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I’m reading the second story in The Golden Apples now.  I thought I would wait until I finished it before I blogged it, but I’m only about thirty pages in now, and it is much longer than that.  It’s a novella, almost even a novel inserted into this short story cycle. 

 

Anyway, I’m not waiting for the end because I have something to say now.  There’s a scene with a flasher.  A man who boards in the same house where Miss Eckhart gives piano lessons continually opens his robe to the children.  He does it, they think, because he does not like the noise of the lessons, and he is trying to scare them off. 

 

The children are threatened against telling their parents, but they tell anyway, and no one takes them seriously.  Because of this, the girl Cassie thinks, “Some performances of people stayed partly untold for lack of name…as well as for lack of believers.”

 

Good point.  If I weren’t so tired and overwhelmed with work, I’d talk about Melville’s “Benito Cereno” and the idea that people only see and believe what they are capable of seeing based on prior experience and cultural conditioning.

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I’ve now made it to the first story of the third collection, The Golden Apples.  It’s told in another one of those voices of pure Southern charm, full of energy and wit.  Welty really nailed the female character of the South.  Maybe even particularly of Mississippi.  Maybe that’s why I love her writing so much.  I know these women.  I was raised by them.

 

In “Shower of Gold,” we meet Snowdie MacLain, an albino who is abandoned by her husband.  Twice.  He comes back but runs off again without even speaking to her for fear of his own children.

 

Snowdie’s story is interesting, but Mrs. Rainey’s voice in telling it is more so. 

 

The Golden Apples is a short story cycle with every story related to the overall tale of the town.  I’m really looking forward to spending some time with the MacLains and Raineys and everyone else.

In this story, we meet Jenny, who is violated, ruined, etc, etc, by a young man named Billy Floyd who is only passing through and for whom she feels a great and mysterious love.  Everything happens around the time of her grandfather’s death, which serves to heighten the poignancy of the story.  Like all else Welty, however, the real draw is in the language—the absolute lyricism, the pure, sharp insight into the human spirit.

 

Consider this passage:

 

She walked in the woods and around the graves in it, and knew about love, how it would have a different story in the world if it could lose the moral knowledge of a mystery that is in the other heart.  Nothing in Floyd frightened her that drew her near, but at once she had the knowledge come to her that a fragile mystery was in everyone and in herself, since there it was in Floyd, and that whatever she did, she would be bound to ride over and hurt, and the secrecy of life was the terror of it.

 

Jenny hangs on to this deep thoughtfulness about her love despite Billy Floyd never showing much in the way of consideration for her.  When he moves on, she follows him after a time.  The story ends with her waiting for him, a smile on her face the likes of which make children ask if she is dead.  No doubt nothing good can came from that.  I’m not sure Jenny will be deterred either way.  She seems willing enough to love with no encouragement or assurance.  She seems pulled that strongly toward the mystery of it all.

 

These are random lines from the short story “Livvie.”

This was the way he looked in his clothes,
a different and smaller man, holding
his Bible. Like somebody kin to himself.

He was the same to her as if he was dead,
far away in his sleep—small, relentless,
and devout. Outside, the ground
scarred in deep whorls, every vestige
of grass patiently uprooted.

Even old men dreamed
about something pretty.

Like a commotion in the room,
the frogs sung out. In Solomon’s face,
came an animation that could
play hide and seek, that would dart
and escape, had always escaped.

The mystery flickered in him,
invited from his eyes, frightened her
a little, as if he might carry her
with him that way,
when he might be going to die.

She could be so still she could not
hear herself breathe. She did not think
of that, tasting the chicken broth
on the stove, gently as if not to disturb
some whole thing he held round
in his mind, like a fresh egg.

Now I lay eyes on a young man,
Old Solomon far away in his sleep,
walking somewhere where she could
imagine the snow falling.

Thanks to Thad Cockrill who loaned me (emphasis on “loan,” he says) his copy of The Southern Register, I can now know about Occasions:  Selected Writings by Eudora Welty, to be released this year by University Press of Mississippi.  It’s a collection of Welty pieces that have not previously been collected.  I’m very much looking forward.

The lady in the purple hat is a mystery, an institution, a ghost at the Palace of Pleasure in New Orleans.  We know this because the fat man at the bar tells us so.  We know he’s seen her killed three times. We know he’s seen her series of young men, who always seem to be the same young man, over a period of decades.  We know the hat is ancient and fascinating, that she always wears the same one, and that it and fashion have no purchase with one another.

We know so much.  But we don’t know if she’s really a ghost because the fat man says at the end he’s going to tell us that tomorrow.

Fun story with lots to talk about.  Is this Welty’s version of the Gothic?  She said didn’t appreciate being called gothic, but she seems to have had some fun with New Orleans style myth-making in this story.

Is the fat man a reliable narrator?  That, children, is a good question.

I must say I don’t really get this story, “The Winds” from The Wild Net.  I didn’t give it proper attention for one, picking it up to read a few pages at a time here and there over several days.  But there’s something about the story.  Dreamy.  It’s about a child drifting in and out of dreams as she waits out a storm with her family.  Snatches of the story are what’s happening.  Snatches are what she’s dreaming.  I didn’t do a very good job of moving back and forth with her.  I suppose it was bound to happen eventually.

I’ve listened to The Essential Welty CD in the car the past couple of days.  Anyone who teaches these stories ought to order the CD.  It’s wonderful.  She reads herself, and it is a revelation to hear how she hears her writing.  I must admit, however, that her reading throws me a little.  Her voice is not the way I hear the stories in my own mind.  She’s way too old school Southern genteel.  Her characters shouldn’t sound that classy.  Regardless, I absolute enjoyed the CD.  It’s a treat, a real treat.

The Asphodel Meadows in Greek Mythology were the underworld home of the indifferent.  In Welty’s story, Asphodel is a ruin whose one time occupant, believed to be dead, is spotted alive, ancient, naked, and herding goats.  Don McInnis was an unfaithful husband.  That probably qualifies him as among the indifferent.  The three old ladies who tell the story of his marriage and supposed death through their conversation are picnicking at Asphodel.  That and the goat herding probably qualify it as a meadow.  So in this story we find a quirky little tribute to the Greeks.  Classic.

So a preacher, a murderer, and an artist go down the Natchez Trace…

And from there we get three views of the same still moment, the beauty of three men with three purposes stopped by the presence of one snowy heron.  Until, of course, the bird-watcher Audubon shoots the heron so that he can attempt to draw it more precisely.

 

James Murrell, the outlaw who would have murdered the preacher but is instead left behind by the other two men after the killing of the bird, thinks, “he was proud of the dispersal, as if he had done it, as if he had always known that three men in simply being together and doing a thing can, by their obstinacy, take the pride out of one another.”

 

Audubon, the bird-watching, bird-killing artist, thinks:  “He knew that even the sight of the heron which surely he alone had appreciated, had not been all his belonging, and that never could any vision, even any simple sight, belong to him or to any man.  He knew the best he could make would be, after it was apart from his hand, a dead thing and not a live thing, never the essence, only the sum of the parts; and that it would always meet with a stranger’s  sight, and never be one with the beauty in any other man’s head in the world.”

 

And from Lorenzo Dow, the itinerant preacher, we get this:  “He could understand God’s giving Separateness first and then giving Love to follow and heal in its wonder; but God had reversed this, and given Love first and then Separateness, as thought it did not matter to Him which came first.  Perhaps it was that God never counted the moments of Time; Lorenzo did that, among his tasks of love.  Time did not occur to God.  Therefore—did He even know of it?  How to explain Time and Separateness back to God, Who had never thought of them, Who could let the whole world come to grief in a scattering moment?”

 

One moment, three experiences.  And that’s what this story is about.

May 2019
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