save myself?" She made a savage moan, so loud above the racket of the train that heads turned nearby and eyes rolled. "Oh, Stingo, I can't stand living with these things!"
Birkenau: Those who do not have a why to live cannot bear any how. Is it not so?
Now we come to one Thomas Hobson who was an English Stable Keeper around 1600. He always required his customers to take the horse nearest the door or none at all. It came to be known as Hobson's choice, meaning what appears to be a free choice which offers no option at all. That was Sophie's choice. Was it not so?
Let us allow young Stingo to have the last word, shall we?
“Someday I will understand Auschwitz. This was a brave statement but innocently absurd. No one will ever understand Auschwitz. What I might have set down with more accuracy would have been: Someday I will write about Sophie's life..., and thereby help demonstrate how absolute evil is never extinguished from the world. Auschwitz itself remains inexplicable. The most profound statement yet made about Auschwitz was not a statement at all, but a response.
The query: "At Auschwitz, tell me, where was God?"
William Styron won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1980. He was a finalist for the National Critics Circle Award. However, reviews were mixed. Styron was criticized for having taken on a topic to huge to be taken on in any manner other than silence, ignoring earlier works in existence and widely recognized. A narrower criticism was based on Styron having selected a Polish Catholic as his central character as the Holocaust's purpose was deemed the extermination of the Jewish Race. Styron responded in an essay in the New York Times that the Holocaust transcended anti-Semitism, that “its ultimate depravity lay in the fact that it was anti-human,” he wrote. “Anti-life.”
All who suffered under the Third Reich suffered universally. Was it not so?
The Lebensborn Program(view spoiler)[Lebensborn” translates to “wellspring of life” or “fountain or life.” The Lebensborn project was one of most secret and terrifying Nazi projects. Heinrich Himmler founded the Lebensborn project on December 12, 1935, the same year the Nuremberg Laws outlawed intermarriage with Jews and others who were deemed inferior. For decades, Germany’s birthrate was decreasing. Himmler’s goal was to reverse the decline and increase the Germanic/Nordic population of Germany to 120 million. Himmler encouraged SS and Wermacht officers to have children with Aryan women. He believed Lebensborn children would grow up to lead a Nazi-Aryan nation.
The program ran from 1939-1945. Polish children were particular targets of the program with allegedly over 100,000 children stolen from their parents.
In an effort to save her son, Jan, Sophie begged Auschwitz Commander Rudolp Hoess to enter him into the Lebensborn Program. She doubted that he ever did anything. Hoess is the only real character to appear in the pages of Sophie's Choice. He did serve as the commandant at Auscwitz. He was a defendant at the Nuremberg Trials and sentenced to death. The author gratefully acknowledges the Jewish Virtual Library for information regarding Lebensborn and Rudoplh Hoess. This library may be located at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/. (hide spoiler)]
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Karen Abbott's History of Four Women in the American Civil War
I am always on the women's side.-The Diary of Mary Boyki
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Karen Abbott's History of Four Women in the American Civil War
I am always on the women's side.-The Diary of Mary Boykin Chesnut
Whoever said history has to be dull? Well, when Newsweek Magazine asked one thousand Americans the same U.S. Citizenship Test questions required for an immigrant to gain United States Citizenship, 38% must have found it pretty dull stuff. They failed. Seventy percent couldn't tell you what the Constitution was. That's a pretty bleak look on Americans' knowledge about their own country. Take The Quiz: What We Don't Know Newsweek Magazine, March 20, 2011.
So it is especially refreshing to find a book as skilfully written by an author as talented as Karen Abbott who brings a lesser known area of the American Civil War brilliantly alive. Any reader will find her story of four women and their involvement in the American Civil War anything but dull. With the skill of a novelist, Abbott weaves the lives of four exceptional and independent women into the complex history of the times. Nor does Abbott accomplish her task without the credentials to back up her work. Abbott writes the History column for Smithsonian.com and Disunion, the continuing series on the American Civil War for The New York Times.
Oh. Don't be misled by the author's looks. Yes, she's a beautiful woman. Yes, she certainly turned this reader's head. But make no mistake about it. She has a mind as sharp as the finest Toledo steel. This is a history that is fully noted with a bibliography of sources that should satisfy any historian.
Writing of women's role in the American Civil War, Abbott said in her introductory note:
Some--privately or publicly, with shrewd caution or gleeful abandon --chafed at the limitations society set for them and determined to change the course of the war. In the pages that follow I tell the story of four such women: a rebellious teenager with a dangerous temper; a Canadian expat on the run from her past; a widow and a mother with nothing else to lose; and a wealthy society matron who endured death threats for years, and lost as much as she won. Each, in her own way, was a liar, a temptress, a soldier, and a spy, sometimes all at once."
If that doesn't grab your attention, I don't know what will.
Belle Boyd, the teenager with the dangerous temper.
Belle was seventeen when the war began. She lived with her parents in Martinsburg, Virginia, near the top of the Shenandoah Valley. She was impetuous. As one of the belles of Martinsburg described her, she was "man crazy." When Union troops entered Martinsburg and invaded her home, she killed a Yankee soldier whom she thought was too rough with her mother. Early in the war, there were no repercussions. The North wanted no repercussions among Southern civilians--yet. Belle's father was a member of Stonewall Jackson's Brigade, though he had not earned that nickname yet. During the battle of Falling Waters, Belle Boyd ran across the field of battle to warn Jackson of the number and deployment of Union troops. She was instrumental in Jackson's victory. Belle, ever the romantic, became enamored of Jackson. Surprise. Belle's feelings were not returned. Eventually Belle became a courier for the Confederacy. She was imprisoned in the Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. She was subsequently exiled to the South, paroled on the condition that she never return to Union soil. Ironically, Martinsburg was located in what became West Virginia. Belle Boyd would be exiled from home or in violation of her parole. It is left to the reader to discover what happened to Belle.
Rose Greenhow, the widow and mother with nothing left to lose.
"All Germans carry an image of Adolph Hitler inside them," I said. "Even one
A Quiet Flame: Memories Die Hard
First Edition, Quercus, London, UK, 2008
"All Germans carry an image of Adolph Hitler inside them," I said. "Even ones like me, who hated Hitler and everything he stood for. This face with its tousled hair and postage-stamp mustache haunts us all now and forevermore and, like a quiet flame that can never be extinguished, burns itself into our souls. The Nazis used to talk of a thousand -year empire. But sometimes I think that because of what we did, the name of Germany and the Germans will live in infamy for a thousand years. That it will take the rest of the world a thousand years to forget. Certainly if I live to be a thousand years old, I'll never forget some of the things I saw. And some of the things I did."- Bernie Gunther
"In every bit of honest writing in the world there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand
Of Mice and Men: I am my brother's keeper
"In every bit of honest writing in the world there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other."— John Steinbeck in his 1938 journal entry
First Ed., Covici-Friede, Ny.,Ny., 1937
John Steinbeck based Of Mice and Men on his own experiences as a bindlestiff in the 1920s. The source of his title is "To a mouse" by Robert Burns.
"But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane, In proving foresight may be vain: The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, For promis’d joy!"
George Milton and Lennie Small had plans. Lennie delighted in hearing of them.
“George's voice became deeper. He repeated his words rhythmically as though he had said them many times before. 'Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don't belong no place. They come to a ranch an' work up a stake, and the first thing you know they're poundin' their tail on some other ranch. They ain't got nothing to look ahead to.”
John Malkovich as Lennie Small and Gary Sinise as George Milton
From the time I first read Cain asked God if he was his brother's keeper my answer has always been "Yes." Perhaps that is why Of Mice and Men has remained one of my favorite novels and John Steinbeck has remained one of my favorite authors. It is a philosophy by which my family lived and which they instilled in me.
I have often wished that Steinbeck had told us how George entered the lives of Aunt Clara and Lennie. However, over time I have come to believe the answer to that question is not important. It only mattered that Lennie was another human being who needed help and care because of his limited mental ability. Small, he was not, though his reason was.
Steinbeck casts the end of this short novel with unmistakable foreshadowing as the two unlikely friends camp before heading into yet another ranch during the great depression. George tells Lennie that if he should get into trouble as he did in Weed he should come back to their camping spot and George will meet him there.
Aunt Clara had unwittingly built into Lennie a fetish for the touch of soft things at an early age, a piece of soft velvet, mice, which Lennie kills because he does not know his own strength. In Weed he has seen a girl in a red dress. All he wanted to do was to touch that red dress. But the young girl who wore it raised the cry of rape. George and Lennie were on the run. That's the reason for George's warning.
Steinbeck deftly paints a multitude of themes with a relatively small cast of characters working on the ranch to which George and Lennie come. There is every form of prejudice one could imagine on this ranch in the Salinas valley.
Candy who has lost a hand is old. He could be kicked out at any time. He is a swamper, sweeping up and washing dishes. Crooks is a stable buck with a crooked back and black. He doesn't come into the bunk house, nor do the whites enter his separate room. He is the target of isolation and discrimination. The boss's son is Curly, a small man, filled with hate and violence, a bully. He is recently married. Curly's wife is a young girl with a past. The men in the bunk house have two sexual outlets, a prostitute or Curly's wife. Curly's wife has a roving eye. Merely being a woman is weakness. Sexism is rampant.
Steinbeck paints the American vision of hope and dreams. George and Lennie plan on getting a little place of their own. They seem so close to realizing the dream when Candy joins them, providing the greatest part of their stake. One month of work will provide what they need.
But it will not happen. Curly's wife turns her eye on Lenny.
Lara Flynn Boyle and John Malkovich in the barn
"Feel my hair. It's soft." It will be the last mistake Curly's wife makes.
Curly forms a lynch mob to track down Lennie. George can only hope to get there first to save Lennie from the terror he knows Lennie will face. Lennie is waiting for him by the river. He asks him to tell him how it's going to be. George tells him to look across the river. George commits the ultimate act of being his brother's keeper at the cost of a tremendous emotional toll.
“I see hundreds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads. Hundreds of them. They come, an’ they quit an’ go on; an’ every damn one of ‘em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ‘em ever gets it. Just like heaven. Ever’body wants a little piece of lan’. I read plenty of books out there. Nobody never gets to heaven, and nobody never gets no land. It’s just in their head.”--Crooks, Stable Buck
Fear:A Novel of World War I, The one novel you must read about the Great War
Gabriel Chevalier in service during World War I
Much more to come. Not toFear:A Novel of World War I, The one novel you must read about the Great War
Gabriel Chevalier in service during World War I
Much more to come. Not to heighten suspense, this novel is superb. Chevallier holds nothing back in his depiction of war. It is a scathing portrait of indifferent leaders mindful of their reputation but not the fate of their men. Discipline is brutal. Armed Gendarmes on horseback are stationed behind the lines to send men moving to the rear back to the front. Gendarmes who do not fight have the authority to execute soldiers who do not obey. Medals are distributed, but to the commanders safely ensconced in fortified dugouts far in the rear of combat. Those at the front whose actions lead to success are not recognized. Newspapers cover up failures at the front. Civilians accustomed to seeing soldiers home on leave are unaware of the massive deaths at the front unless they have received personal notification of their own loss. This is a bold tale of bitterness and black humor. It is not to be missed. This may be THE WWI novel you've not heard of. It's tone is completely different from All Quiet on the Western Front and Grave's Goodbye to all That. Chevallier spares the reader nothing. Because of that this novel carries with it more power than anything else this reader has encountered written as a result of the Great War.
I call Perkins the master editor for he was already responsible for neatening up the works of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He was accustomed to diplomatically dealing with authors' sensitivities reluctance to have the language of their creations changed. Hemingway could be an absolute beast about it. Now Perkins had what appeared to be a new prodigy on his hands. He found Wolfe more malleable.
THE editor, Max Perkins
Perkins explained to Wolfe that he considered Wolfe's alter ego, Eugene Gant, to be the central focus of the novel. To emphasize that Perkins said portions unnecessary to accomplishing that parts had to be cut. And Perkins cut. Sixty-six thousand words. Initially, Wolfe considered Perkins a friend and mentor. As he published additional work he soured in his opinion of Perkins. In 1934 Wolfe left Scribners and signed with Harper Brothers.
The original manuscript of "O Lost A Story of the Buried Life," was published on October 3, 2000, by the University of South Carolina Press for the centenary of Thomas Wolfe's birth. The manuscript was restored by F. Scott Fitzgerald scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli, and Arlyn Bruccoli.
But, back to the novel in question. "Look Homeward, Angel" was published less than two weeks before the stock market crash of 1929. However, what was the beginning of the great depression did not deter readers from buying Wolfe's first novel. The reviews were generally glowing. The debut of the novel was a literary sensation.
In short, Wolfe wrote his autobiography as fiction. As in real life, Eugene's father was a stone cutter of funereal monuments, while his mother established a second home in a boarding house she purchased. Some of Eugene's siblings lived with their father, those who had not escaped by death or marriage. However, Mother took Eugene to live with her at her enterprise, "Dixie Land." However, from time to time, Eugene's mother forgets that she has stashed him at his father's. W.O. Gant, the stone cutter who can't carve an angel is the epitome of excess and at times largess. Mother Eliza, however is the very symbol of deprivation. She could make Lincoln scream on a penny. Eugene never knows which room is his. Eliza is prone to moving to smaller quarters to make room for her boarders.
Eliza keeps Eugene's hair at little Lord Fauntleroy length until age nine. He is teased and bullied by his school mates. Mother and son share the same bed until Eugene approaches adolescence. Through the years Eugene's resentment toward his mother grows until he confronts her after leaving for college.
“By God, I shall spend the rest of my life getting my heart back, healing and forgetting every scar you put upon me when I was a child. The first move I ever made, after the cradle, was to crawl for the door, and every move I have made since has been an effort to escape.”
Eliza responds by calling Eugene an unnatural son.
We follow Eugene throughout his life. The novel ends near Wolfe's twenty-ninth birthday.
Eugene's sibling to whom he is the closest is his brother Ben. Ben acts as Eugene's reinforcement in escaping home. He urges Eugene to take whatever he can from his parents to complete his college education. However, Eugene repeatedly tells Ben he has enough.
Wolfe takes us through life on the home front during WWI. He vividly portrays the deadly Spanish Influenza epidemic which swept through soldiers and citizens alike.
There are moments in this novel that are unforgettable. Wolfe can write a sentence that paints the portrait of a place and time. His characters are drawn memorably.
I first read "Look Homeward, Angel" in October, 1973. I was almost two months past my twenty-first birthday. Professor O.B. Emerson, the late Professor of English at the University of Alabama, taught a hefty canon of titles to be read over the semester. Emerson believed a week should be a sufficient period of time to read "Look Homeward, Angel." I loved the man. However, he was one of those professors who could be a bit tyrannical regarding his sympathies for his students other classes. "What classes," he murmured in his lilting southern drawl.
Sighing, as I opened the thick Scribners paperback, wondering how I was going to manage other class assignments, I experienced a euphoric high as I became entranced by Wolfe's story. I became immersed in it. I swam in it. I believed I had stumbled upon a previously undiscovered god.
I assure you I came to consider Eugene Gant a kindred spirit. I knew exactly what was meant by a buried life. I suppose those in the agonies of adolescence and those on the threshold of manhood, womanhood, have at one time or another felt that portions of their lives were indeed buried by any numbers of things. Families could be difficult. They were barriers to freedom. School mates could be horribly cruel for any number of reasons, the primary one being they looked down upon you from a lofty pedestal formed by their much higher social and financial position.
O Lost. The object of one's romantic obsession. The girl too virtuous to be touched. The girls who kicked over the fences of virtuosity, who yearned to be touched and allowed me to touch them. It was confusing whether love and lust were elements of one human need, or were completely different entities.
Eugene is extremely tall by the time he is sixteen. Women tend to think he is older than he is. One is Laura James who is twenty-three. Eugene falls hopelessly in love with her. They spend considerable time in the evenings on the porch swing at Dixie Land. He dreams of marriage to her. She promises to wait for him. And then Eugene learns that she has married. Now that she has become unavailable to him, his thoughts become fantasies of vivid sexual attraction.
“Come up into the hills, O my young love. Return! O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again, as first I knew you in the timeless valley, where we shall feel ourselves anew, bedded on magic in the month of June. There was a place where all the sun went glistening in your hair, and from the hill we could have put a finger on a star. Where is the day that melted into one rich noise? Where the music of your flesh, the rhyme of your teeth, the dainty languor of your legs, your small firm arms, your slender fingers, to be bitten like an apple, and the little cherry-teats of your white breasts? And where are all the tiny wires of finespun maidenhair? Quick are the mouths of earth, and quick the teeth that fed upon this loveliness. You who were made for music, will hear music no more: in your dark house the winds are silent. Ghost, ghost, come back from that marriage that we did not foresee, return not into life, but into magic, where we have never died, into the enchanted wood, where we still life, strewn on the grass. Come up into the hills, O my young love: return. O lost, and by the wind grieved ghost, come back again.”
I sympathized with Eugene, the prisoner of two parents controlled by completely conflicting belief systems. Yet, Eugene had the knack of making himself miserable through his own worries separate and apart from any family influence. When you are young everything is of momentous importance.
When my group "On the Southern Literary Trail" chose "Look Homeward, Angel," I was eager to capture the reaction to it I had at age twenty-one. I went to the library bookstore and found a very nice Modern Library Giant edition of the novel. $2.00. A deal. Done.
I opened the cover. Inside was a library label of my college calculus professor. Yes. O Lost. But she was not a forgotten face. As much as I might have asked her ghost would not come again. It was a moment that caused me to pause and think that perhaps, just perhaps, this read would not be the same as the first.
Although I have done many re-reads of novels selected by my group, I have never been disappointed. It has been like having a conversation with an old friend.
But this time it was different. Nearly forty one years of living took the gloss off Wolfe's novel for me. I decided "Look Homeward, Angel" is best left to the younger reader. I shelved "Look Homeward, Angel" in 2010. Based on my memory of my first read I rated it four stars. As you can see, through the passage of time my feelings have changed.
I have a sign that says:
Res ipsa loquitur, The thing speaks for itself.
Throughout my career I kept that sign on my office desk with its message facing me. As I served the wounded, maimed, molested, and aggrieved ones who lost a loved one it reminded me of the good fortune I have had in life to not have suffered as the many with whom I worked. Although it has become a cliche I find this to be true. Surrender to the fact that life is unfair. Don't sweat the small stuff.
Thomas Wolfe died a few days shy of his thirty-eighth birthday. He suffered from miliary tuberculosis which attacks the brain. Perhaps in those final days he began to realize life wasn't quite as he had imagined it in his writing. On his death bed he wrote to Max Perkins calling him his closest friend, acknowledging that Perkins had provided him so much help when he was a younger writer.
Me? I'm glad to be here. You really can learn something from another day of living. That's why I can't go home again.
"O lost, and by the wind grieved ghost, come back again.”