29 December 2009

Madison Jones's Tennessee

So we pulled into a rest area on our way from Savannah, Tennessee, and were greatly impressed by this adjacent view of Nickajack Lake. We were on our way an unknown hotel in an unknown town that would be close enough to Clayton in the extreme north of Georgia to give us enough time to have a look at Lillian Smith’s home before resting again for the night before moving on to North Carolina. As it happened that town was Cleveland just to the north-east of Chattanooga, which was not impressive at all.

Now, though, I'm beginning to wonder if we should have been so impressed, as I’ve just read a chapter on the novelist Madison Jones in Paul Binding’s Separate Countries: A Literary Journey through the American South (New York: Paddington Press, 1979), and things suddenly don’t seem so idyllic. Madison Jones is one of the Southern writers I hadn’t gotten round to reading, but shall be doing so as soon as possible. As it was written relatively early in Jones’s career as a novelist – he published a book, The Adventures of Nicholas Bragg, for instance, as recently as 2008 – Binding was a little too early to mention a number of his books. However, Binding does speak of the conversation he had with Jones in which his third novel, A Buried Land (1963), was brought up, and the novel was written partly through his anger with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) over the flooding of large areas of land in Tennessee and northern Alabama. Binding says that he ‘wanted to write a novel in which destruction by flood (TVA-authorized) played a key part’. He goes on to say that Jones was interested in ’to what extent would the physical destruction of a place entail its spritual destruction, i.e., of the life, joy, guilt and relationships created within it.’ It would appear that ‘beautiful’ Nickajack Lake is just the kind of thing Madison Jones is protesting about. The lake is a number of miles to the west of Chattanooga. This link provides a little information about Nickajack Lake.

27 December 2009

Ian Curtis (failed), Elizabeth Gaskell's Knutsford, plus John Ruskin, and, er, Edward Higgins

Too bad that we've not had time to see Ian Curtis's kerbside gravestone, or the house in which he lived in Macclesfield, Cheshire: to compensate, I leave a scan from the cover of Joy Division's album Closer. But if you're on your way to leave your car near Manchester airport before leaving for Atlanta, Georgia, and have a few hours to spare, what better way to spend them than in peaceful Knutsford?

Knutsford is eager to display its strong associations with Elizabeth (Cleghorn) Gaskell (née Stevenson), and many people associate the town with her novel Cranford (1853), of course. The 'Hollingford' of Wives and Daughters (1866) also takes Knutsford as its model, although she is perhaps better known for her 'Condition of England' novels, Mary Barton (1848) and North and South (1855).

Although born in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London, as a 12-month-old motherless child, Elizabeth Stevenson was taken into the care of her maternal aunt, Hannah Lumb, who lived in the house Heathwaite, in Knutsford. She spent her childhood and early youth there.

Heath House, also on what is now called Gaskell Avenue, is where the highwayman Edward Higgins, who is represented in Gaskell's short story 'The Squire's Tale', and Thomas de Quincey's 'Highwayman'.

The parish church, Knutsford, where Elizabeth Stevenson married the Rev. William Gaskell in 1832. They were both Unitarians, however, and William was a minister at the Cross Street Chapel in Manchester, where they went to live.

The Royal George Hotel in Kings Street in the centre of Knutsford, and was visited by Elizabeth Gaskell.

While I was photographing this tower, a woman on a bicycle dismounted, parked her vehicle and proceeded to tell me all about the Gaskell Memorial Tower and its 'mastermind', Richard Harding Watt. Leaving her bicycle freely leaning against some railings – Knutsford appears to be the kind of place you can do that without worry – she led me across the road to an interpretation panel and spoke more about Watt. I consider myself very lucky to have had this encounter, as she was Joan Leach, a noted local historian and the Secretary of The Gaskell Society. Many thanks for this, Joan!

The side of the tower shows a plaque of Gaskell, with her novels listed above, although – as was pointed out to me by Joan Leach – most of the titles are now obscured by ivy.

Elizabeth Gaskell is buried in the small cemetery in the grounds of Brook Street Unitarian Chapel, Knutsford. Her husband William Gaskell (1805–84) joined her almost twenty years later.

Richard Harding Watt, a great admirer of John Ruskin, named these rooms after him. An interpretation panel records that the architectural assistant resigned following arguments over the chimneys.

'Let every dawn of morning be to you as the beginning of life, and every setting sun be to you as its close', from Ruskin's Lectures on Art (1870).

'Ruskin Rooms. This building was erected by Richard Harding Watt in his usual Mediterranean style in 1902 as a recreation and reading room for the townspeople. The architect was Walter Aston. Among the various uses to which the building has been put is a fire station and as the headquarters of the British Legion. It was substantially renovated in 1977.'

For much more information on Elizabeth Gaskell, see The Gaskell Society website and Virtual Knutsford.

26 December 2009

Reynold Price's Good Hearts (1988)

This is a strange, complex, and disturbing book. At the end of A Long and Happy Life (1962) Rosacoake Mustian, pregnant by Wesley Beavers, is not entirely happily entering a shotgun wedding. But ever since she fell in love with Wesley several years before, when he was up tree and threw pecans down to her, Rosacoake had her eyes on Wesley. Even if it had taken a crude rhyme like 'Pull down your petticoat, pull down your drawers/Give him one look at old Santy Claus' from her one-woman-only brother Milo to encourage her to relinquish her long-preserved virginity, she'd kept her man, hadn't she?

Twenty-six publication years and twenty-eight fictional years later, in Good Hearts (1988), Rosa (who has dropped the 'coake') and Wesley (who now feels dead) are still married. Reynolds Price called this his 'druggy novel' not because of the drug content - which is reduced to a casual comment on the contemporary inappropriate nature of Rosa's original final syllable - but because he wrote this novel on prescribed drugs after he'd been diagnosed with a cancerous tumour. Drugs or not, this is an interesting book.

It helps enormously to be aware of the family politics in Price's novels (in which families are of great importance) although even then things are difficult. Horace is Rosa and Wesley's son and Pris is his wife; Rato is Rosa's brother, and although he has mental problems, this knowledge doesn't make this conversation any easier to understand:

'Rato said "I learned to love spice in Spain. I can't see why it don't work in America."

'Pris said "It does now. At my house anyhow."

'Horace said "She's got me massaged in garlic. I can't see how I grew up without it."

'Rosa said "Well, you did. Somehow against all odds you survived. And look at you now, strong and healthy to watch."'

The key to this is that Rosa hates Pris, and thinks she's far too refined. But generally, people get on in Price's world without gouging each other's eyes out. Brothers-in-law Wesley and Milo have limits concerning how far they can mock each other, and those limits can be stretched greatly, although Wesley almost breaks those bounds when he, a very experienced motor mechanic, is invited by Milo to comment on his new Pontiac, of which he's very proud:

'No, Milo, look - you love your new car. It's exactly what you wanted, and it matches [your wife's] hair. Just roll back, cross both hands on your belly (it's swelling nicely by the way), and try to forget that day by day Wesley works on Mercedes, BMWs, Bentleys, and moviestar-customized Alpha-Romeos. Every now and then I lower my standards, double my prices, and tune up a Jag. But it's been six years since my soft hands ever touched a piece of Detroit tinfoil dogshit'.

But these men know each other's 'destruction buttons', and intend to grow old together: 'old and even more knowing, more nearly each other's mirror-self like the best male friends who stop short of touching'.

Wesley is welcomed into his extended family even after he's walked out on his wife and his job in Raleigh, North Carolina, and driven to Nashville, Tennessee, where he lived with Wilson for three months, a woman half his age, and the sex was great until she told him to get a divorce to leave her free to marry him, or get out of her life. So Wesley returned to his wife, but did supernatural means force him to do this?

The main problem the novel has is Wave, who appears towards the end and is a person or a symbol, or perhaps both, but who poses problems in terms of both the plot of the book and to the book's approach to moral concerns. Wave, if he is to be understood as a real character, is some form of sociopath who not only feels no remorse about raping women, but believes that he is performing them a service. But if, on the other hand, Wave is a kind of angel who brings Wesley back together with Rosa, then is this divine intervention entirely acceptable - particularly to a contemporary reader?

22 December 2009

Grace Lumpkin's To Make My Bread (1932)

Grace Lumpkin (1891-1980) was born in Milledgeville, Georgia, and at the age of about ten her family moved to Columbia, South Carolina, and later to a farm in Richland County, South Carolina. She became a teacher and spent her summers in the southern Appalachians. She later went to Columbia University, New York, and became interested in Communist politics. Her first novel, To Make My Bread, is usually grouped with five other novels that concern the 1929 Loray textile mill strike in Gastonia, North Carolina, although it is only towards the end of the novel that the strike itself occurs.* Lumpkin's second novel, A Sign of Cain (1935), concerns similar themes, but she became disillusioned with Communist politics and her later novels - The Wedding (1939), and Full Circle (1962) clearly represent a major shift towards the right, and towards religion.

The first half of the book is set in the mountains of southern Appalachia, begins in 1900, and describes the poverty in which the mountain people - centring in particular on Grandpap Kirkland, his granddaughter Emma McClure and her young children as they develop. To Make My Bread won the Maxim Gorky Award for the 'best labour novel' of the year, and the book adheres to the realist literary ideology of the Soviet Union. Poverty is associated with illiteracy, and when, lured to visit the town in the low hills where the streets are said to be paved with gold, Emma wants to visit the toilet when the family rest in the station waiting room, she has to guess where to go:

'"Hit's got to be done", Emma said to herself. She got up and walked straight through the door over which the mysterous word was written.

'The girl who had gone in first was standing at a mirror in there. "Is this?" Emma began. The girl smiled and nodded toward a swinging door.'

The novel also depicts sexual matters frankly, if - necessarily for the time, of course - slightly coyly:

'About this time Emma needed some soft cloth. Bonnie [her daughter] was getting older and it had come upone her. For herself Emma could do with any rag that came along, but for Bonnie she wanted the soft cloth.'

Although To Make My Bread may contain some clichés about mountain people - the moonshine peddling and the feuds seen in abundance in such fiction Mary Noailles Murfree's short stories and novels, and the dime novels of the turn of the century, this work is clearly of a very different order. Lumpkin doesn't gloss over the racial prejudice of the time to make her protagonists appear more sympathetic: on the way to visit the town factory in the low hills, Emma sees some black children drinking from a water pump and is thirsty, but Grandpap says: 'They're niggers, Emma. [...] White and black don't mix.'

The novel covers Southern carpet baggers, the greed and inhumanity of the mountain people's towards their kind, and the destruction of Appalachian culture by mining companies.When the family moves down to the town they find not streets of gold but poverty worse than they experienced in the mountains. On the death of the protagonists Grandpap and Emma, the action increases and the strike gets in full swing. When the newly poiticized Bonnie - modeled on the influential Gastonian leader Ella May Wiggins, who was shot through the chest - is murdered, the Communist movement in this fictional town does not die, but is given fresh impetus.

*The five other novels are Mary Heaton Vorse's Strike! (1930), Olive Tilford Dargan's ('Fielding Burke''s) Call Home the Heart (1932), Myra Page's Gathering Storm: A Story of the Black Belt (1932), Sherwood Anderson's Beyond Desire (1932), and William Rollin's The Shadow Before (1934).

Reynold Price's A Long and Happy Life (1962)

'Just with his body and from inside like a snake, leaning that black motorcycle side to side, cutting in and out of the slow line of cars to get there first, staring due-north through goggles towards Mount Moriah and switching coon tails in everybody's face was Wesley Beavers, and laid against his back like sleep, spraddle-legged on the sheepskin seat behind him was Rosacoke Mustian who was maybe his girl and who had given up looking into the wind and trying to nod at every sad car in the line, and when he even speeded up and passed the truck (lent for the afternoon my Mr. Isaac Alston and driven by Sammy his man, hauling one pine box and one black boy dressed in all he could borrow, set up in a ladder-back chair with flowers banked round him and a foot on the box to steady it) - when he even passed that, Rosacoke said once into his back "Don't" and rested in humiliation, not thinking but with her hands on his hips for dear life and her white blouse blown out behind her like a banner in defeat.'

This amazing first sentence - all 192 words of it - marked the debut of a major novelist: Reynolds Price is from North Carolina, and was praised by, among others, Harper Lee and Eudora Welty for this book, A Long and Happy Life (1962), also the first book in the Mustian trilogy.* Constance Rooke called it 'a clarion call annoucing the start of a long career', and Price continues that distinguished career today, although he is surprisingly little known.

In Understanding Reynolds Price, James A Schiff calls the language 'sexually charged', and although he notes Price's ability to 'cross gender lines', he also realises that Price is in a sense proclaiming, and rejoicing in, his homosexuality in many of his works: 'Price seems far more interested, at least in his Mustian novels, in male sexuality and beauty. The central erotic figure in each Mustian novel is a desirable, handsome, and virile male [...], who attracts the gaze of women and men alike'. Price has turned around the norm: Rosacoake is just as (if not more than) central to the book as Wesley, but it's the male rather than the female body that is seen as sexually exciting.

*The two other novels are A Generous Man (1966), which concentrates on Rosacoake's brother Milo Mustian and is set in 1948, when Milo was nine year younger, and Good Hearts (1988), which is set 28 years after A Long and Happy Life, when Rosa (as she is now called) and Wesley Beavers have been married 28 years. A precursor – the long short story concerning the Mustians, 'A Chain of Love' – was published in 1958, and the play Early Dark (1977) is not a dramatization of A Long and Happy Life so much as it is that novel viewed from a differnet perspective.

Olive Ann Burns: Cold Sassy Tree (1984)

Olive Ann Burns (1924-90) was brought up in Commerce, Georgia, educated in Macon, Georgia, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and spent a number of years working for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It was during her fight with cancer that she decided to write a novel, Cold Sassy Tree, a book set in 1906 and 1907, modeled on Commerce, and published in 1984.
 
How does a person react to a book like this that has all the attributes of a popular novel: it's frequently on school syllabuses, and - horror of horrors - the cover calls it a 'national bestseller': just the kind of thing I normally eschew. But then I began to apply to it what I believe are the special preoccupations of the Southern novel: race, religion, gender, and sexuality. It's rare that all attributes fit, but they do in this case, and this is in fact a fascinating, and in some respects brilliant, Southern novel.
 
It's a coming-of-age novel about the observations of a 14-year-old boy, narrated by the same person some years later. The story concerns E. Rucker Blakeslee, the owner of the general store and a 59-year-old widower of just three weeks who has decided to re-marry. The knowledge that Rucker is marrying again when the general opinion is that he should still be in mourning is enough to cause considerable anger in small town Cold Sassy, but the fact that this is a May-December relationship (Love Simpson is almost half his age), added to the fact that she comes from Baltimore, Maryland, and is therefore almost a Yankee in the eyes of those in the Deep South - the novel is set only some 40 years after the South lost to the Yankess, of course - makes matters far worse.
 
The narrator Will Tweedy is Rucker's nephew and he's very close to his grandfather. He often visits the couple and not only likes Love but also finds her sexually attractive, although that is as far as it, er, will go. But his rapid friendship with Love is, by various and unintentional means, the cause of Will's gaining access to privileged information about the couple. He learns, for instance, that this is a marriage of convenience, and that Rucker isn't sleeping with his wife but is in effect employing her as a housekeeper in return for deeding his house and furniture to her on his death. When Rucker's daughters become aware of this arrangement, they are understandably far from happy with the prospect of being largely disinherited.
 
But Rucker's death has not yet come, and both the reader and Love have to learn a lot more of Rucker, who is by appearances a mean, old-fashioned man, and of course a person whose property still has an earth closet and no electricity. After a visit to New York - and this is set during an era when a trip from Commerce to Atlanta and back, just 140 miles, was seen as an event - Love and Rucker not only become a little more friendly, but Rucker returns with the information that he is expanding his business into the nascent car sales trade: he is developiing from something of a Luddite to a modern man, such is the influence that Love (both capitalized and otherwise) is exerting on him. In the end, Rucker dies after just a year of marriage, but leaves Love pregnant.
 
So in what way is this novel particularly Southern, apart from the obligatory patterns of speech, the occasional mention of scuppernongs or grits, and the white trash from the mountains come down to be town lintheads? As the novel closes, we learn that the old sassafras tree - which gave the town its original name - has been felled to widen the road, and the town is to be renamed Progressive City. Although the narrator doesn't comment on the new name, the reader is no doubt expected to disapprove of it, but not to disapprove of progress itself. Rucker said that Cold Sassy would change its name over his dead body, which it does, but then he is a complex character anyway: he loved the 'Yankee' Love from afar almost from when he saw her, he is completely without racial prejudice, and he hates the violent Old Testament god that everyone around him worships. Love Simpson didn't really have to do so much to change Rucker, but in many ways she represents the New South transforming the Old South, and the marriage - consumated by the life growing within Love's womb - symbolizes a profound change. The future will not be easy, but at least there is room for considerable growth.
 
Very, very glad I read Cold Sassy Tree.

21 December 2009

Sinclair Lewis's Main Street (1920) and Sauk Centre, Minnesota

As far as literature is concerned, Minnesota is popularly known as the birth state of Scott Fitzgerald (St Paul) and, er, Garrison Keillor (Anoka), although Sinclair Lewis (1885—1951) is not as well known. One reason for this is that, although he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1926 (for Arrowsmith (1925)) and the Noble Prize for Literature in 1930, he produced nothing of particular merit from 1930 to his death. But he is noted for his novels of the 1920s, especially Main Street (1920) and Babbitt (1922). Both novels attack the stultifying conformity of the America of the Midwest in the postwar years, although Main Street is arguably more interesting for its autobiographical content.

Main Street is set almost entirely in the fictional small town of Gopher Prairie, although its protagonist, Carol Kennicott, is anything but that name might suggest: she refuses to toe the line. Born Carol Milford, she was educated in the Twin Cities — and later worked in a library in St Paul — with no knowledge of prairie villages, so when she marries Dr Will Kennicott, who has a medical practice in Gopher Prairie, she is destined for a considerable culture shock.

The superficial similarities between Flaubert's Madame Bovary and Main Street are striking: in both novels, a young woman, preoccupied by reading, marries a boring, conformist medical practitioner from a small town, suffers strongly from boredom, and is tempted to commit adultery. The main differences are that Carol does not commit adultery, and does not kill herself: after spending two years working for the Bureau of War Risk Insurance, in Washington DC, she returns to the strains of the cultural desert of Gopher Prairie.

But this is not Madame Bovary with a postwar American take: Lewis had a love-hate relationship with the small Midwest town in which he was born and grew up — Sauk Centre, which for some reason is given an English spelling — and his father was a doctor there. In Main Street, Lewis incorporated many of the elements — and many of the characters — he had known in Sauk Centre, and reactions in the town against his satire were very strong.

Carol Kennicott in many ways expresses Lewis's left-wing views on small town America, and although this is Lewis in full exaggeration mode, the message is clear when he launches into a criticism of the Perrys:

'The Republican Party, the Grand Old Party of Blaine and McKinley, is the agent of the Lord and of the Baptist Church in temporal affairs.

'All socialists ought to be hanged.

'Harold Bell Wright is a lovely writer, and he teaches such good morals in his novels, and folks say he's made prett' near a million dollars out of 'em.

'People who make more than ten thousand a year or less than eight hundred are wicked.

'Europeans are still wickeder.

'It doesn't hurt any to drink a glass of beer on a warm day, but anybody who touches wine is headed straight for hell.

'Virgins are not so virginal as they used to be.

'Nobody needs drug-store ice cream; pie is good enough for anybody.

'The farmers want too much for their wheat.'

The Perrys are by no means an atypical couple — in fact, their ideas are identical to the views of many others in the novel, and, Lewis believed, identical to those of many other identical inhabitants of many other identical small towns in conformist America. Carol dreads catching the 'Village Virus'.

After her (kind of) rebellion in Washington, Will ensnares her back, and five months after a holiday with her husband in Charleston, SC, and Savannah, GA, the pregnant Carol prepares to return to prairie living still an anarchist, but a gentler one:

'And why, she began to ask, did she rage at individuals? Not individuals but institutions are the enemies, and they most afflict the disciples who the most generously serve them. They insinuate their tyranny under a hundred guises and pompous names, such as Polite Society, the Family, the Church, Sound Business, the Party, the Country, the Superior White Race; and the only defense against them, Carol beheld, is unembittered laughter.'

Her vision of the beginning of the 21st century is interesting, as she sees that the real revolution will be carried out by the adults of the future. Before she retires to bed, as she points to her daughter's head, she warns her husband:

'Do you see that object on the pillow? Do you know what it is? It's a bomb to blow up smugness. If you Tories were wise, you wouldn't arrest anarchists; you'd arrest all these children while they're asleep in their cribs. Think what that baby will see and meddle with before she dies in the year 2000! She may see an industrial union of the whole world, she may see aeroplanes going to Mars.'

Sauk Centre has long since forgiven Sinclair Lewis, and has even turned him into the commercial attraction that he'd have hated: his parents' house, in Sinclair Lewis Avenue, is now the Sinclair Lewis Boyhood Home, there's a Sinclair Lewis Interpretation Center in the town, and you can even grab a Sinclair Lewis cheeseburger.

Lewis came to the world of letters at the wrong time, as he was writing in a rather old-fashioned style when writers like Sherwood Anderson, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner were bringing a much fresher approach to American literature.

17 December 2009

Atlanta, Georgia: Margaret Mitchell: Literary Landmarks of the Southern United States, #32

Our last literary stop in the four full weeks of our tour, which involved visiting Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana (well, just!), Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. We had visited many literary landmarks, and 14 literary museums. This was the 15th, and by far the worst. To begin with, an unhelpful leaflet had suggested that the small museum car park would probably be full – yes, this is where we felt like tourists for the first time, and it wasn't a pleasant experience at all – so it would be better to park near Piedmont Park. Beyond Piedmont Park, we parked in the paying car park outside the Botanical Gardens: at $15 to see extensive gardens as opposed to the $12 at the small Margaret Mitchell House, the gardens would have been by far the better option to anyone remotely interested in cultivated plants – which we aren't, and would far prefer to look at rampant kudzu. The one-mile walk to the house in Midtown Atlanta from the Botanical Gardens is a pleasant one though, and Piedmont Park is worth a view.

When we arrived at the museum car park we found it nearly empty, although quite a number of people were waiting to enter the house, where we were overcharged by an indifferent member of staff who didn't seem too clear about what he was doing on his computer. The guide to the flat – Mitchell didn't live in the whole house, but only in a small part of it – autopiloted us through a few rooms and then left us to look at a few interpretation panels. After that, there's a small building with a television across a lawn, and that's it.

Clearly, we were encountering something we hadn't been used to in the whole of our stay: staff with a lack of any enthusiasm, and tourists (in silly broad-brimmed hats) who were 'doing the sights': it felt a bit like the San Francisco cable cars, where people clutch small booklets permitting them to see multiple sights they're probably not interested in anyway. The calm of our tour was shattered, and the wonderful friendliness of the many helpful, genuinely interested Americans – very often working in museums on a voluntary basis – had been replaced by tourist-hardened automatons.

But back to the television. In the 2009's Southern Literature issue of the University of Central Arkansas's Oxford American, the book Gone with the Wind is listed as an 'underrated' publication. Initially, this may seem a bizarre thing to say about such a huge-selling book, but the author of the very brief piece – Michael Kreyling – states that 'I think she wrote a much more complex second half of the novel than she knew'. That may well be true, but isn't it also true that the huge tome Gone With the Wind, though much bought, is very little read? Don't many more people know the story through the film rather than the book? This is why much of the emphasis in the museum is on the film, and why the television in the building at the side shows an old, 90-minute film of the making of the film.

To be fair, interpretation panels do deal, for instance, with the differences between book and film, and it's interesting to learn about the toning down of racist matters on transition from paper to celluloid.

All the same, this was one museum tour we could have forgone, although it would have been a bitter disappontment if we had gone to Midtown Atlanta during our first day, as opposed to – it also has to be said – the rather disappointing Downtown Atlanta. Just to end this long rant on a plus note: another leaflet strongly criticised the streets in central Atlanta, claiming that it was very difficult to find your way around. Happily, I found very few problems, and also the drive from Buckhead in the north right through the centre of Atlanta via the interstate, to the airport in the south, went like a dream.

The front entrance to the house. Margaret Mitchell's flat was on the ground (first in American English) floor on the left.

Plaque on the front of the house.

The south elevation of the house seen from the, er, audio-visual center.

And the back of the house.

Decatur, Georgia: Mary Gay: Literary Landmarks of the Southern United States, #31

Mary Ann Harris Gay (1828-1918) was born in Milledgeville and was a strong supporter of the Confederate cause. On the early death of her father, she moved with her mother to Decatur, where her mother re-married but her husband died, and as heavy investments were made in Confederate bonds, they were in a desperate financial situation after the Civil War.

Gay re-published her book Prose and Poetry by a Southern Lady (1858) as The Pastor's Story, and sold it from door to door. Twain mocked the book in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but Gay managed to support her family during Reconstruction on the proceeds of many sales. The Baptist church in Decatur was rebuilt as a result of her fundraising skills, and the church appointed her as a fundraising agent, and she spent thirty years traveling the South in this capacity.

She is mainly remembered for her book Life in Dixie During the War (1892), in which she tells of smuggling food and information to the Confederate army. On 22 July 1864, the date of the Union Seige of Atlanta, the family hid in the cellar.

The house was moved from its original site in Marshall Street, and has been extended and considerably altered.

The Mary Gay House is now chiefly used for weddings.

16 December 2009

Atlanta, Georgia: Joel Chandler Harris: Literary Landmarks of the Southern United States, #30

The Wren's Nest, the final home of Joel Chandler Harris, is on 1050 Ralph David Abernathy SW, in the West End of Atlanta. He lived here from 1881 to 1908, and bought the home from the Atlanta Constitution, which employed him. Soon after his transformation of the old farmhouse, wrens nested in the mailbox and the house was nicknamed 'The Wrens Nest'. The museum was established in 1913.

'The Wrens Nest Home of Joel Chandler Harris. Creator of the Uncle Remus stories and proponent of the New South, Joel Chandler Harris was born December 9, 1848 in Eatonton. After serving an apprenticeship on a plantation newspaper The Counrtyman near Eatonton and working on several Georgia dailies, he joined the staff of the Atlanta Constitution in 1876. His prolific pen has immortalized the folklore of the Old South. In 1880, he purchased this house for his home, calling it "Snap-Bean Farm". When a wren built her nest in the mailbox, he changed the name to "Wren's Nest".

Soon after his death, July 3, 1908, the Uncle Remus Memorial Assocation was organized. On January 10, 1913. it purchased the "Wren's Nest". That same year the Uncle Remus Library was organized and remained there for 17 years. The Uncle Remus Memorial Assocation was rechartered August 23, 1937, as the Joel Chandler Harris Memorial Association. The "Wren's Nest" is owned and operated by the association.'

'The Path of Authors' consists of a number of stones dedicated to local authors at the front of the house on either side of the steps leading up to the verandah.

14 December 2009

Jonesboro, Georgia: Margaret Mitchell: Literary Landmarks of the Southern United States, #29

Jonesboro (formerly Jonesborough) is proud to be recognised as the Tara in Gone with the Wind (1935) by Margaret Mitchell (1900–45): Fitzgerald House was Mitchell's grandparent's home, although the film turned it into something much more elaborate. Jonesboro, then, is the self-claimed 'official home of Gone with the Wind', and the Back to Tara Museum is in the 1867 train depot.

There are a great number of exhibits in the museum, among them Sherman's necktie and some of Margaret Mitchell's china, but the emphasis is mainly on the film Gone with the Wind rather than the book, with many reproductions of costumes from the the movie. Nevertheless, on show are many translations of the book around the world. We learn that ther have also been tow sequels: Scarlett (1991) by Alexander Ripley and Rhett Butler's People (2007) by Donald MacCaig. It's very enlightening to compare the effort that has gone into the very interesting, amusing and informative display at Jonesboro compared to the hugely disappointing Margaret Mitchell House in Midtown Atlanta, which is owned by the Atlanta History Center. The problem with Atlanta and area around, as far as Margaret Mitchell is concerned, is that you can easily get Winded: there's a third Margaret Mitchell museum at Marietta, but we didn't go. I can't with fairness, therefore, comment on Marietta, but I'd recommend the Road to Tara anytime over the Margaret Mitchell House, which, as I've promised before, I shall comment on later.

And there's another plus with going to Jonesboro: a lovely atmosphere with, unlike central Atlanta, no panhandlers. How about a pumpkin, then? It was approaching Halloween.

Eatonton, Georgia: Joel Chandler Harris: Literary Landmarks of the Southern United States, #28

Joel Chandler Harris (1848–1908), the man who created Brer Rabbit and Uncle Remus among many other characters, was born in poverty in Eatonton, Putnam County, Georgia. As a teenager with a keen thirst for knowledge, he would often go to the local post office to read discarded papers and magazines, and it was there that he learned of an advert for a printer's apprentice. A plaque we didn't see but have since found on the internet can serve to continue the story:


'Turnwold Plantation. Here, from 1862 to 1866, Joel Chandler Harris [...] worked as a printer's apprentice on what was probably the only newspaper ever published on a Southern plantation. "The Countryman", a weekly newspaper edited and published by Joseph Addison Turner, owner of "Turnwold". Mr. Addison, planter, lawyer, scholar and writer, encouraged his youuthful apprentice in writing and the use of the large plantation library. In the slave quarters, the boy heard African animal legends and the true Negro folklore of the old South, which he immortalised in his "Uncle Remus" stories.'

Brer Rabbit appears as the logo of Eatonton's Chamber of Commerce.

The small town of Eatonton is also noted in having another writer born here: Alice Walker.

Brer Rabbit greets visitors at the entrance to the museum.

'Uncle Remus Museum. This memorial to Joel Chandler Harris, born Dec. 9th. 1848, was constructed from three slave cabins found in Putnam County. uncle Remus Museum Inc., a local non-profit organization of dedicated citizens has established and maintained its operation continuously form the opening on April 26, 1963.

'Turner Park is a part of the home place of Joseph Sidney Turner, the "little boy" to whom the world famous stories of the "critters" were told by "Uncle "Remus", Harris' unique creation. Turner grew up at "Turnwold", nine miles east of Eatonton, home of his father, Joseph Addison Turner, where Harris had his first job assisting in printing The Countryman'.

The museum created from a slave cabin.


And the other two slave cabins.

And who can resist a photo of a butterfly in the museum flowers? This monarch may be common in the South and the southern Midwest to name but a few areas where I've noticed it, but in England it is virtually extinct.