Week Thirty-Six: “Digging JFK Grave Was His Honor,” by Jimmy Breslin and “Misery” by Anton Chekhov

 

 

Digging JFK Grave Was His Honor” by Jimmy Breslin

 

From The World of Jimmy Breslin:

In the 1960s, as the once-proud New York Herald Tribune spiraled into bankruptcy, the brightest light in its pages was an ebullient young columnist named Jimmy Breslin. While ordinary columnists wrote about politics, culture, or the economy, Breslin’s chief topics were the city and Breslin himself. He was chummy with cops, arsonists, and thieves, and told their stories with grace, wit, and lightning-quick prose. Whether covering the five boroughs, Vietnam, or the death of John F. Kennedy, Breslin managed to find great characters wherever he went.

Today, let’s take a look at one of Breslin’s signature pieces, via that underappreciated art form, the obituary.

We’ll examine the passing of the well-known Irish American John F. Kennedy, and how one newspaper column can teach us how to write with loving attention to the everyday person.

Here is “Digging JFK Grave Was His Honor,” by Jimmy Breslin. Breslin himself passed away just last March.

What do you notice?

 

jfk-anniversary

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, at the funeral of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. Breslin captured not only the call of duty through the musings of Pollard, the gravedigger, but also the uncertainty and grief of Jackie Kennedy through a touching description of the widow’s timid movements at the ceremony.

 

Here is one book club reaction from Wonderlings member Rick Williams:

I read this beautiful selection while pumping on an exercise bike as I listened to Beethoven’s 5th symphony on my headphones. Words and music can inspire me to a more intense workout. Ironically, even though I’m on a bike that is going no where, the words and music transport me to an imaginary world like a Twilight Zone episode.

Jimmy Breslin contrasts the death of the most powerful man in the world with his gravedigger. Three times, the author mentions the diggers salary of $3.01 per hour.
And twice Clifton Pollard responded that “it was an honor” for him.

While reading this obituary, I saw “John John” salute his father’s coffin. And then Hamlet talking to Ophelia’s gravedigger while looking at the court jesters Yorick’s skull.

It is etiquette to wipe off the fitness machines after using. I’m typically forgetful or superficial at best. But this time, I was amazingly patient and thorough making sure I did not miss a spot. I even took a measure of pride in this lowly job. My favorite part was when Breslin describes how Clifton and Jackie were similar in being quietly conscientious and wanting to do the right thing.

In my imaginary world, Jackie goes out of her way to meet Clifton. She shakes his hand, simply says “thank you” and gives him a memento from the President. Of course the grave digger responds “thank you, it was my honor.”   – Rick Williams, Wonderlings member

 

. . .A Bit About The Author . . .

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The intrepid Jimmy Breslin

 

Jimmy Breslin was the biggest, the baddest, the brashest, the best columnist in New York City.

And the first to say so, too.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning former Daily News columnist died Sunday at age 88, leaving an unparalleled legacy as an unyielding chronicler of his hometown and an inspiration for a generation of writers, reporters and readers left to mourn his loss and envy his unmatched prose.

Armed with just a pen and pad, Breslin’s one-man beat covered the five borough’s streets, courthouses and barrooms, while inevitably uncovering a story that left the city’s press corps lagging far behind.

He was an unmade bed of a reporter with an unkempt mane of hair, unflinchingly speaking truth to power, exposing corruption and cheering the underdog across four decades.

To call the proudly blue-collar Breslin larger than life was pure understatement.

“It feels like 30 people just left the room,” said Pete Hamill, a Breslin colleague and contemporary, after learning of his death.”¹

 

“Misery” by Anton Chekhov

 

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A Sledge of the 1800’s, this one in Siberia

 

“Misery” by Anton Chekhov is a sort of “silent obituary of the heart.” It’s also one of the most highly anthologized and studied short stories from the Russian literary canon.

One question to ponder as you read: how do we grieve?

Let’s follow Iona the sledge driver, as he navigates one winter evening of his life.

HERE is “Misery” by Anton Chekhov

 

“Misery” follows one evening in the life of the sledge man, Iona.  Iona’s son recently died. He desperately and unsuccessfully tries to have a talk with the people he meets and tell them of how shattered he is. He ends up talking to his horse.²

Breslin’s Clifton Pollard and the main character of Anton Chekhov’s “Misery” share common ground. Both are the salt of the earth; one a grave digger at Arlington Cemetary, one a sledge driver; both paying last respects to someone dear who was lost.

Yet both forgotten by society; the dead, both beloved sons in different ways. One is a darling of the nation, the other an unknown but beloved son, whose father’s grief is fathomless.

How do you grieve?

Said Shabnam Mirchandani on The Wonderlings Book Club Facebook Page:

I think the language of the deepest grief is silence. The indifference of others and the unabashed lack of empathy for the driver’s loss is unfortunately the way of the world. Isolation usually accompanies grief and traumatic loss. It is so poignant that the mare is the only audience for the driver to vent his sorrow to. I think this experience is integral to the human condition, and when there is poverty, the suffering is made worse by indignity.

I can’t help thinking of certain countries of the world as entities who are experiencing a violent passing of a “civilized’ persona” and are seemingly helpless and voiceless in the face of this (figurative) carnage.The grief of their citizens is filled with helplessness and fury, but does not seem capable of creating a shift toward a more viable system . . .

– Shabnam Mirchandani, The Wonderlings

 

 

Thanks to all who read and commented this week on our Facebook Page!

 

. . .A Bit About The Author . . .

 

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A young Chekhov (Source: Wikicommons)

 

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov January – 15 July 1904)was a Russian playwright and short story writer, who is considered to be among the greatest writers of short fiction in history. His career as a playwright produced four classics and his best short stories are held in high esteem by writers and critics.

Along with Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg, Chekhov is often referred to as one of the three seminal figures in the birth of early modernism in the theatre. Chekhov practiced as a medical doctor throughout most of his literary career.

Chekhov renounced the theatre after the reception of The Seagull in 1896, but the play was revived to acclaim in 1898 by Konstantin Stanislavski’s Moscow Art Theatre, which subsequently also produced Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and premiered his last two plays, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. These four works present a challenge to the acting ensemble as well as to audiences, because in place of conventional action Chekhov offers a “theatre of mood” and a “submerged life in the text.”

Chekhov had at first written stories only for financial gain, but as his artistic ambition grew, he made formal innovations which have influenced the evolution of the modern short story.[9] He made no apologies for the difficulties this posed to readers, insisting that the role of an artist was to ask questions, not to answer them.³

 

 

 

¹The New York Daily News, March 19, 2017 by Justin Silverstein and Larry McShane

², ³ Wikipedia

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Week Thirty-Five: “Chee’s Daughter” by Juanita Platero and Shiyowin Miller

 

Chees-Daughter

Edward S. Curtis

 

“Chee’s Daughter,” a story by Juanita Platero and Siyowin Miller, is about a Navajo man who encounters personal tragedy, only to find that his daughter has been taken away from home because of old customs and traditions. How will his sorrow resolve? Take a look and enjoy this story, which is often included in high school and college textbooks as required reading.
If Chee takes care of his land, will the land take care of him? Enjoy!

Read “Chee’s Daughter” HERE.

 

“Springtime transformed the mesas. The peach trees in the canyon were shedding fragrance and pink blossoms on the gentled wind. The sheep no longer foraged for the yellow seeds of chamiso but ranged near the hogan with the long-legged new lambs, eating tender young grass.”

 

For study:  Find three passages in the story which illustrate Chee’s attitude and beliefs about the land.

Vocabulary:  “Coughing Sickness” — Tuberculosis

Activity:  Learn more about Native American life in a Hogan.

 

navajohogan

 

“Chee’s Daughter” was first published in 1948.

Culture Connection: Traditional Navajo culture is matrilineal; a family traces its ancestry back through the mother’s line, and children belong to the mother’s clan. Several generations of a family might live together. Women have an important position in Navajo society; the oldest woman in the family enjoys a place at the center of family life. The largest Native American tribe in the United States, the Navajo have adopted peaceful arts—from the Mexicans metalworking, from the Pueblo Indians weaving. The Navajo reside on reservations in northeastern Arizona, north-western New Mexico, and southeastern Utah.

 

Read more about Navajo life, land and history  HERE.

. . .A Bit About the Authors . . .

Juanita Platero and Shiyowin Miller met in 1929,when Platero was Living on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico and Miller was living in California. The two women collaborated on the novel The Winds Erase your Footprints, which took them several years to write. The theme of that novel, as well as of “Chee’s Daughter,” which first appeared in Common Ground Magazine, is the Native American Struggle to preserve ancient ways amid modern culture.

Week Thirty Four: “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates

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Harper Perennial edition, 2007

“Her name was Connie. She was fifteen and she had a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people’s faces to make sure her own was all right . . .”

Thus begins “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” — a classic and often-anthologized short story by Joyce Carol Oates.

Is this fable? Allegory? Urban Legend? All three? Let us know your thoughts

Read Oates’ story HERE.

“The story first appeared in the Fall 1966 edition of Epoch magazine. It was inspired by four Tucson, Arizona murders committed by Charles Schmid, which were profiled in Life magazine in an article written by Don Moser on March 4, 1966.

Considerable academic analysis has been written about the story, with scholars divided on whether it is intended to be taken literally or as allegory. Several writers focus on the series of numbers written on Friend’s car, which he indicates are a code of some sort, but which is never explained:

“‘Now, these numbers are a secret code, honey,’ Arnold Friend explained. He read off the numbers 33, 19, 17 and raised his eyebrows at her to see what she thought of that, but she didn’t think much of it.” (p. 41)

Literary scholars have interpreted this series of numbers as different Biblical references, as an underlining of Friend’s sexual deviancy, or as a reference to the ages of Friend and his victims.

The narrative has also been viewed as an allegory for initiation into sexual adulthood,[5] an encounter with the devil, a critique of modern youth’s obsession with sexual themes in popular music, or as a dream sequence.”¹

Did you know that “Where Are You Going…” is dedicated Bob Dylan?

Says Oates:

“Baby Blue” didn’t directly influence my short story, which was inspired by a Life magazine article about a serial killer in Tucson, Ariz., but the song’s soul and poetic rhythm were very seductive.

I loved the song’s surreal quality and Dylan’s couplets: “The vagabond who’s rapping at your door / Is standing in the clothes that you once wore.” Or “Strike another match, go start anew,” which suggests renewal and beginning again, only to resolve with the blunt “And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.”

The beauty of the song is that you can never quite comprehend it. We know only that something is over: “The lover who just walked out your door / Has taken all his blankets from the floor / The carpet, too, is moving under you.” A powerful evocation of losing control, of losing everything.”²

. . .For further study . . .

Check out Celestial Timepiece, a brilliant website devoted to all things Joyce Carol Oates.

  . . .A bit about Joyce Carol Oates . . .

joycecaroloates2

Photograph from the New York Times

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including We Were the Mulvaneys; Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award; and the New York Times bestseller The Accursed. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. (Harper Collins)

Bonus Clip: Joyce Carol Oates at home:

¹ Wikipedia

²Celestial Timepiece (an authorized Joyce Carol Oates Website)

 

Week Thirty Three: “Stickeen” by John Muir

 

“Stickeen” by John Muir

The naturalist and author John Muir once wrote, “I have known many dogs, and many a story I could tell of their wisdom and devotion; but to none do I owe so much as to Stickeen. At first the least promising and least known of my dog-friends, he suddenly became the best known of them all. Our storm-battle for life brought him to light, and through him as through a window I have ever since been looking with deeper sympathy into all my fellow mortals.”


Here is “Stickeen” a well-known essay about an intrepid little dog, from the writer John Muir!

 

stickeen

Illustration from a Stickeen picture book

John Muir’s true story of what happened on an Alaskan glacier with a dog named Stickeen, in 1880, is one of Muir’s best-known writings, and is now considered a classic dog story. Although it can be read as a straight adventure story, it is much more than that. Muir’s story is most compelling because it revealed to Muir that man and dog were not so unlike each other. Stickeen was at first an unfriendly little dog, but after surviving a perilous journey across a glacier by crossing an ice bridge, Stickeen’s aloofness is replaced by rapturous emotion, revealing to Muir the fact that our “horizontal brothers” are not that much unlike us.

 

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Muir with Stickeen

Some notes on “Stickeen” (From The Sierra Club):

Fort Wrangel:

Now generally spelled Wrangell. Any good map of Alaska will show its location.

Tail . . . shady as a squirrel’s:
The Greek word for squirrel, skiouros , from which our English word is derived, is formed from two words meaning “shadow” and “tail.” It is quite likely that Mr. Muir had this in mind.

The water was phosphorescent:
Some of the small and microscopic animal life of the sea becomes luminous at night when disturbed by the breaking of the waves, the churning of a boat’s propeller, the splashing of oars, the strokes of a swimmer, or any similar cause, as, in this case, the movements of the salmon. The surrounding water at such times glows and sparkles beautifully.

The salmon were running:
Salmon, though for most of the year living in the sea, spawn only in fresh running water, and every spring and summer they swarm up the streams to the breeding-grounds. This is the time when they are caught for sport and for the market,–in the East by rod and line, in Alaska, where they are found in vast numbers, with nets and spears. This migration up the streams is called “running.”

Panax:
Panax horridus , or Fatsia horrida , a dangerously prickly araliaceous shrub commonly called devil’s-club. It is abundant in Alaska.

Rubus:

The genus of plants to which the blackberry, raspberry, cloudberry, and salmonberry belong.

Wild-weathery:
One looks in the dictionaries in vain for this word, but the meaning is obvious. Mr. Muir was rather fond of coining playful words of this kind, such as are so common in his native Scotch.

Diogenes:

A celebrated Greek Cynic philosopher who despised riches and is said to have lived in a tub. Plutarch relates that when Alexander the Great asked Diogenes whether he could do anything for him he replied, “Yes, I would have you stand from between me and the sun.”

Sphinx:
“A spinxlike person; one of enigmatical or inscrutable character and purposes” (Webster’s New International Dictionary ). The Sphinx of Greek mythology propounded a riddle to all comers and, upon the failure of each one to guess it, speedily devoured him.

Tahkoo:
An Indian name, also spelled Taku.

Fountain ice-fields:
The ice-fields that formed the sources of the glaciers.

Glacier Bay:
The famous Muir Glacier , discovered by Mr. Muir in 1879, is at the head of this bay.

Narrow tacks:
The word “tacks” is used in the nautical sense, as when a sailing vessel “tacks” to windward, taking a zigzag course because it is impossible to sail directly against the wind. By “narrow tacks” the author evidently means tacks in which little real progress was made, the crevasses coming very close together.

Fountains:
In the sense of sources; in this case the sources of glaciers.

Power beyond our call or knowledge:
This has been the experience of many who have extricated themselves from imminent dangers by their own unaided efforts. The emergency calls forth hitherto unsuspected supplies of reserve energy.

Wee, hairy, sleekit beastie:
This reminds one of Burns’s poem “To a Mouse,” which begins “Wee, sleekit, cow’rin’, tim’rous beastie.” “Sleekit” is doubtless used in its original sense of sleek, smooth. It is the past participle of the verb “to sleek.” Muir was fond of dropping occasionally into his native Scotch, especially when an affectionate diminutive was called for.

We will get across safe:
Here and at the top of the next page Mr. Muir follows the Scotch custom of using the word “will” where the best English usage demands “shall.”

Devil-club:
See note on Panax.

 

 

muirquotestone

Quote at Denali National Park

 

As you make your way through the account of this unforgettable dog, consider this quote from the American Masters biography on Muir:

“Muir felt a spiritual connection to nature; he believed that mankind is just one part of an interconnected natural world, not its master, and that God is revealed through nature.”

What do you think?

 

 

Movie Trailer for John Muir in The New World (PBS, American Masters)

 

 

. . .A bit about John Muir from the Sierra Club Website . . .

 

john muir

In 1867, while working at a carriage parts shop in Indianapolis, Muir suffered a blinding eye injury that would change his life. When he regained his sight one month later, Muir resolved to turn his eyes to the fields and woods. There began his years of wanderlust. He walked a thousand miles from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico. He sailed to Cuba , and later to Panama, where he crossed the Isthmus and sailed up the West Coast, landing in San Francisco in March, 1868. From that moment on, though he would travel around the world, California became his home.

It was California’s Sierra Nevada and Yosemite that truly claimed him. In 1868, he walked across the San Joaquin Valley through waist-high wildflowers and into the high country for the first time. Later he would write: “Then it seemed to me the Sierra should be called no the Nevada, or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light…the most divinely beautiful of all the mountain chains I have ever seen.” He herded sheep through that first summer and made his home in Yosemite.

By 1871 he had found living glaciers in the Sierra and had conceived his then-controversial theory of the glaciation of Yosemite Valley. He began to be known throughout the country. Famous men of the time – Joseph LeConte, Asa Gray and Ralph Waldo Emerson – made their way to the door of his pine cabin.

Beginning in 1874, a series of articles by Muir entitled “Studies in the Sierra” launched his successful career as a writer. He left the mountains and lived for awhile in Oakland, California. From there he took many trips, including his first to Alaska in 1879, where he discovered Glacier Bay. In 1880, he married Louie Wanda Strentzel and moved to Martinez, California , where they raised their two daughters, Wanda and Helen. Settling down to some measure of domestic life, Muir went into partnership with his father-in-law and managed the family fruit ranch with great success.

But ten years of active ranching did not quell Muir’s wanderlust. His travels took him to Alaska many more times, to Australia, South America, Africa, Europe, China, Japan, and of course, again and again to his beloved Sierra Nevada. .

In later years he turned more seriously to writing, publishing 300 articles and 10 major books that recounted his travels, expounded his naturalist philosophy, and beckoned everyone to “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.” Muir’s love of the high country gave his writings a spiritual quality. His readers, whether they be presidents, congressmen, or plain folks, were inspired and often moved to action by the enthusiasm of Muir’s own unbounded love of nature.

Through a series of articles appearing in Century magazine, Muir drew attention to the devastation of mountain meadows and forests by sheep and cattle. With the help of Century‘s associate editor, Robert Underwood Johnson, Muir worked to remedy this destruction. In 1890, due in large part to the efforts of Muir and Johnson, an act of Congress created Yosemite National Park. Muir was also personally involved in the creation of Sequoia , Mount Rainier , Petrified Forest and Grand Canyon national parks. Muir deservedly is often called the “Father of Our National Park System “.

Johnson and others suggested to Muir that an association be formed to protect the newly created Yosemite National Park from the assaults of stockmen and others who would diminish its boundaries. In 1892, Muir and a number of his supporters founded the Sierra Club to, in Muir’s words, “do something for wildness and make the mountains glad.” Muir served as the Club’s president until his death in 1914.

In 1901, Muir published Our National Parks , the book that brought him to the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1903, Roosevelt visited Muir in Yosemite. There, together, beneath the trees, they laid the foundation of Roosevelt’s innovative and notable conservation programs.

Muir and the Sierra Club fought many battles to protect Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada, the most dramatic being the campaign to prevent the damming of the Hetch Hetchy Valley within Yosemite National Park. In 1913, after years of effort, the battle was lost and the valley that Muir likened to Yosemite itself was doomed to become a reservoir to supply the water needs of a growing San Francisco. The following year, after a short illness, Muir died in a Los Angeles hospital after visiting his daughter Wanda.

John Muir was perhaps this country’s most famous and influential naturalist and conservationist. He taught the people of his time and ours the importance of experiencing and protecting our natural heritage. His words have heightened our perception of nature. His personal and determined involvement in the great conservation questions of the day was and remains an inspiration for environmental activists everywhere. (Sierra Club)

 

 

 

Week Thirty Two: H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Helen-Macdonald-H-is-for-Hawk

 

H is for Hawk takes us on the path of a daughter’s grief, as she searches for an elusive author and wisdom from a goshawk named Mabel.

 

British author Helen Macdonald is the author of the book H is for Hawk. The memoir tells the story of the year Macdonald mourned the sudden death of her father.
A long-time falconer, Macdonald’s grieving process was aided by the presence of the young goshawk, Mabel.
Macdonald recounts how she worked with the young bird, and what lessons it taught her about life.
Her book won the Samuel Johnson Prize and Costa Book of the Year award, among other honors.
Here’s an excerpt from H is for Hawk. Let us know what you think, as we untethered Wonderlings make our way into the territory of award-winning nature writing!

Read an excerpt of Macdonalds’ book, HERE.

 

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Helen MacDonald, from H is for Hawk, Grove Atlantic

 

H is for Hawk describes the year Macdonald spent training Mabel, yet ultimately this part of the story becomes mere scaffolding for the greater spiritual quest Macdonald undertakes. The winner of several prestigious awards, the book is also memoir of Macdonald’s search for understanding as she follows in the footsteps of the elusive author T.H. White, who penned not only The Once and Future King and The Sword in the Stone, but also The Goshawk , which is White’s own account of time spent mastering a bird of prey named Gos.  It’s interesting to compare the two works in terms of their common vocabulary of grief and ultimate recognition of what, in life and death, can and cannot be mastered.

 

thegoshawkthwhite_

 

Read one of many gorgeous prose passages from Macdonald’s book:

Another hinge untied. Concentration. Infinite caution. Daylight irrigating the box. Scratching talons, another thump. And another. Thump. The air turned syrupy, slow, flecked with dust. The last few seconds before a battle. And with the last bow pulled free, he reached inside, and amidst a whirring, chaotic clatter of wings and feet and talons and a high-pitched twittering and it’s all happening at once, the man pulls an enormous hawk out of the box and in a strange coincidence of world and deed a great flood of sunlight drenches us and everything is brilliance and fury. The hawk’s wings, barred and beating, the sharp fingers of her dark-tipped primaries cutting the air, her feathers raised like the scattered quills of a fretful porpentine. Two enormous eyes. My heart jumps sideways. She is a conjuring trick. A reptile. A fallen angel. A griffon from the pages of an illuminated bestiary. Something bright and distant, like gold falling through water. A broken marionette of wings, legs and light-splashed feathers. She is wearing jesses, and the man holds them. For one awful, long moment she is hanging head-downward, wings open, like a turkey in a butcher’s shop, only her head is turned right-way-up and she is seeing more than she has ever seen before in her whole short life. Her world was an aviary no larger than a living room. Then it was a box. But now it is this, and she can see everything: the point-source glitter on the waves, a diving cormorant a hundred yards out; pigment flakes under wax on the lines of parked cars; far hills and the heather on them and miles and miles of sky where the sun spreads on dust and water and illegible things moving in it that are white scraps of gulls. Everything startling and new-stamped on her entirely astonished brain.

 

. . .Part eulogy, part nature journal, part spiritual resuscitation and part tribute to the brokenhearted and misunderstood, Macdonald’s visceral, feral, metaphoric vocabulary is not only one of falconry but of healing.

 

goshawk

Goshawk

. . .A bit about the author . . .

 

Helen Macdonald is an English writer, naturalist, and an Affiliated Research Scholar at the University of Cambridge Department of History and Philosophy of Science. She is best known as the author of H is for Hawk, which won the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize and Costa Book Award. In 2016, it also won the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger in France. (Wikipedia)

Week Thirty-One: “The Birds” by Daphne du Maurier

thebirds-2

A Penguin edition including a variety of the author’s stories

It’s early December, and there’s a sudden cold snap.
A wounded war veteran on military pension, Nat Hocken, works part-time for a farm owner when he notices a large number of birds behaving strangely along the peninsula where his family lives.
Here is Dame Daphne du Maurier’s original short story, “The Birds.” It’s a fine example of Cornish Gothic. You won’t find Tippi Hedren or Rod Taylor in this original version, just hardworking Nat and his family, facing terror.

Feel free to take a full, fine autumn week to read this one. It’s a long short story, but worth it.

Read du Maurier’s classic HERE!

Du Maurier’s story is a great read…but if you’d prefer to listen to it, here’s musician and actor Peter Capaldi reading “The Birds.”

What could be more surreal than the Twelfth Doctor reading Cornish Gothic?!

Here’s Part One:

. . .And here’s Part Two:

As Lisa Allardice tells us in her 2012 article for The Guardian,

Du Maurier’s are not supernatural tales (she doesn’t do real ghosts, so to speak); what could be more unnerving than nature behaving unnaturally? Not in the form of apocalyptic diseases, or storms and floods, but wreaking havoc through something as everyday and unthreatening as hedgerow birds. Environment is everything in Du Maurier’s fiction, from the sinister alleyways of Venice in Don’t Look Now, to the wilderness of her beloved Cornwall, where, like nearly all her most famous work, The Birds is set. In transposing the action to the tamer shores of northern California (no wonder Du Maurier was miffed), the film loses some of the elemental potency of the tale.

Questions

Topic1

Discuss the use of World War Two allusions and symbolism in “The Birds.”

Topic 2

What do you think the birds symbolize? What clues does Du Maurier give the reader about the message in their attack? Be sure to include examples from the text to help strengthen your arguments.

Topic 3

Do you think Nat Hocken is a good father and husband? Is he still a soldier? Why or why not? How does Nat treat his family at the opening of the story? How does his treatment change as the attacks persist?

Topic 4

What role do the Triggs play in the story? Why do you think the Triggs are killed while the Hockens survive?∗

Background and themes

Storytelling:

More than anything else, Daphne du Maurier was a storyteller. She wrote page-turners – stories that were hard to put down. Many second-rate storytellers are capable of writing page-turners, but du Maurier’s  stories go deeper, dealing with people’s primitive fears and longings. After her death in 1989,  The Times newspaper described her books as containing ‘some of the abiding fantasies of the human race’.

History and suspense:

Du Maurier’s major novels fall into two categories. The first category consists of historical novels set in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Cornwall.  Jamaica Inn (1936),  Frenchman’s Creek (1941), Hungry Hill (1943) and The King’s General(1946) are fine examples of du Maurier’s historical novels. They are full of smuggling, violence and (of course) romance. The second category consists of modern stories of mystery and suspense. Many of du Maurier’s short stories fall into this category. The Birds and Don’t Look Now are outstanding examples of du Maurier’s talent for suspense. She builds the tension slowly but surely until the reader realizes that there is no way out for the characters.

Cinematic storytelling:

Du Maurier’s novels and short stories contain compelling storylines, powerful characterizations and highly visual scenes. They were seemingly made for the cinematic screen, and in fact, a number of her stories were adapted into successful feature films, including The Birds, Jamaica Inn, Don’t Look Now, Frenchman’s Creek and Hungry Hill (for which she co-wrote the screenplay). Two of the films were directed by Alfred Hitchcock, the famous British film director.

Produced in 1940, Rebecca starred the world-famous British actor, Sir Lawrence Olivier. Like the novel on which it was based, the film is riveting. It eventually earned Hitchcock a highly coveted Academy Award for Best Picture. The Birds, produced in 1963, was a free adaptation of du Maurier’s short story, but Hitchcock was known as the true ‘master of suspense’, and so the film contains some truly terrifying – indeed, genuinely horrifying – moments. Both The Birds and Rebecca are fitting tributes to du Maurier’s vast storytelling powers.¹

The Apple Tree and Other Stories

TheAppleTree

Looking for more suspense from du Maurier for a fine, dark afternoon?

The Birds and Other Stories is a collection of short stories by Daphne du Maurier, originally published in 1952 as The Apple Tree by Gollancz in the United Kingdom. It includes “The Birds,” which was made into a film of the same name by Alfred Hitchcock in 1963. The anthology was published in the United States as Kiss Me Again, Stranger by Doubleday and then has been republished under the current name, The Birds and Other Stories

The title story, “The Apple Tree” is a darkly comic gem about a weary, nasty husband and the wife who is eternally committed to his . . .well-being . . .

The Doll: The Lost Short Stories

The Doll

Lost for more than 70 years, this dark story of a man’s obsessive passion for Rebecca, a mysterious violinist, hasn’t been published since it appeared in a small collection in 1937.³  Read it, HERE.

Learn more about the lively and often-misunderstood author in this short interview from her home in Cornwall in 1977!

For Further Reading:

Mistress of Menace by Patrick McGrath (The Guardian) – Daphne du Maurier has often been dismissed as a writer of popular romances, yet her work is infused with hidden violence. To mark the centenary of her birth this month, Patrick McGrath relishes the dark side of her short stories

. . .a bit about Daphne du Maurier . . .

Dame Daphne du Maurier, Lady Browning, DBE, (May 1907 – 19 April 1989) was an English author and playwright.

Daphne-du-maurier

Her bestselling works were not at first taken seriously by critics, but have since earned an enduring reputation for storytelling craft. Many have been successfully adapted into films, including the novels Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, and Jamaica Inn and the short stories “The Birds” and “Don’t Look Now/Not After Midnight”.

Du Maurier spent much of her life in Cornwall where most of her works are set.

Bibliography

Daphne du Maurier

Sources:

  1. Wikipedia,  “The Birds” and
  2. “The Apple Tree and Other Stories”
  3. Wikipedia

BookRags

Scary Stories for Halloween , Lisa Allardice, October 2012, The Guardian

The Birds by Daphne du Maurier, Penguin Readers, Pearson Education Limited 2008

The Official Daphne du Maurier Website

 

Week Thirty: “Trifles/A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell, “Abandoned Farmhouse” by Ted Kooser, and “The Listeners” by Walter de la Mare

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“A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell

“A Jury of Her Peers” is a short story by Susan Glaspell, loosely based upon an actual murder in 1900.
Glaspell covered the news story while working as a journalist for the Des Moines newspaper in Iowa.
In 1916 Glaspell wrote the account as a one-act play entitled “Trifles” for the Provincetown Players.
She later adapted it into the short story presented here for you today.
This story is often anthologized in “Best of” compilations. Glaspell would later go on to win a Pulitzer Prize for her other work.
Join Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters as they investigate a run-down home where something went terribly wrong, in “A Jury of Her Peers!”

 

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What do you think happened?

Study Questions:

  • Why is this psychological play named “Trifles?”
  • Explore the title “A Jury of Her Peers.”
  • Why was this considered an early feminist play?
  • What does the first sentence reveal about the character of Mrs. Hale, and how is this fleshed out or supported by later descriptions of her character and thought process, in the story?

 

. . .A bit about Susan Glaspell . . .

 

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Photograph of Susan Glaspell taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt for LIFE Magazine, 1940

According to a brief biography by Krystal Nies, Susan Glaspell was born in Iowa and raised by a conservative family with a modest income.

After receiving a degree from Drake University, she became a reporter for the Des Moines News. According to the Susan Glaspell Society, she worked as a reporter for less than two years, then quit the job to focus on her creative writing. Her first two novels, The Glory of the Conquered and The Visioning were published while Glaspell was in her 30s.

 

 

 

The Provincetown Players

While living and writing in Iowa, Glaspell met George Cram Cook, the man who would become her husband. Both wanted to rebel from their conservative upbringing. They met in a socialist society during a time when Cook had divorced for a second time and longed to experience a rural, commune lifestyle. However, his series of divorces conflicted with the traditional values of Iowa, and so the newly married couple traveled to Greenwich Village. (Susan Glaspell Society).

According to “The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door,” Cook and Glaspell were the creative force behind a new style of American theater.

In 1916 she and a group of writers, actors, and artists co-founded the Provincetown Players. Both Glaspell and her husband, as well as other drama icons such as Eugene O’Neill, created plays that experimented with both realism and satire. Eventually, the Provincetown Players gained fame and economic success which, according to Cook, led to disagreements and disenchantment.

Glaspell and her husband left the Players and traveled to Greece in 1922. Cook, shortly after achieving his life long dream to become a shepherd, died two years later. Glaspell returned to America in 1924 and continued to write. Her work focused more on her best selling novels, but also included a Pulitzer Prize winning play, Alison’s House.

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The Origin of “Trifles”

“Trifles” is currently Glaspell’s most popular play. Like other works of early feminist writing, it was rediscovered and embraced by the academic community. One of the reasons for this short play’s enduring success is that it is not only an insightful commentary on the different perceptions of each gender, but it’s also a compelling crime drama that leaves audiences discussing what happened and whether or not the characters acted unjustly.

While working as a journalist for the Des Moines Daily News, Susan Glaspell covered the arrest and trial of Margaret Hossack who was accused of murdering her husband. According to a summary by True Crime: An American Anthology:

“Sometime around midnight on December 1, 1900 John Hossack, a well-to-do, 59-year-old Iowa farmer, was attacked in bed by an axe wielding assailant who literally beat out his brains as he slept. His wife became the prime suspect after neighbors testified to her long-simmering hatred of her abusive spouse.”

The Hossack case, much like the fictionalized case of Mrs. Wright in “Trifles,” became a hotbed of debate. Many people sympathized with her, seeing her as a victim in an abusive relationship. Others doubted her claims of abuse, perhaps focusing on the fact that she never confessed, always claiming that an unknown intruder was responsible for the murder.

True Crime: An American Anthology explains that Mrs. Hossack was found guilty, but a year later her conviction was overturned. The second trail resulted in a hung jury and she was set free.¹

 

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Learn more about Susan Glaspell at The International Susan Glaspell website.

“Abandoned Farmhouse by Ted Kooser

 

Looking for a pairing for this week’s story, “A Jury of Her Peers?” If so, here’s another poem by Ted Kooser: “Abandoned Farmhouse.”

Abandoned Farmhouse
By Ted Kooser

He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
on a pile of broken dishes by the house;
a tall man too, says the length of the bed
in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,
says the Bible with a broken back
on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
but not a man for farming, say the fields
cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.

A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall
papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,
says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.
And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.
It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.

Something went wrong, says the empty house
in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields
say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars
in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.
And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard
like branches after a storm—a rubber cow,
a rusty tractor with a broken plow,
a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.

Ted Kooser, “Abandoned Farmhouse” from Sure Signs: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1980 by Ted Kooser.

Learn more about Ted Kooser HERE.

 

“The Listeners” by Walter de la Mare

 

Music by Bernd Wahlbrink

Did you know Ted Kooser received inspiration for his poem “Abandoned Farmhouse”  from an actual farmhouse he passed on his daily morning walks? And he received inspiration from Walter de la Mare’s “The Listeners.”

“The Listeners”

“Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grass
Of the forest’s ferny floor;
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
“Is there anybody there?” he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:–
“Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,” he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

 

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. . .A bit about Walter de la Mare . . .

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Photograph of de la Mare by Lady Ottoline Morrell

Walter John de la Mare (25 April 1873 – 22 June 1956) was an English poet, short story writer and novelist. He is probably best remembered for his works for children, for his poem “The Listeners”, and for a highly acclaimed selection of subtle psychological horror stories, amongst them “Seaton’s Aunt” and “All Hallows”.

His 1921 novel Memoirs of a Midget won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction,and his post-war Collected Stories for Children won the 1947 Carnegie Medal for British children’s books.

 

Walter de la Mare was also a notable writer of ghost stories. Although de la Mare wrote a number of them, only a select few are considered to aspire to elicit terror in the reader, with most instead essaying a type of dream-like melancholy and mystery. His collections Eight Tales, The Riddle and Other Stories, The Connoisseur and Other Stories, On the Edge and The Wind Blows Over all contain a few ghost stories each.
¹Biographical information about Susan Glaspell from THOUGHTCO.