Most Book Clubs read full-length novels. We read everything else.

Don’t have time for a novel? Already belong to another book club? No problem.

Each week we’ll share two compelling short works.

Here are those excellent essays, wonderful short stories, inspiring speeches, letters, poems, plays and masterworks of journalism . . .all the works you’ve always been meaning to read, in one thought-provoking site.

Think of this as a recommended reading list: your online short form MFA . . .and join in our Facebook book club group discussions to share your thoughts. Enjoy!

Weeks Twenty Five and Twenty Six: The Crucible by Arthur Miller and Trumbo by Bruce Cook

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

The Crucible is a play in 4 acts by the author Arthur Miller. It is a dramatized and partially fictionalized story of the Salem witch trials that took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1690’s.

Considered a classic of American Literature, the play is required reading for most high school students.

Miller wrote the play as an allegory for McCarthyism, when the United States government ostracized people for being communists. In 1956, Miller himself was questioned by the House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities and convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to identify others present at meetings he had attended.

The play was first performed at the Martin Beck Theatre on Broadway on January 22, 1953, starring E. G. Marshall, Beatrice Straight and Madeleine Sherwood. Miller felt that this production was too stylized and cold and the reviews for it were largely hostile (although The New York Times noted “a powerful play [in a] driving performance.”) Nonetheless, the production won the 1953 Tony Award for Best Play. A year later a new production succeeded and the play became a classic.[5] It is regarded as a central work in the canon of American drama.¹

What are your thoughts about Miller’s play? And how does the depiction of the characters compare to those penned in I, Tituba? Enjoy!

https://www.hatboro-horsham.org/cms/lib2/PA01000027/Centricity/Domain/339/The%20Crucible%20-%20Arthur%20Miller%20.pdf

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Poster for the original Broadway production of TheCrucible at The Martin Beck Theater, 1953.

The Cast of Characters:

Reverend Parris: Minister in Salem. He believes a faction plans to force him to leave Salem, so he attempts to strengthen his authority through the witch trial proceedings.

Betty Parris: Parris’ daughter. Her father discovers her dancing in the woods, and she later accuses individuals of practicing witchcraft.

Abigail Williams: Parris’ niece. She instigates the witch trials by falsely accusing others of witchcraft. She pretends to see spirits and instructs the other girls to pretend as well.

Tituba: Parris’ slave. Parris discovers her casting spells and making potions with the girls in the woods.

Mrs. Ann Putnam: Wife of Thomas Putnam. She believes that a witch is responsible for the deaths of her seven infant children. Her jealousy of Rebecca Nurse leads her to accuse Goody Nurse of being a witch.

Thomas Putnam: A greedy landowner in Salem. He systematically accuses his neighbors of witchcraft so that he might purchase their lands after they hang.

Ruth Putnam: The Putnams’ daughter. She accuses individuals of practicing witchcraft. A witness claims to have heard Putnam say Ruth’s accusations helped him obtain land.

Mary Warren: Servant to the Proctors. She goes along with Abigail and the girls by falsely accusing others of witchcraft; however, she later admits that she was lying.

Mercy Lewis: Servant to the Putnams and friend to Abigail. She participates in the witch trials by pretending to see spirits and falsely accusing individuals of witchcraft.

John Proctor: Salem farmer and former lover of Abigail’s. He openly denounces Parris and does not attend church.

Elizabeth Proctor: Wife of John Proctor. She is a decent and honest woman, who dismissed Abigail because of her affair with John Proctor.

Reverend Hale: Minister in Beverly. The people of Salem summon him to investigate Betty’s condition and determine if witchcraft is responsible. He supports the witch trials, but later denounces them when he learns that Abigail is lying.

Rebecca Nurse: Wife of Francis Nurse. She is one of the most respected individuals in Salem because of her kindness and charity. She argues against the witch trial investigations. Mrs. Putnam accuses her of witchcraft.

Francis Nurse: Farmer and landowner in Salem. He is a respected member of the community often called upon to settle disagreements between individuals.

Susanna Walcott: Friend to Abigail. She also takes part in the trials by falsely accusing others of witchcraft.

Giles Corey: Elderly inhabitant of Salem. He challenges the court in an attempt to defend his wife who has been convicted of witchcraft. He is pressed to death as a result.

Sarah Good: Beggar in Salem. She is the first individual accused of witchcraft.

Judge Hathorne: A judge in the Salem court.

Deputy Governor Danforth: A special judge serving in the Salem court during the witch trials. He signs the death sentences for those individuals who refuse to confess their crimes. He refuses to delay any execution for fear that he will appear weak and irresolute.

Ezekial Cheever: Appointed by the court to assist in arresting accused individuals.

Marshal Herrick: Appointed by the court to arrest the accused individuals.

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The original cast of The Crucible. Film and television influenced the play’s narration, direction and staging.

Here’s the original theater review of The Crucible, after it was first performed at The Martin Beck Theater in 1953. Miller’s play would eventually become required reading in most high school English curricula.

http://www.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/theater/84386319.pdf

The opening overture narration explains the context of Salem and the Puritan colonists of Massachusetts, which the narrator depicts as an isolated theocratic society in constant conflict with Native Americans. The narrator speculates that the lack of civil liberties, isolation from civilization, and lack of stability in the colony caused latent internal tensions which would contribute to the events depicted in the play.

Act Two offers a second narration, where the narrator compares the Colony to post-World War II society. The narrator compares the Puritan fundamentalism to cultural norms in both the United States and the Soviet Union. Additionally, fears of Satanism taking place after incidents in Europe and the colonies are compared to fears of Communism following its implementation in Eastern Europe and China during the Cold War.

And of course, there are always the themes of fear of women as a potential source of evil in the world which must be “kept down,” as well as the fear of “the other” as illustrated in treatment of disenfranchised groups such as slaves, Jewish people, Native Americans, etc.

A quote from Miller’s play:

”  . .But the people of Salem in 1692 were not quite the dedicated folk that arrived on the Mayflower. A vast differentiation had taken place, and in their own time a revolution had unseated the royal government and substituted a junta which was at this moment in power. The times, to their eyes, must have been out of joint, and to the common folk must have seemed as insoluble and complicated as do ours today. It is not hard to see how easily many could have been led to believe that the time of confusion had been brought upon them by deep and darkling forces. No hint of such speculation appears on the court record, but social disorder in any age breeds such mystical suspicions, and when, as in Salem, wonders are brought forth from below the social surface, it is too much to expect people to hold back very long from laying on the victims with all the force of their frustrations.

The Salem tragedy, which is about to begin in these pages, developed from a paradox. It is a paradox in whose grip we still live, and there is no prospect yet that we will discover its res-olution. Simply, it was this: for good purposes, even high pur-poses, the people of Salem developed a theocracy, a combine of state and religious power whose function was to keep the community together, and to prevent any kind of disunity that might open it to destruction by material or ideological enemies. It was forged for a necessary purpose and accomplished that purpose. But all organization is and must be grounded on the idea of exclusion and prohibition, just as two objects cannot occupy the same space.

Evidently the time came in New England when the repressions of order were heavier than seemed warranted by the dangers against which the order was organized. The witch-hunt was a perverse manifestation of the panic which set in among all classes when the balance began to turn toward greater individual freedom. When one rises above the individual villainy displayed, one can only pity them all, just as we shall be pitied someday. It is still impossible for man to organize his social life without repressions, and the balance has yet to be struck between order and freedom.

The witch-hunt was not, however, a mere repression. It was also, and as importantly, a long overdue opportunity for every-one so inclined to express publicly his guilt and sins, under the cover of accusations against the victims. It suddenly became possible – and patriotic and holy – for a man to say that Martha Corey had come into his bedroom at night, and that, while his wife was sleeping at his side, Martha laid herself down on his chest and nearly suffocated him.” Of course it was her spirit only, but his satisfaction at confessing himself was no lighter than if it had been Martha herself. One could not ordinarily speak such things in public.

Long-held hatreds of neighbors could now be openly ex-pressed, and vengeance taken, despite the Bible’s charitable injunctions.

Land-lust which had been expressed before by constant bickering over boundaries and deeds, could now be elevated to the arena of morality; one could cry witch against one’s neighbor and feel perfectly justified in the bargain. Old scores could be settled on a plane of heavenly combat between Lucifer and the Lord; suspicions and the envy of the miserable toward the happy could and did burst out in the general revenge.”

-The Crucible, Act one Overature (pages 6-8)

Additional Resources:

A glossary, from the irrepressible Cliff’s Notes

A discussion guide for The Crucible, from Penguin

. . .A bit about Arthur Miller . . .

ArthurMiller

Arthur Miller

Arthur Asher Miller (October 17, 1915 – February 10, 2005) was an American playwright and essayist born of Polish-Jewish descent. Among his most popular plays are All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953) and A View from the Bridge (1955, revised 1956). He also wrote several screenplays and was most noted for his work on The Misfits (1961).
In 2001 the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) selected Miller for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Miller’s lecture was entitled “On Politics and the Art of Acting.” It analyzed political events (including the U.S. presidential election of 2000) in terms of the “arts of performance,” and it drew attacks from some politicians, who called it “a disgrace,” and George Will, who argued that Miller was not legitimately a “scholar.”Here is the rather long but quite provocative Jefferson Lecture, “On Politics and the Art of Acting” by Arthur Miller.

https://www.neh.gov/…/jefferson-lectu…/arthur-miller-lecture

Trumbo by Bruce Cook

TrumboBruceCook

Have your ever heard of the Blacklist, the HUAC, or a man named Dalton Trumbo?

The United States saw a different kind of witch hunt in the mid-20th century.

Trumbo was an American screenwriter and novelist, who scripted films including Roman Holiday, Exodus, Spartacus, and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.

One of the Hollywood Ten, he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947 during the committee’s investigation of Communist influences in the motion picture industry. He was subsequently blacklisted by that industry. He continued working clandestinely, producing work under other authors’ names.

His uncredited work won two Academy Awards; the one for Roman Holiday (1953) was given to a front writer, and the one for The Brave One (1956) was awarded to a pseudonym. The public crediting of him as the writer of both Exodus and Spartacus in 1960 marked the end of the Hollywood Blacklist. His earlier achievements were eventually credited to him by the Writers Guild, 60 years after the fact.

Here is Trumbo, testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Let’s talk about the Hollywood Blacklist!


Dalton Trumbo was the central figure in the “Hollywood Ten,” the blacklisted and jailed screenwriters. One of several hundred writers, directors, producers, and actors who were deprived of the opportunity to work in the motion picture industry from 1947 to 1960, he was the first to see his name on the screen again. When that happened, it was Exodus, one of the year’s biggest movies.This intriguing biography shows that all his life Trumbo was a radical of the homegrown, independent variety. From his early days in Colorado, where his grandfather was a county sheriff, to Los Angeles, where he organized a bakery strike, to bootlegging, to Hollywood, where he was the highest-paid screenwriter when he was blacklisted.²

One of Bustle’s top books to read before Oscar season, Bruce Cook’s Trumbo is a gritty, realistic biography of a tough-as-nails artist working in a time of neo-witchhunting.

READ AN EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK

Cook’s Trumbo includes passages of original statement and testimony from the HUAC proceedings of October 27th, 1947.

Here’s a sample of what Trumbo had to say:

“The Committee throughout its hearing has approved even the grossest attacks upon the right of the artist to express his ideas freely and honestly in his work. Similarly, you have sought testimony attacking his right to function in craft organizations and trade unions for thc advancement of his interests. You are now attacking his right to think, and seeking by public inquisition to ferret out his innermost ideas and his most private and personal convictions. No institution on earth possesses this power over American citizens. You violate the most elementary principles of constitutional guarantees when you require anyone to parade for your approval his opinions upon race, religion, politics, or any other matter.

We must furthermore remember always that the defense of constitutional rights is not simply a convenience to be invoked in time of need, but a clear and continuous obligation imposed equally upon all of us at all times. We are, as citizens, literally commanded by its implications to defend the Constitution against even the slightest encroachment upon the protective barrier it interposes between the private citizen on one hand and the inquisitors of government on the other.”     – Dalton Trumbo, 10/1947

The quintessential photo of Trumbo working in his bathtub:

dalton-trumbo

Resources:

Here are three different film resources to learn more about blacklisting, Dalton Trumbo and the Hollywood Ten:

Storm Center

The first stars an adamant Bette Davis in the movie “Storm Center.” Davis stars as Alicia Hull, a widowed small town librarian dedicated to introducing children to the joy of reading. In exchange for fulfilling her request for a children’s wing, the city council asks her to withdraw the book ‘The Communist Dream’ from the library’s collection. When she refuses to comply with their demand, she is fired and branded as a subversive. Especially upset by this is young Freddie Slater, a boy with a deep love of books whom Alicia has closely mentored.

Here’s a scene where the demure but feisty librarian (yay, librarians!) explains her position:

Movies about Blacklisting:

Next up is a collection of super movie clips from films about blacklisting. Well worth the watch! The video is dedicated to actress/author/activist Lee Grant, herself a blacklisted actress, because her new autobiography “I Said ‘Yes’ To Everything” inspired the youtuber to make this video; and to Victory Navasky who wrote the book “Naming Names,” a book about the subject.

Full-length documentary about the Hollywood Blacklist. Fascinating.

Last but not least, for anyone who wants to delve further into this historically important topic, here is a good full-length documentary about the Hollywood Blacklist, using many authentic clips of famous actors, screenwriters and directors. We see Ronald Reagan, Gary Cooper, Walt Disney and many others. Check it out!

Also check out PBS American Masters for their special presentation on Trumbo.

. . .A bit about Bruce Cook . . .

Born in 1932, Bruce Cook grew up in California (Berkeley, Dunsmuir) and in his birthplace, Chicago, where he received a degree in English literature. He began his career as a journalist in the 1960s. He worked as critic-of-all-media-duties (with the National Observer from 1967 to 1975), then became film reporter, and book review editor (with the Los Angeles Daily News from 1984-1990), then followed his love of literature by writing many book reviews for The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Detroit News, and USA Today.

At the same time, during the 1970s, Bruce Cook was writing books–The Beat Generation (1971), Listen to the Blues (1973), The Town that Country Built (1993), and two biographies, one of Dalton Trumbo (1977), the other of Bertolt Brecht (1983). His last book was a fictional biography of Shakespeare–Qualms of Conscience: The Confessions of William Shakespeare (2004).

As he liked to tell it, he developed an early interest in fiction.

He is perhaps best known (under the pseudonym of Bruce Alexander) as the author of the adventures of Sir John Fielding, his main work between 1994 and 2003. Though these ten novels of detection, translated into nine languages, brought him an international reputation, his bibliography includes twelve other books that appeared between 1979 and 2003, along with many hundreds of reviews and articles in many newspapers and magazines.³

¹Wikipedia

²Goodreads

³Bruce Cook’s official website

Weeks Twenty Two to Twenty Four: I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem

i,tituba

 

It would be easy for a book set during the Salem Witch Trials to disintegrate into yet another western racial pastiche where the character of Tituba remains a culturally unimportant shadow in the background of a privileged white morality play.  Yet in the strong, capable hands of French (Guadoluopean) author Maryse Condé, Tituba at last has had her day.

In her short novel, I,Tituba, Black Witch of Salem (1986) Condé traces the life journey of the young, delightfully human Tituba. Tituba was conceived from rape (aboard a vessel ironically named Christ the King) and she takes us right up through the end of her life, breathing fresh life, memorable as apotheosis,  into a character whose story was long overdue to be told.

Condé’s novels often raise racial, gender and cultural issues in a variety of historical eras and locales. She explores, for example,  the 19th-century Bambara Empire of Mali in Segu (1980); and the 20th-century building of the Panama Canal and its influence on increasing the West Indian middle class in The Tree of Life (1992).¹

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, is equally captivating.

Tituba, who possesses the skill and visions of a healer, is biracial. Born on Barbados to a young African slave woman, Abena, and a loving gentle giant named Yao, Tituba eventually becomes a maroon, having no owner, but an outsider to society. She’s taken under the wing of an herbalist named Mama Yaya, learning about traditional healing methods; then falls in love and marries a slave, John Indian, willing to return to slavery on his behalf. Mortal unions with men are to become a weakness of Tituba’s, throughout the story.

 

barbados_sugar

rendering of a Barbados sugar plantation

 

Soon after, Tituba and John Indian are sold to Samuel Parris, the Puritan who takes Tituba and John Indian to Boston, then to Salem Village, where Tituba is accused of witchcraft and arrested. Tituba shares a prison cell with a pregnant Hester Prynne, the heroine from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter (Prynne also receives a bit of a feminist makeover.)²

Tituba’s story also includes a relationship with a Jewish merchant, Benjamin Cohen d’Azevedo, and raises issues of shared cultural disenfranchisement and the commonality of oppression.

Condé’s narrative employs elements of traditional storytelling to provide tales within tales, magical as double yolks within eggs, resulting in an extremely well-narrated  depiction of Tituba as a larger-than-life yet supremely human protagonist; flawed and as likeable as anyone who has been marginalized and has had to fight to survive. The inclusion of a trinity of spiritual presences, namely Mama Yaya, Yao and Abena, her mother, serve as a sort of often-appearing chorus of the ego, advising and often chiding the very human Tituba as she navigates the racist and misogynist zeitgeist of the 1600’s.

Recently The Wonderlings Reading and Discussion Group voted to read I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem.

Condé’s  book is actually the longest work the group has ever read together, and they did a smashing job! A tight core group of readers explored many aspects of the work, including narrative, voice, character development, analysis of passages they felt were brilliant or needing form, as well as history, study of the atrocities of life on a sugar plantation, and waves of feminism which either did, or did not, apply to Tituba.

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem was published in 1986. It would go on to receive the French Grand Prix award for women’s literature.

 

Although recovering from a fractured ankle, the author was quite gracious in answering several of our member’s questions about I, Tituba. Here are her responses, which were very kindly sent by the translator of the book, Richard Philcox.

She wrote;

Dear Celeste Schantz,

Life has got just a little bit complicated as I have fractured my ankle and my husband will type my answers to your questions.

We greatly appreciate how gracious the author was,  to provide these responses.

 

 

 

Also check out this 52-minute documentary, Maryse Condé : Une voix singulière       (with subtitles) 

 

 

A Wonderlings Interview with Maryse Condé . . .

 

TW: You received your PhD in Caribbean literature at the Sorbonne in 1965, what is the title of your dissertation? (PS: Thank you, thank you for your generosity in taking part in our group!) –Rick Williams

MC: The title of my thesis at the Sorbonne in 1975 was “Stereotype of Black Characters in Caribbean Literature.”

TW: There is a vast chasm going back thousands of years between the culture and history of the African peoples and the white people from Western Europe that settled this country. Taking into consideration your personal experiences with racism, do you think there is any solution to the racist problem that presently exists in the US? – Jeri Harbers Thomson

MC: I am not a specialist of racism in the US but I do believe that in spite of the prevalent ideas, racism will die and humanity will become one. Maybe that is a dream, but it is mine.

TW: Within the book you use the heralding “crick, crack!” –the traditional opening used by a West Indian storyteller in front of an audience. It seems to say; “Now, listen! I’m about to tell you a fantastic tale!” Can you elaborate on the use of this device when writing/telling Tituba’s stories? As a proclamation that we as readers are about to hear something fantastic? I loved these passages; they were among the most excellent in the book, because they contain archetypes and dreams and folk tale elements, and the reader or audience member is wondering what is tangible and what is spiritual. I’d love for you to tell a bit about your use of that story opening, “crick, crack!” – Celeste Helene Schantz

MC:  Every writer is jealous of the storyteller. There is in the spoken word a spontaneity that writing brings to an end. I wanted to remind my readers that I belong to a society where oral traditions are still alive, that my words convey a magical power and that my story can be seen as a wonderful filter for emotions and knowledge. I was trying to say that people belonging to my part of the world do not simply write, they retain the power to influence deeply the minds of their listeners.

Tituba and Mary Walcott, illustration by John W. Ehninger

Tituba and Mary Walcott, illustration by John W. Ehninger Date 1902 Source “Giles Corey of the Salem Farms” (1868), in The Complete Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Boston, Houghton, 1902

 

TW:  What did use of the spirit world bring to your story? When in the trance of writing, how did the exchanges come out from the “other world?” Did you write these and let them stand or revise the exchanges? How has this book shaped your later views on other writings/life? –David Delaney

MC:  A writer is a dreamer. A book is the fruit of her imagination, complex and full of diverse ideas. There is a magical relationship between Tituba and me; One day when I was searching for books at the UCLA library, Ann Petry’s book on Tituba fell into my hands. That is how I got to know the story of the Salem witch trials. That bond between Tituba and me has never been found again in my writing.

TW: I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem was written in 1986, a time when women’s spirituality, particularly reclaiming witchcraft and goddess lore, was being articulated. Was Tituba’s spirituality, as well as being historically relevant, part of the parody of feminism, or more a depiction of a healthy relationship with spirit which we could emulate today? – Anna Schantz

MC: I Tituba as a book is a parody. I went to the extent of meeting with a real witch in Los Angeles who told me the secret of her art. For me there was a large part of humor in portraying Tituba who would not be taken too seriously. Her spirituality should not be taken as a model.

TW:  We appreciated the fact that you refrained from idealizing Tituba, and portrayed her fully, flaws and all, especially her perverse tendency to embrace exploitative situations to her own detriment. What was it about Tituba’s character that affected you most deeply?  -Shabnam Mirchandani

MC: In The Crucible by Arthur Miller Tituba has been portrayed as an unimportant, old Negress without any character, a shadow in the background. I wanted to give her a character of her own: young, attractive, fond of handsome men, not at all a role model. I suppose I was trying to make her human.

TW:  Do you think that some of your meaning or references to feminism/ parody are lost in translation? How involved are you in the translation process? –Jeri Harbers Thomson

MC: For me translation is another work entirely. My husband is a translator and I never interfere with his work. I never read his translations. They belong to him. If you would like to know more on this topic read the conversation we had between author and translator published in the book Intimate Enemies (Liverpool University Press.)

TW:  Are excellent writers born? Or are MFA programs in creative writing useful to hone our skills? Did you personally ever “study” creative writing or did you learn to write on your own through reading and learning from the craft of other authors? What is the most challenging aspect for you when writing a novel? What do you love? – Celeste Helene Schantz

MC: Creative writing programs are an invention of American universities. In the Francophone world we believe that the power to write is a gift which cannot be taught. My fondness for writing comes from my knowledge of literature from different parts of the world. It is by reading certain authors that I learned how to write and influence my readers. I have never studied otherwise. Reading for me is my master.

As for the writers I prefer, the list would be too long, but I make no difference between a Japanese writer, a French writer or an American: all of them can teach me their craft and bring me closer to what I want to achieve.

TW: Can you tell us about what you are working on now? (or at least give us a hint . . .?) –Susan Pigman

MC: I have just published a novel dealing with the major issue of terrorism. It’s called Le destin triste et fabuleux d’Ivan et Ivana, but it has not been translated yet into English. My autobiography of my years in Africa is about to be published by Seagull Press/University of Chicago as What is Africa to Me? True Fragments of an Autobiography. My husband is translating at the present time Of Morsels and Marvels, a travelogue of recipes and journeys throughout the world.

 

Best regards to all the Book Club members!

Maryse Condé

 

 

. . .A Bit About the Author . . .

 

conde_01_body

Sandro Michaeless, BOMB Magazine

 

Born as Maryse Boucolon at Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, the author Maryse Conde’ was the youngest of eight children. After having graduated from high school, she would go on to attend the Sorbonne in Paris.

After graduating, she taught in Guinea, Ghana and Senegal. She returned to Paris, and in 1965 completed her PhD in Caribbean literature at the Sorbonne.

In 1985 Condé was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to teach in the US. She then became a professor of French and Francophone literature at Columbia University in New York City. In addition to her creative writing, Condé retired from Columbia University as Professor Emerita of French. She has also taught at the University of California, Berkeley; UCLA, the Sorbonne, The University of Virginia, and the University of Nanterre. She and her husband (Richard Philcox, the English-language translator of most of her novels) split their time between New York City and Guadeloupe.

About Windward Heights

 

windwardheights

 

Her novel Windward Heights (2008) is a reworking of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, which she had first read at the age of 14. She had long wanted to create a work around it, as an act of “homage.” Her novel is set in Guadeloupe, and race and culture are featured as issues that divide people  Reflecting on how she drew from her Caribbean background in writing this book, she said:

“To be part of so many worlds—part of the African world because of the African slaves, part of the European world because of the European education—is a kind of double entendre. You can use that in your own way and give sentences another meaning. I was so pleased when I was doing that work, because it was a game, a kind of perverse but joyful game.”³

 

About Crossing the Mangrove

 

“Conde writes elegantly in a style that beautifully survives translation from the French…[she] gives readers a flavor of the French and Creole stew that is the Guadeloupan tongue.  In so doing, Conde conveys the many subtle distinctions of color, class, and language that made up this society.”–Chicago Tribune

 

 

In this beautifully crafted, Rashomon-like novel, Maryse Conde has written a gripping story imbued with all the nuances and traditions of Caribbean culture. Francis Sancher–a handsome outsider, loved by some and reviled by others–is found dead, face down in the mud on a path outside Riviere au Sel, a small village in Guadeloupe.

crossingthemangrove

None of the villagers are particularly surprised, since Sancher, a secretive and melancholy man, had often predicted an unnatural death for himself.  As the villagers come to pay their respects they each–either in a speech to the mourners, or in an internal monologue–reveal another piece of the mystery behind Sancher’s life and death.

 

Like pieces of an elaborate puzzle, their memories interlock to create a rich and intriguing portrait of a man and a community. In the lush and vivid prose for which she has become famous, Conde has constructed a Guadeloupean wake for Francis Sancher.  Retaining the full color and vibrance of Conde’s homeland, Crossing the Mangrove pays homage to Guadeloupe in both subject and structure.

Maryse Condé’s works go well beyond historical fiction.

Among her plays are: An tan revolisyon, published in 1991, first performed in Guadeloupe in 1989; Comedie d’Amour, first performed in Guadeloupe in 1993; Dieu nous l’a donné, published in 1972, first performed in Paris in 1973; La mort d’Oluwemi d’Ajumako, published in 1973, first performed in 1974 in Gabon; Le morne de Massabielle, first version staged in 1974 in Puteaux (France), later staged in English in New York as The Hills of Massabielle (1991); Pension les Alizes, published in 1988, first staged in Guadeloupe and subsequently staged in New York as Tropical Breeze Hotel (1995); Les sept voyages de Ti Noel (written in collaboration with José Jernidier), first performed in Guadeloupe in 1987.

Prolific, refreshingly honest, and an excellent writer who deserves great praise and place in any canon of world literature . . .Maryse Condé is all of these things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

¹ Wikipedia

² ibid.
³ Rebecca Wolff, Interview: “Maryse Condé”, Bomb Magazine, Vol. 68, Summer 1999, accessed 27 April 2016.

Week Twenty One: Readings for the 4th of July

 

The faces of freedom: original daguerreotypes introduce us to veterans of The American Revolutionary War

 

 

facesoffreedomamericanr

George Fishley, a soldier in the Continental Army, known as “The Last of the Cocked Hats”

 

To begin a study of primary source materials of the American revolutionary War, check out these incredible daguerreotypes compiled by Utah-based journalist Joe Baumam, who spent three decades researching and compiling images of American Revolutionary War veterans.

Digging through a myriad of sources – 18th and 19th century battle accounts, muster rolls, genealogical records, pension files, letters, period newspapers, town and county histories – he was able to flesh out the stories of these veterans.

See the faces of the war veterans, here.

 

 

The “rough draft” and crossed out paragraph of The Declaration of Independence

 

 

draftdeclaration

Specific paragraphs on abolishing slavery were crossed out, primarily at the request from delegates who had dealings in the slave trade

 

This week we’ll be looking at some source materials related to United States independence and the American Revolutionary War.

 

Did you know . . .

 

. . .that there was an original draft of the Declaration of Independence?

In a letter to Timothy Pickering, dated 1822, John Adams, who had been an eyewitness, recollects the crossed-out paragraph in this famous document.

Find out what was crossed out, based on Adams letter. What would have been different, had the paragraph remained?

John Adams describes the writing of the Declaration of Independence, here.

This copy of the Declaration of Independence is significant not only for its historical importance, but also for the language it contains, which is different from the version that was eventually ratified on July 4, 1776. Notably, Jefferson’s copy includes a lengthy condemnation of the slave trade:

 

“he [the king of Great Britain] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”

 

But before the Declaration of Independence was ratified, this passage was removed; its excision was intended primarily to appease the delegates from Georgia and South Carolina.

It’s incredible to think that the so-oft quoted Declaration of Independence was actually written by a 33-year old who did not want the job; some of the document’s most eloquent and needed passages about freedom were removed purely to protect economic prosperity, in a war which was supposedly all about freedom from oppression.

 

 

Next up: meet Mary Katharine Goddard, female publisher!

 

goddard

 

Check out this link to a great story from The Washington Post:

Mary Katharine Goddard not only got the assignment from congress to publish official copies of The Declaration of Independence; “She was also quietly named the first female postmaster in the colonies in 1775, running the busy and crucial Baltimore Post Office as well as a bookstore, print shop and newspaper.”¹

Read Goddard’s story, here!

 

EYEWITNESS AT VALLEY FORGE

 

Then read a first-person eyewitness account of a continental army soldier who was at Valley Forge!

 

bluebookSteuben2

You’re looking at The Blue Book, which  remained the official guide to military training and maneuvers until it was replaced in 1812. Many of Von Steuben’s writings are still in use in today’s army manuals, such as FM 3-21.5 Drill and Ceremony. (photo from Army News Service)

 

Steuben

Baron Von Steuben drilling American recruits at Valley Forge in 1778

 

The Chevalier de Pontgibaud was a wealthy but ne’er-do-well volunteer in the continental army. In his eyewitness account of life at Valley Forge, he tells us;

 

“Soon I came in sight of the camp. My imagination had pictured an army with uniforms, the glitter of arms, standards, etc., in short, military pomp of all sorts; Instead of the imposing spectacle I expected, I saw, grouped together or standing alone, a few militiamen, poorly clad, and for the most part without shoes – many of them badly armed, but all well supplied with provisions, and I noticed that tea and sugar formed part of their rations. I did not then know that this was not unusual, and I laughed, for it made me think of the recruiting sergeants on the Quai de la Ferraille at Paris, who say to the yokels, ‘You will want for nothing when you are in the regiment, but if bread should run short you must not mind eating cakes.’ Here the soldiers had tea and sugar.”

 

 

Hopefully these primary source materials, photographs and readings shed a more human and fallible light upon the sometimes deified men and women who fought for American independence.

 

As has often been said, the price of freedom is never free.

 

 

 

¹Dvorak, Petula, “This woman’s name appears on the Declaration of Independence. So why don’t we know her story?” The Washington Post 7/3/17

Week Twenty: “Coming Home Again” by Chang-rae Lee and “The Great Eaters of Georgia” by Carson McCullers

 

 

 

 

“Coming Home Again” by Chang-rae Lee

 

What purpose do food and travel writing serve, when an author is grieving?

 

Today’s piece focuses on author Chang-rae Lee’s preparation of traditional Korean family foods when his mother becomes very ill.

Not everyone is a master chef. Some of us hack and chop and frizzle away. The author’s frustration is, in fact, at his at his inability to understand and prepare the great traditional meal. It is an imperfect language, excavating Lee’s frustration and struggle to articulate that as a young son he didn’t appreciate her love, sacrifice and self-effacement in the face of his own hubris. The metaphor is that of food and trying to duplicate the family meal and in part, failing. The agony of that.


“I would enter the kitchen quietly and stand beside her, my chin lodging on the point of her hip.” “The bone fell away, though not completely” Then later, “careful not to dislodge the bones, I asked her why it was important that they remain connected.”


It may be useful to compare Lee’s piece with Momaday’s  “The Way to Rainy Mountain” and Hong Kingston’s “No Name Woman” in terms of the bones in the land; and that the chronology of events shifts back and forth via flashbacks yet all of the times are woven together to create, in the mind’s eye, that thing, that awareness, which had never been seen.
The final spectral image of the parents pulled over in the car and the son (in a different age) driving by and “seeing” them is the culminating image of his mourning. It is a synthesis.
It is not so much a piece about cooking as it is about coming to terms with the unfamiliar, death, (the tenor) in terms of the familiar, traditional Korean cooking (the vehicle).


The shadow-side failure at trying to say to someone, ” I love and respect you” through the preparation of a traditional meal for a mother, a child, who will not eat.

His clumsy, imperfect mourning via cooking to understand his stalwart mother’s impermanence.

Here is “Coming Home Again” by Chang-Rae Lee.

The piece was originally featured in The New Yorker Magazine, October 16, 1995.

Let us know what you think!

 

 

 

. . .A bit about Chang-rae Lee . . .

 

Chang-rae Lee

Chang-rae Lee by photographer Peter Murphy

Chang-rae Lee (born July 29, 1965) is a Korean American novelist and a professor of creative writing at Stanford University,.[1] He was previously Professor of Creative Writing at Princeton and director of Princeton’s Program in Creative Writing.

Lee was born in South Korea in 1965 to Young Yong and Inja Hong Lee. He emigrated to the United States with his family when he was 3 years old.

Lee’s first novel, Native Speaker (1995), won numerous awards including the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award.

Lee explores issues central to the Asian American experience: the legacy of the past; the encounter of diverse cultures; the challenges of racism and discrimination, and exclusion; dreams achieved and dreams deferred. In the process of developing and defining itself, then, Asian American literature speaks to the very heart of what it means to be American. The authors of this literature above all concern themselves with identity, with the question of becoming and being American, of being accepted, not “foreign.” Lee’s writings have addressed these questions of identity, exile and diaspora, assimilation, and alienation.¹

 

 

“The Great Eaters of Georgia” by Carson McCullers

 

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A barbecue shack near Fort Benning, Columbus, Georgia, 1940. Photograph by Marion Post Wolcott (1910–1990) for the Farm Security Administration (Library of Congress)

 

By 1953 Carson McCullers’s dysfunctional marriage was at a breaking point. During a summer in Paris she and her husband were both drinking heavily, and Carson found out that Reeves had (once again) forged Carson’s name on checks. He attempted to kill himself and tried to talk Carson into committing suicide with him. She fled Paris alone and returned to the United States.

Around the same time, Holiday magazine had offered Carson McCullers fifteen hundred dollars to write a piece on Georgia where she returned in November to gather materials and memories.

While staying with friends McCullers learned that her husband had committed suicide in the Hôtel Chateau Frontenac on November 18.

Although her hosts initially urged her to remain at their home to recover from the shock, McCullers insisted on going to visit Hervey Cleckley, a friend who was also a psychiatrist. Cleckley, who was busy at work (with coauthor Corbett H. Thigpen) on his book The Three Faces of Eve, later told Carr that he and McCullers discussed his research in psychopathology and talked at length about Reeves’s suicide. Their conversations helped McCullers understand both her husband and their relationship, as she later described in her unfinished memoir:

 

 

 

 

McCullers (enduring what seems to be a rather uncomfortably close interview) about “The Member of The Wedding.” McCullers states that the basic premise of the play was just “to belong- to be a part of something; a part of life.” Perhaps this is also true of those who write about food and cultural tradition when they are grieving.

 

 

“Hervey Cleckley has written a masterful book called The Mask of Sanity, and in that book I could see Reeves mirrored. Psychopathic people are very often charming. They live on their charm, their good looks and the weaknesses of wives or mothers.”

 

McCullers finally returned to Nyack, NY at the end of November—and the next day The New York Times published her husband’s obituary, which suggested as a possible cause of death injuries suffered from a car accident several weeks before. Yet the actual cause was hardly a secret to the couple’s acquaintances and, amidst the deluge of calls and condolences, there seemed to be a palpable sense of relief among some of McCullers’s friends. Carr reports that the actress Helen Hayes, who also lived in Nyack, dropped by and told Carson’s mother, “I’m not going to say I’m sorry, Bebe, because I don’t think I am.”

 

McCullers soon returned to the task of writing the food article for Holiday, and she completed a version in early 1954. The events of the previous year surely explain the wistful and somewhat melancholy tone, and the essay was rejected because the magazine was “looking for a lighter, more descriptive, less personal piece.”²

 

Here is “The Great Eaters of Georgia” by Carson McCullers

isakdinesenandcarsonmccullers

McCullers at a gathering with Isak Dinesen, author of “Babette’s Feast,” Out of Africa, and many other works including gothic tales which pair nicely with a read of U.S. Southern Gothic.

 

McCullers’ bittersweet narration (recovering from her spouses’ suicide and reeling from a bitter marriage), evokes a longing. She discusses regional foods and all but also gets to the heart of longing; using the communal (or isolated) act of eating; of belonging or not belonging in a household, a family, a community. Of again, not the rosy magazine-slick travelogue her editors were expecting (this piece was ultimately rejected and was not published in Holiday Magazine) a much more meaningful exploration of cooking and dining as it expresses friendship, marriage, widowhood, isolation, etc. Again, the shadow side of the meal.

Consider an old man who has just lost his wife, slumped in a wheelchair, trying to “enjoy” a steak at a family picnic and not wanting to chat but doing his best to make pleasant small talk. The Vietnam Vet at a Christmas party. One is perhaps able to move past the facade of emotionless silence to sense a great chasm of grief which was inarticulate as both Lee and McCullers went through the motions of describing and preparing food. The beauty was not in the eloquence or grammar nor in the perfect execution of a meal (although McCullers seems much more master of that!) but in the simple recounting of how they could NOT function normally.

So often today we have celebrity chefs and Food TV gurus, who “Celebrate Holidays!” and take smiling to another extreme with “Today on our show: Traditional Foods!” . . .it’s all so flouride-whitened. Perhaps these pieces are the yin to that yang. The power in the taking in of nourishment but not the outward power of flawlessly preparing it. The clinging, barely, to the memory of fruit, the children’s treats, the holiday punch, as a rote attempt to return to normalcy and be nourished.

The foods and their memories and preparation become, perhaps, a sort of prayer for healing.

 

. . .A bit about Carson McCullers . . .

 

carspnmccullershenricartierbresson

Carson McCullers by Henri Cartier Bresson

Carson McCullers (February 19, 1917 – September 29, 1967) was an American novelist, short story writer, playwright, essayist, and poet. Her first novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, explores the spiritual isolation of misfits and outcasts in a small town of the U.S. South. Her other novels have similar themes and most are set in the deep south.

McCullers’ oeuvre is often described as Southern Gothic and indicative of her southern roots. However, McCullers penned all of her work after leaving the South, and critics also describe her writing and eccentric characters as universal in scope. Her stories have been adapted to stage and film. A stagework of her novel The Member of the Wedding (1946), which captures a young girl’s feelings at her brother’s wedding, made a successful Broadway run in 1950–51.³

 

 

 

 

 

 

¹ Source: Wikipedia

²Summarized from The Library of America

³Wikipedia

Week Nineteen: An Interview with NPR’s Nina Martyris!

ninamartyrisjpg

Nina Martyris

 

The journalist Nina Martyris has written for many publications including The Guardian, The New Republic, Salon, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Times of India, Slate, and The Millions.
She is also a regular contributor to NPR, where she writes about food politics, and this week she graciously agreed to be our book club guest!
Two of Nina’s articles serve (pun intended) to shed light on food politics in United States social history.

 

frederickdouglas

Frederick Douglas

 

 

In the first article, Frederick Douglass On How Slave Owners Used Food As A Weapon Of Control  (NPR’s “The Salt,” 2/10/17) Martyris tells us;

“Hunger was the young Fred’s faithful boyhood companion. “I have often been so pinched with hunger, that I have fought with the dog – ‘Old Nep’ – for the smallest crumbs that fell from the kitchen table, and have been glad when I won a single crumb in the combat,” he wrote in My Bondage and My Freedom. “Many times have I followed, with eager step, the waiting-girl when she went out to shake the table cloth, to get the crumbs and small bones flung out for the cats.”

Her article explores Douglas’s slave narrative within the context of food used by masters as a form of violence and oppression against slaves.

The second piece studied is  How Suffragists Used Cookbooks as a Recipe for Subversion (NPR’s “The Salt” 11/5/15).

This piece and one very touching one about women visiting Susan B Anthony’s grave, were NPR’s two most-tweeted pieces on the evening of Nov 8 of the most recent presidential election.

 

membersofthewomen'ssuffragemovement

members of the women’s suffrage movement planning to march.

 

“In the movie Suffragette,” says Martyris, “ Englishwomen march on the streets, smash shop windows and stage sit-ins to demand the vote. Less well-known is that across the pond, a less cinematic resistance was being staged via that most humble vehicle: the cookbook.”

Both famous authors and everyday women distributing pamphlets on the street contributed recipes which sprinkled a healthy dose of revolution in-between the pickles and gravy.

Cookbooks as revolution? Absolutely, and we’ll have seconds.

 

On Thursday at 12:30 EST Nina joined us for a “live” Facebook chat

Here’s the great conversation we shared. Enjoy!¹

 

Nina Martyris: Hi Celeste! Are we on?

Celeste Helene Schantz:  Welcome, Nina Martyris! Yes, we’re on! Thank you so much for joining The Wonderlings today. It’s much appreciated! As you can see, we have some questions lined up . . .

Nina Martyris:  Thank you for your question and for inviting me to do this chat. Very flattered!

Celeste Helene Schantz: Nina, what drew you to write about food culture and politics?

Nina Martyris: Well, the answer is a mix of the political and personal. I’ve always been interested in literature, culture and politics, especially the ways in which they crisscross in our daily lives. Food, however, was something I was barely interested in until I got married and more or less had to start cooking (else I’d starve!).

One day, I was looking up an Italian recipe which had oregano in it. The chef providing the recipe added a little history. He said oregano only became popular in the US after WWII. Before that it was used largely by Italian immigrants. It was American soldiers who fought on the Italian front who tasted this fragrant herb and brought a taste for it back home. Then it began to boom. Consumption went up 6000 per cent in the 1950s. I was fascinated by this story — and the window it opened on how food travels and how history affects our palates.

On a whim, I pitched a “how oregano became popular in the US” story to NPR on the anniversary of V-E Day. The editor loved the idea, and that became the first of a series of food-history-politics stories.

Celeste Helene Schantz: Had you written for NPR before?

Nina Martyris: No, that was my first pitch. The editor was testing me, but she gave me a chance, which I’ll always be grateful for. I think she was intrigued by the idea of soldiers and oregano.

Celeste Helene Schantz: David Delaney asks: “Nina, Do you believe most wars are ultimately fought over food? “the Taste of War” notes that WW2 was fought for that reason. Has the author found an instinctual need (that becomes obsessive) for the security more food seems to provide people? And do you see any parallel in food use (control as in American slavery) and any current situations on our planet?”

Nina Martyris: Hello David! I’m so glad you posted in advance. It gave me a chance to do some preparation. I’m going to answer it in three parts.

Nina Martyris: Your question goes to the very heart of historical conflict. On a light note, the first conflict between man and God was fought because of an apple. But more seriously, yes, food has always been a major reason for conquest.

For instance, as I’m typing out this response, I have by my side a delicious cup of tea, two of whose ingredients (tea leaves and sugar) have a history covered in what Jonathan Swift liked to call “blood and treasure.” Britain was so addicted to tea that it fought two opium wars with China to protect the source of this afternoon elixir. And every cup of tea was sweetened by sugar grown by slaves on British-owned Caribbean plantations. Shelley, Southey and other radicals didn’t take sugar in their tea as a form of protest (one more of my NPR pieces!). In India, where I’m from, one of the most landmark mass protests against British rule was Gandhi’s Salt march against the punitive salt tax (which was much like the Boston tea tax). So yes, food features prominently as a source of conquest and war.

green-tea-mint

Tea has a long and quite political history

Nina Martyris: To move more specifically to your question about WWII. Thank you for pointing me to Taste of War by Lizzie Collingham, whose book Curry I dip into frequently. Collingham does pursue her thesis doggedly, but there’s no question that Hitler invaded Russia in 1941 for one overwhelming reason: bread. He had his eye on the rich soil of Ukraine, the bread basket of the region. Before Hitler, during the thirties, millions in Ukraine starved thanks to Stalin exporting its wheat to crush peasant rebellion. The Ukrainians even have a word for it: Holodomor (Man-Made Famine). Hunger and war are bedfellows.

Nina Martyris: And, finally, about examples of food wars from today. The Ivory Coast in West Africa is a heartbreaking example — of a non-violent food war (though hunger is a form of violence). This country is the world’s largest producer of cocoa producing 40% of all cocoa in the world. Big companies like Mars, Hershey and Nestle use Ivorian cocoa for their chocolate.

 

Everyone loves chocolate, yes. Why then is poverty on the rise in this otherwise well-off country?

 

The answer is complex but to put it briefly, cocoa is a source of wealth but also a crop that is used as a weapon of control by MNCs and the country’s politicians. Politicians have been known to block exports of cocoa and seize control of cocoa income to fund the buying of arms. MNCs, who want bumper crops, often push for unsustainable farming practices which has long-term effects that poor farmers have to face. We enjoy chocolate so much today, but there’s no doubt that it, too, comes covered in “blood and treasure.”

Anna Schantz: Nina Martyris and now we see consumer boycotts of some foods for political or environmental reasons: eschewing products using palm oil, in order to protect the dwindling orangutan population comes to mind. And veganism.

Shabnam Mirchandani: Nina Martyris , I so appreciate the fact that your writing is not driven by retributive passion or soapbox morality, instead you have a panoramic historical vision. Hats off to you!

Shabnam Mirchandani: Nina, what was the readership like when Douglass’s work was first published? When a writer (as custodian of facts) has to be heard in a resistant or hostile environment, the challenges must be immense. To relate this question to your personal experience: do educators, commentators, scholars, artists, and writers have to take on the role of a hermeneutical mafia of sorts when there is a major dislocation in the codes observed in public discourse, and multi-faceted, in-depth exploration of issues is no longer prioritized? In this present time, which I like to call a period of etymological burlesque, how does a journalist who is a curator of history as it is unfolding, remain true to his/her calling?

Nina Martyris:  Shabnam! I’m here today because of you. But more important, you were one of the first people who encouraged me and made be believe that I could become a journalist. You were such a fabulous, imaginative teacher – one of a kind. I can still remember your wonderful lecture on Van Gogh.

Nina Martyris: To answer the first part of your question, it’s comforting to know that Douglass’ autobiography was very well received. It got good reviews and became an immediate bestseller. Within three years, it was reprinted nine times, and translated into French and Dutch. It is still the most widely read slave narrative in American history. Scarcely surprising given Douglass’ eloquence and the powerful theme he tackled — his life as a prism into the misanthropy of slavery.

Celeste Helene Schantz: Thank you, Shabnam! Nina Martyris, she is a treasure 🙂

Shabnam Mirchandani: Nina Martyris thank you, you were the best and brightest, and I could not be prouder of what you have accompished.

Shabnam Mirchandani Celeste Helene Schantz it is kind of emotional to experience this virtual reunion, so thank YOU!

Nina Martyris: Moving on to our contemporary age of “etymological burlesque” — love the phrase — yes, as a journalist one is acutely conscious of how, in this age of fake news, facts are twisted, language is corrupted, and history misrepresented.

 

Indeed, the spur that got me researching the Frederick Douglass story was Fox news commentator Bill O’Reilly’s glib comment that slaves were well-fed. This from an educated person who writes on history. So I turned to Douglass’ book and began to read about what it was like to grow up as a slave. Of course it was an awful story, but Douglass is such a fine writer and thinker that his writing went beyond the misery to reveal the cynicism underpinning the system, and how food was used as a weapon of control. This piece touched a chord. I think it’s my most-read piece on NPR second only to the suffragist article.

Nina Martyris: Finally, talking about etymology, I did another short piece for the Economist on the word “mogul” at the time when Trump was calling for a Muslim ban. My point was that Trump enjoyed being called a real-estate mogul by the press, probably unaware that the title comes from the most powerful Islamic dynasty in history. My point being that we are all interconnected and influenced by other cultures even without knowing it. So bans are an absurd policy.

Shabnam Mirchandani: Nina Martyris very astute observations, and you have harvested much from these teachable moments. It takes a lot of stamina and courage to wade through the sheer volume of dubious material being fed to us. As Stephen King recently pronounced: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs” ( “bigly” comes to mind…)

Anna Schantz:  I’ve recently been involved in a number of enlightening discussions concerning cultural appropriation, particularly regarding music and dress, and particularly in reference to Indigenous peoples in Canada (Happy Indigenous Peoples Day, as well as Junet eenth, btw!). I’d like to ask Nina if she considers cooking and food culture an area calling for more sensitivity in appreciation, or whether it is perhaps exempt from rampant dominant culture commodification.

james-sutton-207988

When are we respecting and educating ourselves about food and when are we appropriating it? (Photo by James Sutton, Unsplash)

 

Also, how would she suggest we all, white and people of colour, might approach the celebration of food and our varied histories with it, for the promotion of greater mutual understanding and peace? Thank you!

Nina Martyris:  Hi Anna! Thank you for your wishes and for this question. Yes, it’s a tricky one — and it goes to the heart of freedom of expression. Who gets to tell whose stories? I’ve thought about it and I feel quite strongly that anyone should be able to write about anything. The job of a writer is to imagine and empathize and identify with people beyond those from his or her background. So if an Indian writer wants to set a novel in the American Mid-West she should go right away. Likewise, if a White American wants to write about China or India or any culture, he should go right ahead. I’m with Lionel Shriver on this one.

When it comes to food, the same rule should apply, in my view. Anyone should be able to cook anything. If a Vietnamese chef wants to make shrimp and grits, great. If a Southern chef wants to make pho, great.

 

The second half of your question — how we might approach the celebration of food and our varied histories with it, for the promotion of greater mutual understanding and peace — is in wonderful counterpoint to David’s question above. Food has been a historical source of conflict but it can also be a marvelous and delicious bridge between cultures. Breaking bread with a new group of people makes it slightly harder to hate them.

Nina Martyris: Anna, I’d also be interested in your views on cultural appropriation.

Anna Schantz:  Nina Martyris the recently resigned editor of a Canadian publication felt the same way. I think his refusal of any kind censorship and admittedly too flippant attitude regarding appropriation caused an uproar, partly because it was taken the wrong way. I understand your prioritizing freedom of speech, particularly journalistic freedom.

Nina Martyris:  I think my view is unpopular among liberal circles, but I feel strongly that stories belong to everyone.

Anna Schantz: I believe that it is not a level playing field, however, and that people of privilege owe a debt of respect and greater care when using traditions from marginalized peoples. In a perfect world it would not need to be legislated.

Nina Martyris:  Yes, I agree one should always be sensitive, but the freedom of speech absolutists who bridle even at that kind of demand. I’m not an absolutist, but lean towards that kind of freedom.

Jeri Harbers Thomson: In the suffragette article you say that a Henry James, Sr. was in favor of a woman’s right to vote, but that he didn’t feel many would avail themselves of that privilege. In our last presidential election, it was suggested (wish I had a cite here, but that he didn’t feel many would avail themselves of that privilege. In our last presidential election, it was suggested (wish I had a cite here, but memory fails!) that one reason. Clinton lost the election is because many women were swayed against voting for her by their husbands, because many men did not want a female president…especially a female Commander-in-Chief. Do you feel there is merit in this suggestion?

Nina Martyris: Hi Jeri! Thanks for this question about the suffragist piece.

Nina Martyris Though I wrote it in 2015 (the peg was the Meryl Streep movie), NPR re-posted it on social media on the evening of the election last year. It became one of if not the most tweeted pieces. This piece and one on women visiting Susan B Anthony’s grave in Rochester. It was so touching to see literally thousands and thousands of (mainly) women tweeting and commenting on it. It was a real moment. It’s something I’ll always remember.

Of course the next morning we knew that things had turned out differently!

Nina Martyris: To answer your question. I worked that Henry James Sr. anecdote into my article because I was so taken aback by the sheer condescension of his views. I’m glad his student fought him over it.

 

About the election, I’m quite sure there are women everywhere who vote the way their husbands do. Indeed when women in America were fighting for their Great Cause, many men were bewildered by their demand, saying that women were already represented by their fathers, brothers, husbands and sons, so what did they want the vote for?

 

Even Frederick Douglass who was a staunch support of the suffragist movement, broke with it a little when it came to giving the black man the right to vote before women were given it. He said white women already had their husbands voting for their interests, whereas Blacks had no suffrage to represent them, and that if the black man voted, then, in an indirect way, the black woman would be represented too.

 

So perhaps some women did vote according to their husbands’ diktats but I would like to believe that they were not the majority. I’ve met many women (especially young women) who said they didn’t want to vote for Clinton. Many of them couldn’t abide Trump either, but they seemed to be thinking independently. One can only hope they were and that Henry James Sr. was wrong.

Anna Schantz:  Nina Martyris so moving!

Rick Williams: Question for Nina Martyris: I read these two articles plus her article on Gandhi being “the most punctual man in India” as well as “Auden’s 1939 Elegy for Yeats.” These articles appear to have required a lot of research and then reduced to a super ef ficient short article. I’m curious about Nina’s research and writing habits. Would Nina share some of her research and writings habits?

 

(side point: Is she like Gandhi checking her watch all the time or more like Auden when he writes “Stop all the clocks.”)

Nina Martyris:  Oh Rick! That question is like balm for my tired eyes. You’re so right. For each article, I have to read (or dip into) at least three or four books, apart from googling away like a worker bee to get all that information for those stories. Apart of course from cross-checking facts all the time. I always have reams of leftover research.

 

The clock is draconian — though unlike Gandhi (and Auden — he was fanatically punctual), I’m less conscientious and am always racing till the very last minute to meet a deadline. As a freelancer, I have to come up with unusual ideas — that’s the challenge. So I try to approach old stories from a fresh angle — for instance, everyone knew of Auden’s Yeats elegy, but the conversation and spinoffs it generated was something I worked out and connected.

Celeste Helene Schantz: Speaking of the clock, we’ve a few moments to go. Any last questions for Nina?

Celeste Helene Schantz: Nina, can we expect a book from you at some point?

Shabnam Mirchandani: Plan to write a book any time soon?

Nina Martyris: Have to think of a theme — non-fiction if at all.

Nina Martyris: After we finish this chat, I have to go back to researching a piece on — well, I can’t disclose it right now, but please read it if you can. It has to do with the Nazis. Nazis and food!

Shabnam Mirchandani: “Mein Food!” . . .

Celeste Helene Schantz: Nina Martyris, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you. The time has gone much too quickly! Friends, feel free to carry on this fascinating conversation, and look for the recap in our Sunday Gazette. Nina, we’ll be looking for more of your wonderful rich prose and excellent articles! Thanks for joining us today.

Anna Schantz: Thank you, Nina!

Shabnam Mirchandani: THANK YOU Nina dearest!

Rick Williams: Unbelievably fantastic!

Nina Martyris: Thanks, Wonderlings! You’ll were great. Such good questions. Made me think, read and argue with myself. Bye for now.

 

Thanks to the wonderful members of The Wonderlings group who took time and consideration to participate in our discussion with Nina.

As usual, you rock!

For further reading:

Here is the excellent  Afro-Culinaria, a food blog authored by Michael W. Twitty, (Twitter: @Koshersoul /Instagram:@thecookinggene/Michael W. Twitty on Facebook), a writer, independent scholar, culinary historian , and historical interpreter personally charged with preparing, preserving and promoting African American foodways and its parent traditions in Africa and her Diaspora and its legacy in the food culture of the American South.

Read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas for free, online!

 

¹Very minor edits made in transcribing our interview from Facebook for the purpose of clarity.

Week Eighteen: “When it Changed by Joanna Russ and “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

 

The author Joanna Russ once said “There are plenty of images of women in science fiction. There are hardly any women.”

Certainly in Russ’s time, pulp books and movies relegated women  as symbols of mere male fantasy: whether as crew members with breasts protruding from their uniforms or scantily-dressed whores from Venus or morally pristine queens, female readers were often discouraged that, for a genre in which any future at all can supposedly be imagined, an intelligent future for women seldom was.

This week’s picks, one from the turn of the 20th century and one from 1972, both depict intelligent women forced to conform to the notions of femininity and accepting a docile role in a cage, established by the male characters.

First up, we’ll meet Janet Evason, an inhabitant in a colony on another planet, called Whileaway . . .

 

“When it Changed” by Joanna Russ

On Whileaway, 30 generations ago, a plague killed off all of the men, and the population now consists only of women, who have learned how to combine eggs to produce offspring.
Today, Whileaway is largely an agricultural society. When a crew of astronauts from earth arrives, they are bemused by the all-female society, find it quaint, and are sure that the women must be missing men.
What will happen now?
The winner of the Nebula Award for Best Short Story in 1972, nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Short Story 1973, and included in Harlan Ellison’s anthology Again, Dangerous Visions . . .

Here is “When It Changed,” a short story by Joanna Russ.

 

 

Study Question:

What does the title of this short story (“When it Changed”) mean? What do you think changed? And exactly when did “it” change? Was it for the better?

 

Note: The story was anthologized in Harlan Ellison’s Again, Dangerous Visions.

 

 

In Russ’s story, the male astronauts attempt to assign gender roles to the characters of  Katy and Janet when they interact with the women. They seem to decide that Katy is the “woman” in the relationship because they find her attractive. They suggest that her life will improve when men come to the planet because she will be able to find a satisfactory (male) mate.

While hyperbolic and, in an ironic twist, presenting a “turnabout is fair play” bland stereotype of the male characters, Russ  drives home the point that although the women do not live in a utopia, it is much closer to one than with these males there, whose violence and need for domination are obvious. She forces the reader to imagine a world in which the women are free to do as they want and it’s the men relegated to stock character roles.

 

scifivenus

 Cardino illustrated this 1975 Pulp Fiction Cover for DELL Books. The illustration is typical of the depiction of women in the genre

Russ, in fact, was an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and often examined both how women were depicted as characters in science fiction and also how women authors were discounted because they did not subscribe to the male fantasy-oriented pulp.

 

russ-suppress

 

The story is certainly not perfect. The character of Janet is not well-explored and in some ways Russ hoists with her own petard by creating a character without substantial dimension.

Additionally, Russ creates a world which imbues some of the issues of prejudice of her time: the fact that the male astronauts are Russian, and “ugly,” for example, is a clear allusion to the political zeitgeist of the later 20th century.

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Queen of Outer Space, Zsa Zsa Gabor 1958

However, fear of “the other” has been explored in Sci Fi since its earliest days, such as in the work of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds until today’s news headlines regarding immigration and terrorism.

Russ’s work is important because it boldly confronts gender stereotypes in a literary genre long dominated by men, presenting territory for women in charge while raising issues of violence, aggression and where those impulses come from.

 

 

 

. . .A bit about Joanna Russ

 

Joanna_Russ_obit

Joanna Russ

Joanna Russ (February 22, 1937 – April 29, 2011) was an American writer, academic and radical feminist. She is the author of a number of works of science fiction, fantasy and feminist literary criticism such as How to Suppress Women’s Writing, as well as a contemporary novel, On Strike Against God, and one children’s book, Kittatinny. She is best known for The Female Man, a novel combining utopian fiction and satire, and the story “When It Changed.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

 

TheYellowWallpaperJ.K.Potter565

Source: Twitter

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a classic horror story, often compared to Poe, which has been anthologized in countless collections.

After the birth of her one daughter, Gilman experienced depression. The “rest cure” her doctor prescribed became the basis for this story.
Although “The Yellow Wallpaper” may seem hyperbolic, it speaks to the cavalier cures in existence at the time.


The author herself talks about why she wrote the story:

“For many years I suffered from a severe and continuous nervous breakdown tending to melancholia–and beyond. During about the third year of this trouble I went, in devout faith and some faint stir of hope, to a noted specialist in nervous diseases, the best known in the country. This wise man put me to bed and applied the rest cure, to which a still-good physique responded so promptly that he concluded there was nothing much the matter with me, and sent me home with solemn advice to “live as domestic a life as far as possible,” to “have but two hours’ intellectual life a day,” and “never to touch pen, brush, or pencil again” as long as I lived. This was in 1887.

I went home and obeyed those directions for some three months, and came so near the borderline of utter mental ruin that I could see over.

Then, using the remnants of intelligence that remained, and helped by a wise friend, I cast the noted specialist’s advice to the winds and went to work again–work, the normal life of every human being; work, in which is joy and growth and service, without which one is a pauper and a parasite–ultimately recovering some measure of power.

Being naturally moved to rejoicing by this narrow escape, I wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper,” with its embellishments and additions, to carry out the ideal (I never had hallucinations or objections to my mural decorations) and sent a copy to the physician who so nearly drove me mad.
He never acknowledged it.”

 

Here is “The Yellow Wallpaper” (with great book illustrations!) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Enjoy!

 

 Study Question:
 

What does Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wall-paper” suggest about middle-class women’s place and role(s) in this society?

 

“Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s story “The Yellow Wall-paper” was written during a time of great change. In the early- to mid-nineteenth century, “domestic ideology” positioned American middle class women as the spiritual and moral leaders of their home. Such “separate spheres” ideals suggested that a woman’s place was in the private domain of the home, where she should carry out her prescribed roles of wife and mother. Men, on the other hand, would rule the public domain through work, politics, and economics. By the middle of the century, this way of thinking began to change as the seeds of early women’s rights were planted. By the end of the 1800s, feminists were gaining momentum in favor of change. The concept of “The New Woman,” for example, began to circulate in the 1890s–1910s as women pushed for broader roles outside their home-roles that could draw on women’s intelligence and non-domestic skills and talents.

 

Gilman advocated revised roles for women, whom, Gilman believed, should be on much more equal economic, social, and political footing with men. In her famous work of nonfiction Women and Economics (1898), Gilman argued that women should strive-and be able-to work outside the home. Gilman also believed that women should be financially independent from men, and she promoted the then-radical idea that men and women even should share domestic work.

 

First appearing in the New England Magazine in January 1892, “The Yellow Wall-paper,” according to many literary critics, is a narrative study of Gilman’s own depression and “nervousness.” Gilman, like the narrator of her story, sought medical help from the famous neurologist S. Weir Mitchell. Mitchell prescribed his famous “rest cure,” which restricted women from anything that labored and taxed their minds (e.g., thinking, reading, writing) and bodies. More than just a psychological study of postpartum depression, Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-paper” offers a compelling study of Gilman’s own feminism and of roles for women in the 1890s and 1910s.”¹

 

The “Rest Cure” and Theodate Pope

 

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Theodate Pope (left)

“Theodate Pope Riddle (February 2, 1867 – August 30, 1946) was an American architect. She was one of the first American women architects as well as a survivor of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania.
Here’s an interesting excerpt about Pope’s subjugation to “The Rest Cure” when she was a young woman:
“The next year, in March 1888, her parents sent her to Philadelphia, to be examined and cared for by Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, a physician famous for treating patients, mainly women, suffering from neurasthenia, or nervous exhaustion. Mitchell’s solution for Theodate was his then-famous “Rest Cure,” a period of forced inactivity lasting up to two months.

“At first, and in some cases for four or five weeks, I do not permit the patient to sit up or to sew or write or read,” Mitchell wrote, in his book Fat and Blood. “The only action allowed is that needed to clean the teeth.” He forbade some patients from rolling over on their own, insisting they do so only with the help of a nurse. “In such cases I arrange to have the bowels and water passed while lying down, and the patient is lifted on to a lounge at bedtime and sponged, and then lifted back again into the newly-made bed.” For stubborn cases, he reserved mild electrical shock, delivered while the patient was in a filled bathtub. His method reflected his own dim view of women. In his book Wear and Tear; or, Hints for the Overworked, he wrote that women “would do far better if the brain were very lightly tasked.”

― Erik Larson, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania (Crown Publishers 2015)

 

 

 

The publication of Herland

 

Herland

Pantheon Books 1979

Herland is a utopian novel from 1915, written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The book describes an isolated society composed entirely of women, who reproduce via parthenogenesis (asexual reproduction). The result is an ideal social order: free of war, conflict, and domination. It first appeared as a serial in The Forerunner, a magazine edited and written by Gilman between 1909 and 1916. The book is the middle volume in her utopian trilogy; it was preceded by Moving the Mountain (1911), and followed with a sequel, With Her in Ourland (1916). It was not published in book form until 1979.

The story is told from the perspective of Vandyck “Van” Jennings, a student of sociology who, along with two friends (Terry O. Nicholson and Jeff Margrave), forms an expedition party to explore an area of uncharted land where it is rumored lives a society consisting entirely of women. The three friends do not entirely believe the rumors because they are unable to think of how human reproduction could occur without males. The men speculate about what a society of women would be like, each guessing differently based on the stereotype of women which he holds most dear: Jeff regarding women as things to be served and protected; Terry viewing them as things to be conquered and won.

 

On feminist utopias

 

Both Gilman’s and Russ’s work explore the idea of a feminist utopia as well as fluid concepts of gender (Gilman’s is an important feminist work, although in her own life she was accused of racism and xenophobia.)

On Whileaway, Russ makes it clear that women too have their faults and that the society they’ve developed, while admirable, is also not perfect. They have their own aggression. As readers we must ask what lies in between our polarizing traditional stereotypes. “Masculine” and “feminine” are perhaps aspects of the same organism as opposed to two clear-cut, distinct creatures; and “Male” and “Female” are not the same as “Man” and “Woman.”

Russ later went on to write her novel The Female Man, which is considered a classic of Sci Fi. It explores gender and challenges the rigid sexist male dominance of Science Fiction until that time, asking readers to consider a fluid of view of gender not strong-armed by body building astronauts saving evil or helpless beautiful pin up Martian models in distress. Both authors set their stories against the fictional backdrops of other worlds, to provide a safe fantasy space for us to consider the “outlandish” notion.

For further reading . . .highly recommended:

The Screwfly Solution” – a 1977 science fiction short story by Raccoona Sheldon, a pen name for psychologist Alice Sheldon, who was better known by her other nom de plume, James Tiptree, Jr. It received the Nebula Award for Best Novelette, and has been adapted into a television film.

What happens when a disease causes male sexual impulses to instead become violent impulses?

A disturbing, powerful, and necessary story.

 

Also see this interview by Celeste Schantz with Marge Piercy, author of Woman on the Edge of Time, an iconic work of science fiction, and He, She and It, which won the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

 

A bit about Charlotte Perkins Gilman . . .

 

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Gilman addresses a crowd

Charlotte Perkins Gilman/Charlotte Perkins Stetson (July 3, 1860 – August 17, 1935), was a prominent American feminist, sociologist, novelist, writer of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction, and a lecturer for social reform. She was a utopian feminist and served as a role model for future generations of feminists because of her unorthodox concepts and lifestyle. Her best remembered work today is her semi-autobiographical short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” which she wrote after experiencing postpartum depression.  She would later go on to write Herland,” a classic of feminist science fiction.

Gilman, like so many other feminist authors who succeeded her, would be subjected to ridicule, censor and criticism.

 

Nevertheless, she persisted.

 

 

 

 

For additional study, see Billy Collins’ poem, “Man in Space”

Also see the work of Marge Piercy, Margaret Atwood, James Tiptree Jr. and others.

¹ The National Endowment for the Humanities “Ed-sitement!” website

Week Seventeen: Keeping up Appearances- “The Diamond Necklace” by Guy De Maupassant and “The Far and the Near” by Thomas Wolfe

The Diamond Necklace” by Guy De Maupassant

This time around we’ll examine classic short stories about appearances, reality VS illusion, and perception.

A poet once said that ”beauty is truth, truth beauty.”
But consider, if you will, one young woman, Madame Loisel; a lady who is beautiful, but not content with her social station in life. She has the appearance of beauty . . . will she ever possess the reality?

Here is Guy De Maupassant’s ironic short story, “The Diamond Necklace.” Enjoy!

Charles-Frederick-Worth-Evening-Gown-of-Pale-Blue-Silk-Taffeta.-Paris-1860s

Charles-Frederick-Worth-Evening-Gown-of-Pale-Blue-Silk-Taffeta.-Paris-1860s

According to a study of Maupassant’s story from the Hatsboro-Horsham school district (which provides many great reader resources for students);

“Guy de Maupassant’s  short  story “The Necklace” (“La parure”) was  first published in  the Paris newspaper Le Gaulois on February 17, 1884, and was subsequently included in his 1885 collection of short stories Tales of Day and  Night (Contes de jour et de  la nuit).

In addition to its well-rounded  characters,  tight  plotting, wealth of  detail, and keen social commentary, “The Necklace” is conspicuous for  its  use  of  the “whip-crack” or “O. Henry” ending,in which a plot twist at the end of the story completely changes the story’s meaning. Although Maupassant rarely made use of this device, its presence in the work has tied him to it irrevocably.

Connections may  be made  between “The Necklace” and  the novel Madame Bovary written by Maupassant’s mentor and friend, Gustave Flaubert.

Both stories feature a young, beautiful woman  in a social situation that she finds distasteful.  Like Madame Bovary, Mathilde Loisel attempts to escape her social  station in  life, but her scheming  actions ultimately doom her.”

(Read the full study HERE.)

paris-1860

Paris, 1860 vintage photo

The study of Maupassant brings up some interesting issues about translation. The two written versions and the audio version presented in our group  are each slightly different in their word choices. The work of the translator doing faithful justice to the author might be one topic to discuss. Even the title of the story appears as “The Necklace” in some versions and “The Diamond Necklace” in others.
Our Wonderlings member Jeri Harbers Thomson noted that even just the first sentence in two of the versions are very different.
In one version: “The girl was one of those pretty and charming young creatures who sometimes are born, as if by a slip of fate, into a family of clerks.”
In another version:  “She was one of those pretty and charming girls who are sometimes, as if by a mistake of destiny, born in a family of clerks.”
Wonderlings member Mark Ordon, a translator, noticed, for example that the Soundcloud rendition uses different wording as well. Says Ordon;
“One very important difference between the audio and written versions was in the scene with the invitation. The written versions claim that tears went down Mathilde’s cheeks, while in the audio version they’re going down the husband’s cheeks! Also, the husband exclaims ‘how stupid you are’ in the written translation, but in the audio it’s ‘how stupid we are’. It seems the translator of the audio gave the husband more compassion!”

A bit about Guy De Maupassant . . .

Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant (5 August 1850 – 6 July 1893) was a French writer, remembered as a master of the short story form, and as a representative of the naturalist school of writers, who depicted human lives and destinies and social forces in disillusioned and often pessimistic terms.

guydemaupassant

Guy De Maupassant

Maupassant was a protégé of Flaubert and his stories are characterized by economy of style and efficient, effortless dénouements (outcomes). Many are set during the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870s, describing the futility of war and the innocent civilians who, caught up in events beyond their control, are permanently changed by their experiences. He wrote some 300 short stories, six novels, three travel books, and one volume of verse. His first published story, “Boule de Suif” (“Ball of Fat”, 1880), is often considered his masterpiece.

“The Far and the Near” by Thomas Wolfe

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Wolfe’s collection of stories published by Scribner in 1935

Let’s continue our examination of reality versus perception, appearance, and perspective with a very short story.
This one’s just three pages in length.

It’s time to meet the engineer of the Limited Express.

Has he ever passed by your town?

Here is “The Far and the Near” by the author Thomas Wolfe.

Background Information

Thomas Wolfe’s short story “The Far and the Near” was first published in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1935 and was reprinted later that year in Wolfe’s first short—story collection, From Death to Morning.

For a writer known by his long, sprawling novels such as Look Homeward, Angel: A Story of the Buried Life and Of Time and the River, this ultrashort short story is a rare occurrence. While Wolfe’s novels have often fallen under criticism for their excessive autobiographical sources, the influence of their editors, and Wolfe’s wordy style, many critics in the last half of the twentieth century began to praise Wolfe for his short fiction.

“The Far and the Near” details the story of a railroad engineer in the 1930s who passes a certain cottage every day for more than twenty years, waving to the women who live there but never actually meeting them or seeing them up close. Upon his retirement, he goes to see the women, but they treat him badly and destroy the idyllic vision that he has built up around them.

Within its few pages, Wolfe’s short story emphasizes the potentially devastating effects on a person who is forced to confront the reality behind a vision. Since the work was written during the Great Depression, the loss of hope that takes place in the story would have been extremely familiar to Wolfe’s audience. The story can be found in the paperback edition of The Complete Short Stories of Thomas Wolfe, which was published by Collier Books in 1989.¹

Wolfe inspired the works of many other authors, including Betty Smith with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Robert Morgan, author of Gap Creek, and Prince of Tides author Pat Conroy, who has said, “My writing career began the instant I finished Look Homeward, Angel.”Jack Kerouac idolized Wolfe. Ray Bradbury was influenced by Wolfe, and included him as a character in his books. Earl Hamner, Jr., who went on to create the popular television series The Waltons, idolized Wolfe in his youth.

Hunter S. Thompson credits Wolfe for his famous phrase “Fear and Loathing” (on page 62 of Wolfe’s The Web and the Rock).

For more information, check out this exploration of Thomas Wolfe’s Work, from SCRBD.

(SCRBD is a digital library which also amasses a huge variety of documents including literary criticism and essays.)

 

Thomas Wolfe and the art of Edward Hopper
For a cross-disciplinary study it’s interesting to examine the work of one of Wolfe’s contemporary mid-century artists: Edward Hopper.
“Moments of the real world, the one we all experience, seem mysteriously taken out of time. The way the world glimpsed in passing from a train, say, or a car, will reveal a piece of a narrative whose completion we may or may not attempt, but whose suggestiveness will move us, making us conscious of the fragmentary, even fugitive nature of our own lives.”   -Mark Strand
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Edward Hopper, House By The Railroad (1925)

Similarly, The American Experience (Prentice Hall Publishers 2005,) we find;
“Wolfe’s works reflected the country’s loss of stability and control (after World War One.) Modern storytelling was open-ended, fragmented, and narrated from a limited point of view-often leaving the reader frustrated, but challenged. Themes were no longer explained; they were implied. The Modernist audience must interpret this new literature, as well as a new era, for themselves.
Realist painter Edward Hopper also captured this fragmented, isolated American scene during the Depression Era. He and fellow American artists Robert Henri and John Sloan painted city scenes of everyday working class people, although he disassociated himself with the Ash Can School. The urban landscape lured a potential work force to the big cities, where people only met anonymity and isolation. He was fascinated by the lonely-solitary people, dark streets, vacant windows, and empty theater seats. Even his small groups of human subjects were indifferent and disconnected. His simplified shapes suggest
abstraction, but represent a realist vision.”
 There is much to excavate in both Maupassant’s and Wolfe’s stories of appearance, reality, and the irony of unfolding tragedy that dwells within the lives of their characters.

A bit about Thomas Wolfe . . .

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Thomas Wolfe Courtesy of the Thomas Wolfe Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library,  Asheville, NC.

Thomas Clayton Wolfe (October 3, 1900 – September 15, 1938) was an American novelist of the early twentieth century.

Wolfe wrote four lengthy novels, plus many short stories, dramatic works, and novellas. He is known for mixing highly original, poetic, rhapsodic, and impressionistic prose with autobiographical writing. His books, written and published from the 1920s to the 1940s, vividly reflect on American culture and the mores of that period, filtered through Wolfe’s sensitive, sophisticated, and hyper-analytical perspective.

You can purchase his collected short stories here.

For more information . . .

Be sure to check out The Thomas Wolfe Society’s great website.

¹Bookrags.com

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