It's been a bit, I know. Part of the reason is the chaos that was 2022 for me. We decided to sell the house and move, and I decided to go back to school. On top of all of that, I cleaned off my trusty laptop in the spring and lost my progress on editing The Dalrymple Mystery, and I didn't have the focus to go back to that project. When I lost my files, I also deleted the original PDF with the images from the serialized version. That piece took several steps to create. My first thought was that I was going to have to go back through all issues of The National that contained excerpts and find the images.
Then, I remembered that I have the PDF file on my Nova Air and was able to move it to the Google Drive. Crisis averted! I just finished capturing the five drawings that go with the story, along with their original captions, so I can include those in the complete version of the story.
A Book of True Lovers
My last entry was almost a year ago, and I shared my highlights and notes file for this collection. I revisited McMichael's comments about this collection, and was not surprised to find he has little to say about it on page 153:
A Book of True Lovers came out at a time when editors were pleased to take anything she wrote. Her income from writing had increased almost $2,000 over two years before. The sales she listed in her ledger at the end of 1897 totaled $5,390 for this year. Much of the money went toward the restoration of the house in Arkansas, which was finally being completed during summer of 1897. Alice and Jenny named their new home 'Thanford' for Thanet and Crawford.
So, there is an Arkansas connection there, if only that the money was used to restore the house in Clover Bend.
"The Strike at Glasscock's" was, according to McMichael, "based on an incident described by Colonel Tucker of Clover Bend and was a parable for labor, showing the plight of a rural Arkansas mill owner whose wife had gone on strike" (152-3) to get the house painted. The story is reminiscent in some ways of Mary Wilkins-Freeman's oft-anthologized "The Revolt of Mother." As such, it might be interesting in that regard. Thanet's story originally appeared in December 1893's edition Northwestern Miller Holiday Number as "The Labor Question at Glasscock's." Mary Wilkins Freeman's story appeared in print in 1890 in Harper's. Given that Thanet also published in Harper's during the late 1800s, it is likely she was familiar with the story.
McMichael also discusses the relative domestic harmony at Thanford when discussing the book, which is sweet. The introduction of A Book of True Lovers is interesting, as well, as the focus there is on how all of the stories are focused on married couples. Perhaps it was a tip of Thanet's hat to the fact she valued her own Boston Marriage with Jane Crawford.
A Slave to Duty & Other Women
As with A Book of True Lovers, Thanet's next collection lacks much depth, despite the eye-catching title.
Another volume, A Slave to Duty and Other Women, her ninth book in eight years, also appeared in 1898, a reprinting of stories gathered from a wide variety of magazines and published by Herbert S. Stone in Chicago. For the first time, critical response to her work was almost wholly uncomplimentary, the reviewers announcing that the stories were trivial and unimportant (McMichael, 158).
A Book of True Lovers
Entry coming soon. I read this in early 2022 and highlighted but need to revisit the collection now that we've moved and I located my copy of McMichael.
Link to the notes on Google Drive (highlights)
The Missionary Sheriff
In 1895, Alice's investments paid high dividends and her writing earned her more than $3,600. Henry Mills Alden had bought a short story, "The Missionary Sheriff," for $620, the most she had ever received for a story, and it was her first to be published in Harper's Magazine. Shortly after it was accepted, Harper and Brothers sent a letter asking that she write a series of short stories to be published first in Harper's Magazine and then to be issued by the publishing house in a single volume in 1897. --McMichael, p. 145.
Stories of a Western Town
Individual Story Notes:
Cecil Raimund goes to Arkansas to the Seyton Plantation to spend time with his twin cousins Alan (Ally) and Sally. In the two weeks covered by the novel, Cecil helps the twins solve the mystery of the KKK scaring people. It turns out that Dawsey has been counterfeiting for the last five years, and while they suspect he's the one parading as the KKK, it turns out that Aunt Valley, a local conjure woman, and Larry, Dawsey's nephew, pretended to be KKK hoping it would lead to Dawsey being arrested for moonshining or lynched by the black people in the area.
The book is very much a "juvenile novel" as McMichaels indicates, as the kids are the ones who solve the mysteries. Larry confesses to the trickery after Dawsey is dead because Dawsey accused Cobbs of conspiring with him to ride as the KKK as he's dying. There is some discussion in the novel of whether Cobbs is racist, which adds some credibility to Dawsey's "confession." Ultimately, the truth is revealed and things are tidy and neat for the most part--the kids are rewarded. Larry gets to live with Cobbs, Ally and Cecil become the best of friends (in a mirroring relationship of the one between Raimund and Seyton), and Sally gets $500 for her shrewd detective work.
The title is echoed in two passages in the book. First, by Colonel Seyton after things have calmed down and Cobbs is no longer under suspicion. Basically, Seyton praises everyone involved in the resolution of the story, not just his own children (although Sally is the best detective of them all).
"'This is just in time for a toast,' said he. 'Cobbs, here's your glass, man. 'WE ALL, East AND WEST, NORTH AND South! To our better acquaintance, because that means to our better and closer and dearer friendship.'" (Thanet, p. 271).
Cecil, being from Chicago, thinks of himself as a northerner and spends the early parts of the novel thinking that his Arkansas cousins are simple and poor. He assumes he can better them at just about everything, including hunting. During a hog hunt he and Ally are not supposed to be on, Cecil faces a wild boar and thinks he can kill it with his revolver. Cobbs and Ally shoot the boar before it can get to Cecil, and he's humbled by it. Ally assures him that had they not intervened, Cecil surely would have felled the hog himself. The final paragraph of the book echoes the title and is reminiscent of the hog hunt, as well as the solving of the mystery and Cecil growing up.
"Meanwhile, it is like Cis, who is fond of trinkets and dunnery, to wear a fob-seal, on which is engraved a wild boar's head and the letters 'W. A.'. The head is a reminiscence of another hog-fight, where Cis did kill the boar, and the letters stand for WE ALL."
Overlap with Expiation:
Racist Language in Thanet
I'll be using this post and updating it throughout the project. Specifically, here you will find links to notes showing Thanet's use of specific racist language. I'll provide highlights of the text, as well as brief notes (who uses the term, how it's used).
Links to highlights by text
Note: these are my highlights in Google Books. I've done minimal editing, so there may still be some spacing errors. But, these might be helpful in terms of seeing themes and isolating quotations if you're looking for certain keywords or themes. Also, note that the highlights may not be complete--for instance, my highlights for Knitters in the Sun start with "Father Quinnailon's Convert."
I will add to this list as I go.
The summary in the above letter is spot on; the novel focuses on young Fairfax Rutherford, who has been living abroad with the uncle he was named for. He returns to his father's plantation in Arkansas and is immediately caught up on the robbery scheme and captured. His shame happens when he first reveals Parson Collins has the money; he feels guilty about revealing that, but is even more horrified when he thinks he's shot Collins after being burned with hot coals from the fire.
The story works itself out; we later find that Collins is not only alive, but also that it wasn't Fairfax who shot him after all--it was Lige, who was aiming for Dick Barnabas, leader of the guerillas.
Setting: The area around the Montaigne Plantation on the Black River. McMichaels notes it is set in 1864 (p. 118).
Adele is the first to use the word "expiation" when talking to Fair about his guilt:
"God won't hold you guilty for that. And even say you were guilty, guilty of the worst--well, what then? Does repentance mean despair or expiation? 'Bring forth fruits,' the apostle says, God will not despise a broken and a contrite heart: but if such a heart doesn't lead us to do something" (Thanet, p. 126).
Adele continues on pages 127-128 to tell Fairfax he should stay in Arkansas and do right by Parson Collins: "you haven't any right to desert it. And because it is ruined and miserable, that's the more reason you should try to help. If you want to make amends to Mr. Collins, to Unk ' Ralph—they love this poor country--stay here and help them try to save it. Oh, you know, you know how Unk ' Ralph has struggled to improve this place, to get better roads and better houses and some way civilize the people; and you know how Mr. Collins helped him. If you want to make amends to Mr. Collins, to Unk ' Ralph—they love this poor country-stay here and help them try to save it. Oh, you know, you know how Unk ' Ralph has struggled to improve this place, to get better roads and better houses and some way civilize the people; and you know how Mr. Collins helped him. If you want to make amends--please, Cousin Fair, excuse the plain way I talk--then help to rid the country of the graybacks, and get in provisions, and keep peace now, and the rest will come in time . That —that will be expiation; [emphasis mine] but to lie here and die of shame—if you do , do you know what I say? Cousin Fair, you weren't a coward, but you are!"
This is a central theme as Fairfax feels the need to fit his father's image of a real man. His brothers have died, and Fairfax is the sole heir left. When Barnabas says he was a coward, it crushes Fairfax and makes the relationship with his father strained (until the truth comes out).
Fairfax is a bit of a dandy, but not necessarily in a bad way. While he has funny clothes and is softer than men in the Arkansas Swamps, those traits are not seen as a failing. At the end of the novel, his refinement is mentioned and becomes a bit of an issue for Adele who thinks she can never be quite refined enough for him, but Adele winds up liking his sense of fashion and his cleanliness.
On page 81, we see that Fairfax was always sensitive to fear and that even as kids Adele had a stronger sense of rationality--see below regarding childhood tales of conjure men and headless cats. Adele didn't believe they were real, but Fairfax did.
Aunt Hizzie: She's treated as a caricature. "Aunt Hizzie, in her white turban (economically made out of a castaway flour-sack ), with a blue apron try ing to define a waist for her rotund shape, was always a figure in the gallery when dinner was under way" (Thanet, p. 30), Her method of communication is to holler at people.
Barnabas: This issue comes up not only with Hizzie and other enslaved people of color in the book but also in terms of Dick Barnabas who is described as having a "sharp profile with thin lips, curved nose, hollow cheeks, a sweeping mustache, and inky locks of hair, straight and coarse enough to warrant the common taunt that 'all of Dick Barnabas wasn't Jew was mean Injun'" (Thanet, p. 66).
Early on, Colonel Rutherford is telling his wife the story of Ma'y June and says, "Dick, he was renting of me then, am - mean Jew Injun, same like he is now, and getting most his livelihood swapping horses" (Thanet, p. 41).
Thanet contrasts Barnabas and Fairfax: "Their eyes met; the cruel old-race black ones, the frank brown eyes of the Anglo-American; the glitter in each crossed under the torch-rays like sword-blades , but it was the brown flash that wavered" (Thanet, p. 75). Also, Thanet uses the word "injun" again when Lige tells Sam "he had a mind to kick, but he warn't no injun, by ____" (Thanet, p. 78).
"in spite of his seeming apathy, Dick's Indian blood was at boiling-point. Lige stood in front of the open window; before he had time to realize the situation he found himself sprawling on the ground outside" (Thanet, p. 92).
Magic of the Swamps:
Mose has freedom to travel the swamps and communicates with animals.
The homestead of the French LaRouge who was killed by Barnabas and his men is the "magical" and haunted spot that Barnabas uses as home base: "on the mound to the right , which was a forgotten chief's last show of pride , an old Frenchman had built him a log cabin , where he lived alone" (Thanet, p. 77). . . "Dick told them that he chose the place because it was a spot held accursed and haunted" (Thanet, p. 78).
Conjuring is mentioned when Fairfax remembers tales he was told as a child to keep him in line: "How they terrified him! That one, of the big conjure-men who threw lizards into Mammy's mother so that she died-but that was not so frightful as the one about the little black cat without a head that would come and sit by a 'mean' boy's bed and purr and purr; and , if the boy should make the least bit of noise, would leap on the bed and rub its dreadful neck against him. What a ghastly fancy! Why must he remember it now?" (Thanet, p. 81). The "now" in question is when Barnabas takes him to LaRouge's ruins.
"Aunt Tennie Marlow was well enough known to Fair. She was an old and very black negress who enjoyed a great name as a bone-setter, knew a heap' baout beastis,” ushered all the babies of the neighborhood into the world, and on the strength of these gifts and of living alone was suspected to be a “conjure woman" (Thanet, p. 163).
To view all of my chapter summaries and highlights, click here.
"The Mortgage on Jeffy"
The story opens with one-armed Jeff Griffin carrying home a tiny coffin for the recently dead baby of Cap'n Bulah, the love of his life (and distant cousin). Bulah is the widow of Sam Eller (the baby's father). Bulah still runs his boat, as she is determined to pay off his debts. When her baby dies, she is inconsolable.
On his way to show her the coffin, Jeff picks up Nate who tells him about a baby left at the plantation store. The widow Mrs. Brand is caring for the baby, and Jeff picks her up and takes her to his house where Bulah is still rocking her dead child. When he sets the boy on the floor, he cries for his mother and Bulah shakes herself out of her stupor, allowing her own baby to be buried. Jeff and Bulah begin to care for the child in February. In October his mother, a traveling cotton picker, returns and demands her child back.
The widow Brand saves the day when Headlights (real name Sabrina Mathews) tries to force the sheriff to tear the boy--now called Jeffy--from his foster parents. She demands board, cost of clothing, and cost of housing for the last eight months at a total of $27 to be paid in six months or Jeff and Bulah retain custody forever. Mr. Francis draws up a contract--thus, the "Mortgage on Jeffy." Headlights demands the right to pay the debt early.
She returns when Jeffy has come down with a fever and they fear he'll develop pneumonia. He's always been puny, which was one of the reasons they refused to let her take him, as he would die without care he needs--care his mother can't give him on the road as part of a cotton-picking team. Jeff sees her in a stupor in the swamp and takes her home with him. Headlights realizes that she can't care for the child properly and makes Jeff and Bulah agree to marry and they can keep him. She develops pneumonia and dies. Before she does, she pulls a leather pouch from her neck and says it is for Jeffy.
Inside is the $27 and a copy of the mortgage.
Notes: I'm intrigued by the name "Headlights" here. It seems really odd. Also, I am not sure that this is as clearly sentimental or classist as McMichael seems to think. Headlights, just as with Dosier and Chaney before, has deep emotional feelings and ties to her son, even as she leaves him at 17 months at the store. Carrying a child that small from job to job couldn't be easy, and likely the child would have died.
The whole mortgage situation is also weird. Obviously, Jeffy is not a slave or treated as property by Bulah and Jeff, but the idea of owning other people is definitely at play here. There's some weird "owning you to take care of you" stuff going on here (as in, you're being treated as property for your own good).
"The Governor's Prerogative"
This is an oddly cute story about a Governor at home who is approached by the mother of Fritz Jansen, a man sentenced to hang for the murder of his fiancee. The woman is German and speaks very little English. Luckily, the Governor's wife, Annie, is fluent in German. The woman tells of walking 15 miles to get to him before her son's execution. She asks for a pardon, as her son is a good man who would never do such a crime.
Annie pleads with her husband to stay the execution--if he's truly guilty, why not give him a life sentence so his mother doesn't suffer. The Governor counters that to do so would be worse for Fritz's mother than executing him. If she hates the Governor,
Very well , so be it . She will still have her memories of his youth to console her, and her very conviction of the injustice of his fate will be a comfort to her; while, on the other hand, if I release him, he will dissipate all her illusions, neglect her, ill-treat her, very likely spend every cent of her hard earnings, and at last convince even that trusting soul what a brute he is. It is the truest kindness to her to refuse." (Thanet, 299)
The day after Fritz is hanged, the mother returns with her son, Fritz. It turns out there were two men with the same name, and her son was never arrested. Because he doesn't want to share the name with such a bad man, Fritz and his mother come to the Governor for a name change. Annie declares he'll change the name as a wedding gift to Greta and Fritz. The wedding is briefly described and the story ends with Annie and the Governor relieved at the outcome.
In the end, the Governor makes the comment that he would have been so embarassed if he'd followed Annie's "feminine" mind and pardoned the evil Fritz. He asks her who was right, and she exclaims, "Both of us" (Thanet, p. 299).
About this project:
I've been saying since 2004 that I was going to write a critical biography of Octave Thanet (Alice French). This blog is the start of that work and will include notes, links to research, and other OT related tidbits.