If I stick with a book often it becomes a friend, opening itself to me. In beginning On the Edges of Elfland: A Fairy-Tale for Grown Ups, by David Russell Mosley, I liked first the Lovely- English Inn and-Village setting by the Woodlands. This was followed with affectionate characters and story-book suggestiveness through pub tales of what went before in the village. One does not want to see this village destroyed, or even changed. To change it would perhaps destroy it. I’m not as receptive to other tropes owing to readerly familiarity, so these must be handled in a manner refreshing to my years. Parts of young Alfred Perkins’ adventures in Elfland secure my reception, other parts do not.
Here’s a bit of small talk on small towns. Small-town America. Iconic phrase, conjuring rural state of Maine population centers. I’ve been rereading Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street about a young woman interested in remaking a small rural town in Minnesota in the early 20th century. Carol’s focus is cultural. She’s a former St. Paul librarian, initially hopeful of elevating the quality of social and cultural life by encouraging artistic and intellectual pursuits in some small town. Her own hopeful is a medical man in the town of Gopher Prairie and she is the glamour he’s hungry for, encouraging her to marry and come home with him to work the town into something wonderful through her inspiration.
“Come on. Come to Gopher Prairie. Show us. Make the town — well — make it artistic. It’s mighty pretty, but I’ll admit we aren’t any too darn artistic. Probably the lumber-yard isn’t as sumptuous as all these Greek temples. But go to it! Make us change!”
Sinclair Lewis is careful early to show Carol’s waxing, waning, waxing interest in town transformation.
Overwhelming force of violence or evil makes powerful reading for some. For some, but not for me. Powerful reading for me is in tension of struggles between opposing forces in the narrative. When one of these forces is love your story becomes cosmic within nature, no matter how exalted or mundane.
The last sentence lacks clarity because it’s unclear what “no matter how exalted or mundane” is referring to. I leave that configuration because it sounds better than any way I might think to clarify. But, no matter what’s referenced in that sentence, the phrase fits: “Opposing forces?” “Story?” “Within nature?” Each, within the story, might be exalted or mundane.
Our series of three, on working xmas, begins HERE.
…There is a cold breeze outside the car, though nothing moves but a plastic rag knotted on a tree limb — the tree one of those slender naked beauties above the car. Just so light, the rag floats on an otherwise nonexistent breath available to any eye passing or peeping out the nursing home window. I’m parked below the Church between it and the nursing home, waiting for Mass to begin. I don’t recall ever being in a Catholic Church before.
All over New England, in old once-successful mill towns, one finds these astonishing structures in brick or stone. One day this granite mass before me will be christened a basilica. Now it is a reminder that those coming across the border, the French-Canadian immigrants, gave unstintingly out of a bounty of labor not well-paid. For these workers, especially, often were not well treated… and in Yankee communities they were often despised.
“Now I must either bundle it back in to my tin kitchen to mold, pay for printing it myself, or chop it up to suit purchasers and get what I can for it. Fame is a very good thing to have in the house, but cash is more convenient, so I wish to take the sense of the meeting on this important subject,” said Jo, calling a family council.
“Don’t spoil your book, my girl, for there is more in it than you know, and the idea is well worked out. Let it wait and ripen,” was her father’s advice, and he practiced what he preached, having waited patiently thirty years for fruit of his own to ripen, and being in no haste to gather it even now when it was sweet and mellow.
“It seems to me that Jo will profit more by taking the trial than by waiting,” said Mrs. March. “Criticism is the best test of such work, for it will show her both unsuspected merits and faults, and help her to do better next time. We are too partial, but the praise and blame of outsiders will prove useful, even if she gets but little money.”
“Yes,” said Jo, knitting her brows, “that’s just it. I’ve been fussing over the thing so long, I really don’t know whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent. It will be a great help to have cool, impartial persons take a look at it, and tell me what they think of it.”
R. took the photos in this post on our 2010 trip to Salem/ Concord.
Above is the Salem Custom-house, built in 1819, which is smaller than the Boston house where Nathaniel Hawthorne found the faded scarlet letter, faintly embroidered in gold thread.
As indicated to me by the editor, this was “in the pipeline” to be published in Books & Culture. So I was disappointed when the magazine was unexpectedly withdrawn from Christianity Today’s line late last summer. Also, I did not want B&C to go away! Ever. This entry below is part of the original essay.
A Maine writer–summering here as a youth and attending Bowdoin College–Nathaniel Hawthorne has a claim on the state. Or, maybe it’s the reverse.