Sunday, May 17, 2015
ancient elms and river-boats
At the end of last week, I was "studying on" the prose of Thomas Tryon and Harper Lee, the latter considered an author of a Classic, the former, not.
Why, when I read Tryon's paragraphs in Lady, am I reminded of Harper Lee's famous novel, To Kill a Mockingbird??
Maybe -- the writing from a child's point of view, how they see the world, less cluttered by "shoulds" and assumptions; unblocked by ego, resentment, and self-absorption.
Also, both those novels are supposed to be happening in -- are "set in" -- the 1930s. They both seem Southern, as well, but only Mockingbird is happening in the South -- Lady is set in Connecticut. (Still seems -- feels -- Southern, though...)
------------------ [Lady excerpt] -------------
Lady's house was opposite ours, on the west side of the Green, and we were in and out of it at all times and seasons during the years we were growing up.
The Green was that locally renowned plot of New England earth that in Colonial times had been the village common, where our Pilgrim ancestors once skirmished with the Pequot Indians and where the Revolutionary militia shouldered squirrel rifles against the Redcoats of the tyrant George III.
In my youth the Green was populated not only with strollers and game-players and children and dogs, but with the ancient elms that were the pride of Connecticut, one of them being the largest in America.
Visitors would go out of their way to drive by and take pictures of it, and of Lady's house, and if they could, the automobile that went with the house, a custom-built Minerva landaulet -- the talk of Pequot Landing.
------------------ [Mockingbird excerpt] ------------
Being Southerners, it was a source of shame to some members of the family that we had no recorded ancestors on either side of the Battle of Hastings. All we had was Simon Finch, a fur-trapping apothecary from Cornwall whose piety was exceeded only by his stinginess.
In England, Simon was irritated by the persecution of those who called themselves Methodists at the hands of their more liberal brethren, and as Simon called himself a Methodist, he worked his way across the Atlantic....
It was customary for the men in the family to remain on Simon's homestead, Finch's Landing, and make their living from cotton.
The place was self-sufficient: modest in comparison with the empires around it, the Landing nevertheless produced everything required to sustain life except ice, wheat flour, and articles of clothing, supplied by river-boats from Mobile.
(Hmmmh...Did everyone in books set in the 1930s live on a "Landing" of some kind??)
(Come to think of it, in All The King's Men by Robert Penn Warren, also set during the 1930s, there's a place called Burden's Landing...Hello! - think we've spotted a trend...!)
The other thing these excerpts have in common is, the historical "locating" of the place -- Lee's cotton-farming Alabama homestead founded by the ancestral immigrant from England; Tryon's Connecticut Green "where our Pilgrim ancestors once skirmished with the Pequot Indians and where the Revolutionary militia shouldered squirrel rifles against the Redcoats"...
Both Thomas Tryon's Lady and Harper Lee's Mockingbird were set in the 1930s, but not written then. To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, Lady in 1974.
Top books actually written and published in the 1930s include
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (1932)
Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
("Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."...)
The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler (1939)
As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner (1937)
------------------ [excerpt] -------------------
Jewel stops at the spring and takes the gourd from the willow branch and drinks. I pass him and mount the path, beginning to hear Cash's saw.
When I reach the top he has quit sawing. Standing in a litter of chips, he is fitting two of the boards together.
Between the shadow spaces they are yellow as gold, like soft gold, bearing on their flanks in smooth undulations the marks of the adze blade: a good carpenter, Cash is.
He holds the two planks on the trestle, fitted along the edges in a quarter of the finished box. He kneels and squints along the edge of them, then he lowers them and takes up the adze. A good carpenter.
--------------------- [from As I Lay Dying]
------------------- [excerpt] -----------------
It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.
I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them.
I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.
--------------------- [from The Big Sleep]
"Nobody can write like Chandler on his home turf, not even Faulkner....An original....A great artist."
-- The Boston Book Review