Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The MLA Session on American Literature Anthologies, 1990

Christmas Day 1990
When I sent Jim Justus my title, I did not know Martha Banta and Paul Lauter were to be on the program, and I intended to talk about some frustrations I had encountered with my section of the NORTON ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN LITERATURE. In the essay "Contingencies of Value" (1983) Barbara Herrnstein Smith said: "Those who are in positions to edit anthologies and prepare reading lists are obviously those who occupy positions of some cultural power; and their acts of evaluation--represented in what they exclude as well as in what they include--constitute not merely recommendations of value, but also determinants of value." Later the same year Paul Lauter boldly asked how "we decide what to include in a course or an anthology" and decided that the answer "is not foreordained by God, the curriculum committee, or even the Norton anthology." I liked the climactic order of that, but for a job that confers great cultural power, anthology-making affords some severe lessons in powerlessness. You can put something in an anthology, Professor Smith, but you can't make anyone teach the whole of Margaret Fuller's THE GREAT LAWSUIT or the more radical Thoreau pieces, or thirty pages from my darling candidate for canonicity, CLAREL.

After knowing that Martha Banta and Paul Lauter were the other speakers, I can't talk just about my own aspirations and brushes with powerlessness, but I still want to concentrate on my period, the "American Renaissance." The death of John Benedict this year at 57 (an infuriating, absolutely preventable death from cigarette smoking) was the end of an era in the anthologizing of literature, not just American literature, and some historical sidelights on the creation of the NAAL are in order now. NAAL began in February of one of the more painful years in our recent history, 1969, with a letter from me to John Benedict analyzing the faults of the then-current Norton anthology, THE AMERICAN TRADITION IN LITERATURE, and continuing in a letter of April 1990 analyzing the faults of the Heath anthology--not Paul's but the old AMERICAN LITERATURE: TRADITION AND INNOVATION. The most urgent problem, in 1969, was to free up some of the space uncritically devoted to the Bearded poets. The second edition of the Norton American Tradition in Literature gave 90 pages in the first volume to James Russell Lowell and eight in the second volume to Robert Lowell.

The 1969 letters led, in all deliberate speed, to the 1979 NORTON ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN LITERATURE, a companion anthology to the NORTON ANTHOLOGY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE. Its aims and assumptions seemed noncontroversial at the time. Believing that some literature was more valuable than other literature, we wanted to present good texts of much of the greatest American literature along with a large sampling of lesser works of special literary interest or else of high historical interest. The problem of conveying a sense of a general continuity of American literature (even if some voices are heard by one generation then apparently forgotten for decades) was acute at the time the anthology appeared, when the once-standard eleventh grade course in American literature was yielding to innovative, diverse courses. We tried to achieve a coherence missing in previous anthologies, so that interrelations of writers could be taught, and at least we did not print Mourt's Relation and then omit Hawthorne's "Maypole." The Bearded Poets were still there, tightened, but so was Harriet Beecher Stowe and the entire first version of Frederick Douglass's Narrative—both of them (like Dickinson) edited by Ronald Gottesman, although placed in the first volume. What I most regret is that we did not find an adequate way of showing the relation of our literature to British literature of the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. No anthology has yet done so. At a time when many of us feel increasingly isolated from much of the rest of the world, it strikes me that an upcoming MLA American Literature Sections might review the historical circumstances under which American Literature was separated from British Literature in American colleges and address the question of how we can teach American Literature in relation to other literatures, especially British.

I was excited when I saw the Harper anthology announced, since I assumed Helen Vendler would do the Whitman section and have something wonderful to say, so I was disappointed that Justin Kaplan did the period. Later I was disappointed with the way he did it. How can I say this discreetly? I hope Kaplan was as humbly grateful to me for my footnotes to “The Great Lawsuit” as I was to Walter Harding for his footnotes to WALDEN. The Harper anthology had stellar contributors, but its aims were pretty familiar, so I won't be saying much about it. The Heath anthology demands attention. Paul always demands attention.

Just before MLA in 1983 I received the Feminist Press flyer for RECONSTRUCTING AMERICAN LITERATURE, the forthcoming collection of revisionist syllabi from American literature courses. At the Hilton in 1983 (feeling like a character from THE CONFIDENCE-MAN) I carried the flyer around the hallways until I found a man passing out copies of it. Now, I don't hang out with strangers very much, but my interest in expanding the canon is intense, and has been since 1961, when I read through dozens of books (around 200, really) cited in different literary histories as unjustly neglected works of American literature. From the time I began teaching I found I could not avoid and reading from them in carrying into class out-of-print books order to show literary influences and cultural continuities and discontinuities, so I wanted to know the man who wrote that flyer, and I hung out with Paul. On December 29 we burrowed far beneath the Sheraton, down where the signs still said “Americana.” At the end of the tunnel were the bound copies of Reconstructing American Literature, and Paul gave me the first signed copy, "to continue & develop the debate." I promptly required it in an undergraduate class and in two graduate classes, and later talked about it in several others.

As part Choctaw and Cherokee I felt condescended to by some of the contributors. I thought some of the syllabi were sexist--biased against men (the delightful Caroline Kirkland could be rediscovered but not the marvelous Joseph Kirkland). I thought the syllabi were biased against regions of the country, particularly the South, but also the West and the Midwest, including Chicago (Joseph Kirkland had two strikes against him). I thought they were biased against even women regional writers unless they happened to be from New England, biased against stories about fundamental Protestantism, biased against any writer who did not have leftist leanings, or leanings that could be construed as leftist. I made these points at the 1984 MLA on a panel Paul and I organized with Coral Lansbury. The weaknesses I pointed to in Reconstructing American Literature are present also in the Heath anthology.

I missed in the syllabi in Reconstructing American Literature evidence that the contributors had embarked on a grand promiscuous reading of all the American literature the contributors could lay hands on, open to finding merit anywhere, the way David Shields was then reading every Colonial poem he could find. It now seems to me that Paul's contributors to the Heath anthology went ahunting with the specific intention of locating voices of minority writers who had not been heard from in previous anthologies. In so far as they did original research, established the biographies of their writers, authenticated texts, identified their places in literary history, they deserve thanks and will hold a place in the history of American literary history. But what I miss in the innovative selections of the Heath anthology is, of all things, diversity--a wide representation of American humorous literature, of sporting literature, of literature dealing with religious customs, of early international novels, of the writings of historians (after the colonial period, where they are well enough represented), of the literature of local color and regionalism--literature of the South, West, Midwest, of literature which depicts American customs and mores (including sexual mores), and any attempt to demonstrate the literary traditions out of which American literature developed, especially its debts to British literature.

Paul's contributors try to represent a range of minority voices, particular voices of blacks and American Indians. In the anthology, as in Reconstructing, I felt condescended to, patronizing, at the inclusion of inferior and textually dubious material purely on the grounds that it was by reds or blacks or yellow-skinned writers. In my experience people of mixed blood are usually aware of shades of darkness and lightness and don't think of themselves as simply black or red or whatever, although white anthology-makers may find it convenient to disregard percentages. That's a visceral reaction. More rational is my anger at being presented Indian chants or Indian stories as translated by white men--or as reconstructed and substantially or written or rewritten by whites. How come white men hold copyright to some of the so-called Indian songs and stories? Give my surviving dark aunts their tribal rights, clean up some of the horrors sheltered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, do something about alcoholism and the prevalence of fetal-alcoholism syndrome on the reservations, but don't placate me with a translation of dubious authenticity, not when my tribes so lost their identity that their languages play no role at all in American Literature.

My literary heritage is English. In the eighth grade (in what had been, when my father was born there, the Choctaw Nation in Indian Territory), I found an old copy of an anthology of American Literature and read (among other works) Thoreau's "The Bean Field" and Whitman 's "I Saw in Louisiana a Live (Oak Growing" and a dozen or so poems by Dickinson and a batch of poems from Spoon River Anthology. I was twice damned as a Depression Okie and part Indian, but from the time I found that anthology I inherited American literature in the English language. When I left high school after the 11th grade and became a railroad telegrapher in southwestern Louisiana, I read my way through a one volume Shakespeare I bought in New Orleans. This is what Americans have done throughout our history--make the best of our English heritage. Millions of European immigrants sacrificed their languages so their children would be Americanized. Yes, there was terrible loss of cultural heritage, but immigrant parents usually made that sacrifice willingly. In their eagerness to represent minority writers who actually wrote in English the contributors to the Heath anthology sometimes lose sight both of aesthetic value and historical significance, so that Frederick Douglass hardly seems to be a more important writer than Harriet Jacobs. Jacobs’ book is a moving human document. Anytime a victim of memorable suffering looks in his or her heart and writes, the result is apt to be a moving human document--but not necessarily a great literary document. Douglass's terse 1845 Narrative is one of the greatest human documents in all of American literature, and one of the greatest American stories in the Franklin tradition of self-education and rise from humble beginnings to national prestige. But Douglass did not simply look in his heart and write. As a slave-boy in Baltimore he learned to comprehend the dialogues and forensic disputes in his copy of the Columbian Orator. We've got a copy in Special Collections at the University of Delaware. I hadn't realized until I read our copy that "Columbian" (it's obvious if you think about it) meant "American"; even in slavery Douglass was training himself with a textbook for would-be national orators. With greater advantages Melville's brother Gansevoort was doing exactly the same thing at the same time. And before he wrote down his Narrative Douglass tried parts of it out, night after night, before live audiences, getting the story right before putting it into print--just as, at the same time, Herman Melville was trying out the sexier episodes of TYPEE upon his fellow sailors. Taste has changed, and we have to remind ourselves that Douglass's purple passages, such as the set piece on the sails on the Chesapeake Bay which Garrison praises in the preface, were not only proof that Douglass could write the sort of bravura display which the times admired: such passages were profoundly functional, because "fine writing" in prose is like poetry—quotable, memorable, and even memorizable, and therefore powerful in the crusade to awaken the consciences of the North. Even in slavery Douglass was struggling with something very few freeborn people ever conquer--style, and by the time he wrote the NARRATIVE (although a white man in Maryland held title to him) he was his own literary master. Anyone can produce a memorable narrative if it is based on a memorable life, but to lump Douglass with Jacobs is to ignore his triumphant struggle to become not just the author of a book but an American writer.

From the time of the first white settlements children have grown up more poorly educated than their fathers—take Melville (with his cosmopolitan father), Douglass (with a white father), or the Pike County migrants Clarence King observed. Now in Washington, D. C. and elsewhere many young black men are less well educated than their grandmothers and grandfathers. At Delaware and elsewhere the blacks who get through college are more and more likely to be female, not male. Thoreau is a threat to anyone who wants to bring literature down to the lowest common denominator, to offer "Little Reading" in the classroom rather than to offer literature that students have to stand on tiptoe to read.

NEWSWEEK last week had a cover story on the "thought police" in American universities. An aesthetic squad of that police force was at work in the 1940's and 1950's telling us it was unseemly to talk about the creative process. No wonder many professors have renounced the idea that there is such a thing as a great literary work which deserves (after whatever vicissitudes) to be known as a classic. A few years ago I called the creative process the Outcast of the MLA. She is banned because if we talk about the creative process we not only admit the existence of the author but also have to admit the authority of the author. You haven't heard much mention at MLA, this last decade, of a monumental study of the creative process, Albert Rothenberg's The Emerging Goddess (Chicago, 1979). Hopkins, of all places, just published Rothenberg's new book Creativity and Madness, a popularization and an extension of the earlier book. Here he defines creativity as "the production of something that is both new and truly valuable." To many people in this room the idea that some art is more valuable than other art (outside of the auction room) is something that emerges profanely from the mouth of Senator Helms. I am still committed to the idea that some works of art are better than others. Worse, I still believe that the better the work of art the more apt it is to be of enduring cultural and political value.

The Heath anthology of course needs to be seen in the wider context of the writings of the New Historicists or more broadly those Frederick Crews calls the New Americanists. I would include some of Emory Elliott's contributors to the Columbia Literary History of the United States and some of the people who will be in Sacvan Bercovitch's Cambridge literary history. On the basis of the initial evidence I have been complaining that the New Americanists are producing, for the most part, literary history without the bother of historical research. Elliott says his contributors are storytellers, not truthtellers. When he says that, he is telling the truth. Robert Milder, the author of the Melville chapter, for instance, does not even refer to the great trove of biographical material available at the NYPL since 1983. Bercovitch has been extoling a particular history of the literary marketplace in the American Renaissance for which the author did absolutely no archival research into contracts and promotion tactics and distribution systems and sales figures, as if William Charvat had done all the research ever to be done. It is possible to feel that the New Americanists are taking the Celestial Railway to literary history, literary history without research, but with intense political correctness. Running through much writing and editing by the New Americanists is a wish that American society had been fairer all along, and a winsome notion that we can rewrite the past to make it right. In an "Extra" in American Literature Annette Kolodny put the case most strongly. We were to acquire somehow "an integrity of memory"--an integrity of national memory in which buried voices were heard as loud as Emerson's voice or Hawthorne's voice. Once, at the beginning of the 19th century, propagandists had envisioned the American National Literature that was yet to be written; in the middle of the century Melville complained that critics were still looking to the future instead of seeing that American literature was already being created; now at the end of the 20th century we are told to rewrite history so as to imagine that the oppressed, the forgotten, were always vivid, alive, and triumphant in the American collective memory. Close your eyes, and wish, wish, oh wish.

I must not be the only teacher who feels pressured to let other people vote my conscience. We all just got a flyer from SUNY Press on a book edited by Henry A. Giroux, Postmodernism, Feminism, and Cultural Politics: Redrawing Educational Boundaries. The flyer itself struck me as an effort to intimidate anyone who did not want to teach according to a prescribed political agenda. I have taught Emerson's "Self-Reliance" and Thoreau's "Life without Principle" in every survey class for a quarter century because there has never been a time when someone didn't want my proxy for one issue or another. In the Heath anthology some of the contributors seem to push on users a notion of political correctness at the cost of misusing the writers and distorting history. Melville is presented as a proletarian, writing books out of a bleeding social conscience, an enemy of "capitalism and slavery." I don't recognize this Melville. The Melville I know thought that the intrusion of contemporary issues into a literary work was always a mistake, as when he criticized the section of "Lycidas" on the corruption of the English church: "Mark the deforming effect of the intrusion of partizan topics & feelings of the day, however serious in import, into a poem otherwise of the first order of merit." I think what we see in the Heath Melville is what Barbara Herrnstein Smith might call adaptive misuse--misuse of Melville as--what? a nineteenth-century Jack Abbott? We know that Thoreau lost sleep--literally lost sleep--over the remanding of fugitive slaves to the South. As far as we know Melville never did: "Who aint a slave? Tell me that." Great writers do not always respond in the same ways to the same momentous political issues of their times, and I feel no compulsion to grade Hawthorne and Emerson and George Washington Harris on a chart of political correctness as established by me or anyone else. I think some members of this audience need to be reminded that American Literature professors can be decent, responsible people even if they didn't give their moral proxies away during the Nixon presidency and even if they refuse today to give their moral proxies to J. Hillis Miller, Stanley Fish, Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Annette Kolodny, to H. Bruce Franklin, to Phyllis Franklin, to Paul's contributors, to Winnie Mandela, to George F. Will, to Dan Quayle, to William Bennett, to Mike Royko, or even to Studs Turkel.

I want to talk more about the costs of political correctness. In the Heath anthology Carolyn Karcher says that Melville's father-in-law Lemuel Shaw was "a staunch defender of racial segregation and of the infamous Fugitive Slave Law." How is the student reading that supposed to feel? In 1850 the Fugitive Slave Bill could not have been adopted as part of the Compromise if in fact it had been infamous. Most Americans, even most of those who opposed slavery, accepted the bill as a necessity because their strongest commitment was to the preservation of the Union, not to a redress of a wrong built into the Constitution and plaguing every subsequent generation. Students need to know how profound the love of the union was, a decade before the Civil War began. In 1962 at the Boston Public Library I read through the coverage of the fugitive slave cases and learned that during the Sims case, in the spring of 1851, all the respectable newspapers of both parties, Democratic and Whig, were united in wanting Sims to be promptly and peacefully remanded. Put it another way: almost all respectable citizens thought the Law should be enforced in order to preserve the union. Only a couple of papers on the lunatic fringe advocated rescuing a fugitive slave or otherwise actively resisting the law--the Liberator and the Commonwealth. Yet only four years after the Sims case the Massachusetts legislature passed, over the veto of the governor, the Personal Liberty Act--the purpose of which was to nullify the Fugitive Slave Law. In those few years public opinion in Massachusetts had been reversed--by activists like Garrison and Parker and Phillips and Whittier. Thoreau helped. Such idealists achieved one of the most dramatic reversals of public opinion in American history. In the late 1960s, fresh from reading the thunderous denunciations of the Boston papers of the lunatic and incendiary "higher law" advocates, I was able, in class after class, to put into historical perspective the changes in public attitudes toward the war in Viet Nam. Here, in American history, was proof that a handful of people following their consciences could sway a majority to their side. When you tell a student only that the Fugitive Slave Law was infamous you distort history, and you close off any chance of using the past in order to illuminate wise changes in the present.

I confess to some wishful thinking of my own, a lingering hope that there can be an eleventh-grade high school class and a sophomore college class in which all students will have a chance to read works of American literature which have entered most deeply into the collective American consciousness--American scriptures. This is infinitely problematical. Franklin's autobiography became one of the American scriptures as soon as it was published. "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" became American scriptures as soon as they were published (and became a British scripture too--look at Dickens's early use of Irving). Thoreau's "Resistance to Civil Government" {a.k.a. "Civil Disobedience"), Hawthorne's "My Kinsman, Major Molineux," Melville's "Bartleby," became American scriptures much later. The canon, plainly, is shifting, and someday "Life without Principle" may be one of the great American scriptures. Maybe there never was a time when Americans were united by exposure to a common body of literature. Yet when I read Hart Crane' s "The Bridge" I sometimes think that some sort of national awareness of common literary classics may have emerged in 1910's and 1920's, when textbooks were pretty much of a piece, when the canon of American literature seemed more or less stable, when immigrant parents were determined that their children would be Americans, would speak only English. Voices were excluded from the textbooks which "everyone" read. Melville was excluded, most of the time Dickinson was excluded, and Whitman some of the time. But I wonder if there was not something powerful, healing, and uniting about a generation or two of youngsters all exposed to "Rip Van Winkle" and "Self-Reliance" and "Evangeline" and "The Barefoot Boy," no matter how removed such literature was from urban life or rural life as it had become. Whitman said: "The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it." Where I live Whitman is a bridge, and every time I hear the Philadelphia Shadow Traffic report I rejoice. You can't read the New York Times in the summer without encountering a reference to Melville, even if only for his Berkshire County house or even if, as in this last Sunday's Travel section, the journalist puts him in Indonesian waters he only dreamed of sailing. Whatever good there is in an ideal of a national literature, that good will be subverted by any anthology of doctrinaire voices of the politically correct.

I still hope that in later revisions the Norton Anthology of American Literature can represent still more diverse American voices than it does now--while at the same time acknowledging and perhaps enlarging the canon of works which are of enduring national importance, the nearest we can get to a body of national scriptures.

[Notes at end: “probably not use” . . . . Maybe I meant to put the latter part of this up with the part about the Heath contributors not being quite serious about diversity]

My criteria for greatness are of course debatable, but based on the consensus of many decades of lovers of American literature. In teaching I act on an elitist assumption--that there is at least a remote possibility that documents which afford rich, complex aesthetic experiences might also be the very documents most likely to work transforming enlightenment--social, cultural, political enlightenment--in earnest young students. Could Thoreau's "Life without Principle" possibly achieve Thoreau's aim--to encourage any hearer or reader to stand for principles against the pressures of the times, to resist the short cuts to wealth of any kind, to resist the pollution of the mind from the media? Paul Lauter says his students find Thoreau irrelevant; that's worse than the late 60's, when some students carried Walden around long after they were too zonked out to read any passage in it.

The best lessons come from the classics. During the Viet Nam war journalists and politicians beat their breasts lamenting that America had lost its national innocence, that for the first time in our history we were fighting an unjust war. Any historian and any teacher of American literature could point to the Whig outcries over Polk's invasion of Mexico and McKinley's invasion of the Philippines. Every two generations or so America had lost her virginity (as the commentators said) then magically had regained it as national memory faded. During the remanding of slaves to the South Thoreau had cast about to define what he had lost and had realized that what he had lost was a country. For years I carried about a Thermofax of Bill Gibson's 1940s article on Howells' and Mark Twain's opposition to the Spanish-American war, where he quoted Howells' lament at the loss of a national idealism and innocence. Robert Lowell and Norman Mailer have been making old discoveries. Teachers who saw a recurrent pattern could use writings by classic American authors to teach something immeasurably significant about the American national character--a pattern of slow arousal of conscience, of action on the basis of that conscience, and afterwards the pall of a collective amnesia.
When I wished the Reconstructing syllabi had included more establishment authors like Thomas Bailey Aldrich I wasn't asking for equal time for bigots. Then, in the depths of the first Reagan administration, I thought we might as well know how some of the kindly people who had voted for Reagan had learned to fear and hate some people less fortunate than themselves. It seemed to me that we could not learn that from reading the writings of labor agitators but we might get it from reading John Hay, Henry Adams, and even some of the xenophobic passages of the later Stowe. If we want to understand one of the dark sides of the American Psyche, I thought, we ought to be willing to go to any lengths--even to the extreme of reading some minor literature by representatives of the Establishment at different periods in our history. Now, when many teachers will want to say, and perhaps even do, something about homelessness in America it might be very good to teach Stephen Crane's "Experiment in Misery" and Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie, but it might do even better to teach some of the conservative voices of the 1870's and 1880's when unemployed people (many of them not native born) began wandering out of cities into small towns and rural areas looking for work and food, and creating what became known as the Tramp Menace. In December 1990 we are told of a shift in public opinion, a hardening of sensibility about the unemployed and the homeless. To teach practical compassion and well as idealism and sentimentality, we could do worse than to listen to some frightened and angry conservative voices that helped mold American public opinion--the voices of Harriet Beecher Stowe or John Hay, for example, or the ambivalent voice of Mary Wilkins in The Portion of Labor.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sally Bushell's TEXT AS PROCESS

Sally Bushell, Text as Process: Creative Composition in Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Dickinson.
(University of Virginia Press, 2009) xi + 302
19 illus. $55.00
Sally Bushell's first book was a re-reading of Wordsworth's The Excursion. Her new book, Text as Process, is much more ambitious. The "first study of this kind," she says, Text as Process "presents a methodology for the study of draft materials. In terms of future use it aims to provide a way of responding to textual process that can be widely used, disputed, and enlarged, forming the basis of a new subdiscipline" (2). Deeply attentive to German and French "advances" in textual theory, she "attempts to articulate a distinctive Anglo-American model" (6). She makes three claims for uniqueness. First (6), she will "provide a universal methodology with larger application than for the three poets used as case studies here" and will "provide a firm basis for an Anglo-American 'genetic' criticism underpinned by a philosophical account of the nature of process." Second (7), her book "compares European and Anglo-American editorial principles and draws on French genetic criticism as an underpinning for Anglo-American studies in a way that has not previously been undertaken." Third (7), a "claim for the book's originality lies in its self-conscious hermeneutical practice when analyzing draft materials."

Bushell ends "A Very Brief Conclusion: The Hermeneutic Circle" (237-238) with a tribute to Hans-Georg Gadamer and a quotation from Martin Heidegger: "In this chapter, as throughout the entire book, I have attempted to defend compositional process and to justify it as an area of study capable of sustaining and rewarding full literary interpretation. There is much more work to be done here, particularly in the light of Hans-Georg Gadamer's work on phenomenological hermeneutics. What is needed is a full development of a 'compositional hermeneutics' that might explore further the extent to which a specialist hermeneutic is needed for text as process, the extent to which this can or should be reconstructive rather than deconstructive, and the question of how far interpretative activity should seek to separate process from the final work of art. In this work, my primary aim has been to 'come into [the circle] in the right way,' but the ceaseless, turning act of understanding still goes on."

Bushell sees her book as addressing "multiple audiences" (8): "It will be working within familiar territory for textual scholars and theorists, who should be its most immediately receptive audience. It is also to be hoped, however, that the book will reach out to a larger readership by means of the individual authors used as case studies here and engage those working in the field of nineteenth-century literature who see before them a rich domain of surviving manuscript drafts but are not always sure how to journey through it." The "individual authors" she refers to are Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Dickinson, to whom she devotes substantial chapters.

Indeed, textual scholars and theorists will make up an attentive audience for much of Text as Process. In addition, the descriptions of the manuscripts of Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Dickinson will surely draw in some part of the "larger readership" Bushell hopes for. I suspect, however, that few enthusiasts for one of these writers will make it into other parts of the book. As my quotations make plain, this book will be tough going even for the textual specialist and quite intimidating to the general reader. Bushell writes in a style that will almost surely put off much of the audience she hopes to gain. No one will call Text as Process user-friendly.

I've had to struggle with the prose, even though I have strong incentive to comprehend the book because Bushell names Jack Stillinger and me as "the two Anglo-American scholars whose work seems most to anticipate this study." Here she is referring to two books by Stillinger, Multiple Authorship and the Myth of Solitary Genius (1991) and Coleridge and Textual Instability (1994), and to my Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons (1984). Her citing my book gives me license to "dispute" and "enlarge" as I discuss how we differ.

Stillinger in 1991 separated himself from me by declaring that I was the "most extreme theorist of textual primitivism to date"--so extreme that I sounded "very much like the Wordsworthian primitivists." (See 77-79 for Bushell's take on the Cornell Wordsworth and for her alliance with Stillinger.) In my textual isolation (blackballed during the formation of the Center for Scholarly Editions by Fredson Bowers for having asked the Center for Editions of American Authors to rescind the seal it had granted the Virginia Maggie) I had fought my way to thoughts more savage even than Jonathan Wordsworth's. Stillinger had the evidence: "In revising or allowing someone else to revise a literary work, especially after it has been thought of as complete, authors very often lose authority, with the result that familiar literary texts at some points have no meaning, only partially authorial meaning, or quite adventitious meaning unintended by the author or anyone else." This was heresy, and so was a formulation that had struck me as inoffensive past the point of banality: "Parker's basic premise, that 'genuine art is coherent' (23), seems extremely dubious."

Stillinger cited only one reviewer of my book, Gary Davenport in Sewanee Review. Of course, Davenport said, "the idea of the [perfect] text is an absolute necessity" if the study of literature is to make sense. If I had been right, the moment Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons was published all "the higher values of literary culture that have survived, somehow, from the beginnings of literacy to our Age of Information" would have shattered. That's what a savage I was, not just mistaken but "dangerously mistaken," a threat to Western Civilization if I had been right and to Gary Davenport just for saying what I did. Whew! Good thing I was wrong in arguing that some texts were not verbal icons! Plainly, I needed to be tamed.

There's nothing to tame you like grappling with a complicated book on great poets and textual theory where the author cites you as an anticipator, but I emerge with two big rough-and-ready objections. First, Bushell herself does not wrestle long enough or strenuously enough with arguments from any Anglo-American theorist who disagrees with her--that is, anyone who argues against James Thorpe, Jerome McGann, and Jack Stillinger. Anyone on the scene in the 1970s and 1980s knows that Thorpe's influence on McGann and Stillinger is pervasive. Bushell should have cited Thorpe and then between Thorpe and McGann she should perhaps have cited Donald Pizer, since Stillinger draws support from a series of Pizer's Thorpe-influenced reviews. All these pretty much agree that, as Thorpe says in Principles of Textual Criticism, literary integrity is conferred on a work by publication (38) and that a work of art is "always tending toward a collaborative status" (48).

Bushell's citing my book (now a quarter century old) would have dumbfounded me three or four years ago. Blackballed already from the CSE, my once-vast exposure to new textual problems cut short, I was drummed out of textual theory in the mid-1980s by the reviewers of Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons. Everyone wanted to batter some vital part, it seemed, but I could not but by annihilating die. That blow was provided by G. Thomas Tanselle in Studies in Bibliography (1986): "McGann's book, despite its incoherence, calls attention to a fundamental theoretical issue, whereas Parker's book, though far better written and organized, is primarily of interest for its detailed case histories, not because its basic thesis is of theoretical significance." Where could I hide? I became a biographer. Surely the New Criticism was dead and reviewers would be grateful for new documentation about unknown episodes in Melville's life.

Then in 2007 I edged between a bed and my host David Greetham's bookshelves and found that Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons was not forgotten, and that it had been determined to be, after all, of some theoretical significance. I soon discovered what happened when you type a title into Google Books or Amazon Books. Amazing! Every year for a decade and more, Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons is quoted by an astonishing range of scholars who find that it applies to problems in their fields. One teacher mines it for "a stunning set of examples of editorial and compositorial histories" for use in "The Bible in Western Civilization." It is repeatedly cited by Biblical scholars (even the editors of Exodus), classicists, medievalists, and Shakespeareans, as well as what you would expect, specialists in many modern British and American writers. It is cited by students of ethnopoetics, by musicologists, by students of "conservation," and, wonder of wonders, by many textual theorists. Dozens of scholars now excitedly apply Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons to textual situations they have recognized in their own fields. What a Quarterly Report, after such an early trashing! Unlike these dozens of writers, Bushell never once tests my book by applying some part of it to a problem she is facing. She cites me as predecessor but does not deal with my ideas.

What Bushell says about Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons exposes a persistent evasiveness that weakens the book. Quite early (17) she says that she has already "discussed in the introduction" my method for responding to New Criticism. No. Back in the introduction she had in fact asserted that I treated the author "in a remarkably judgmental way" then (rather than developing a discussion) a dozen lines later she circled around to declare that I could "be extremely judgmental of both authors and critics" (4). This sentence is her evidence of my being judgmental: "If writers fail to achieve their full intentions during composition, they are even more likely to damage parts of what they had achieved when they belatedly alter a text." Bushell does not discuss my position, and discussion is needed.

I based what I said on my examination of how famous writers of American fiction behaved. My evidence showed that writers would agree to almost anything as long as they did not have to try to involve themselves deeply in a book they thought they had finished. The question attributed to Theodore Dreiser says it all: "What's 50,000 words between friends?" So much for the writer's agonizing over the aesthetic and rhetorical incoherencies resulting from hundreds of excisions. Sister Carrie as printed in 1900 was much shorter than the typescript, for helping editorial hands chopped out hundreds of passages, including some sixty passages about Carrie's motivations and some seventy passages analyzing Hurstwood. In the 1900 text dozens of passages are left with broken syntax dangling, referents lost, topics skewed. Chop out a hunk of prose, toss it aside, and slap the raw edges of the last words before the cut up against the first words after the cut and trust that they will heal up. No tying veins and arteries, just slapping together--that was the process by which the Sister Carrie typescript version was massacred as it was prepared for print. This is treating prose like Spam or processed cheese food. We think of Dreiser as a notoriously cloddish writer, but many snags in syntax, gaps in continuity, and worse faults were imposed upon his text in the "socializing" process. Sister Carrie as Dreiser wrote it is much longer but perhaps can be read faster because the reader is not even subliminally distracted by editorially imposed clumsinesses.

Even writers more attuned than Dreiser to aesthetic consequences of deleting and inserting and moving hunks of prose around will, under pressure, agree to do things or decide themselves to do things which result in impossible, unintended meanings. Almost never will a writer read all through a reordered book, for instance, to see the effects of changes, whyever they were made. Unintended meanings, you would gather from Bushell's book, are phantom things, not real live demonstrable things. In her elaborate comments there is nothing more specific about "unintended meaning" than the assertion that it "occurs within, and as a by-product of, the intentional complex. It exists in the form of embodied acts on the page but contains meaning not necessarily attributable to the writer's intentional acts" (66). She circles back later (her circling seems characteristic) to declare that "the unintentional is brought into being as a kind of 'by-product' of intention." Such "unintended meaning," she says, "is strongly temporal and temporary within the creative process" (67). No. If you want to see real unintended meanings go to texts where hunks have been deleted in the socializing process and the unintended meanings have misled readers for decades or centuries. Look there for discontinuities such as lost or distorted referents such as the late Henry Binder and I called attention in the 1895 The Red Badge of Courage. Real unintended meanings are permanently embodied in many a published (socialized) text. Writers do the best they can to protect their texts, but their power is limited.

Real living writers understand what I was saying in Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons. Here is a note I received in 2006 from James Hime, a mystery writer, an Edgar finalist, author most recently of Where Armadillos Go to Die: "Your book is more frightening to a writer than anything written by Stephen King or Thomas Harris. Anyone who has struggled with the urge to do what is required to get published, or to satisfy an agent's or editor's power lust, knows how easy it is to succumb to a 'you-must-destroy-the-village-in-order-to-save-it' proposition from the devil. When haunted by the thought that the manuscript that lies moldering under the bed may never see the light of day, any outrage or betrayal seems possible, indeed, justifiable. After reading Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons I looked in the mirror and said, on behalf of all writers, 'Guilty as charged.'" Yes, I was judgmental (and funny about it, downright sympathetic, I had thought), but I was absolutely right. Bushell cited me but did not engage the issues.

Bushell does not acknowledge that a book called Text as Process ought to deal seriously with the author's intention during the creative process, the phase when a writer is actively working on something and trying to complete it. Michael Hancher's "Three Kinds of Intention" achieved an undeserved fame when G. Thomas Tanselle sanctioned its categories in Studies in Bibliography. On 248 Bushell quotes my arguments against Hancher (although removing the emphasis from "during" which I here restore): "Hershel Parker also engages with Hancher but criticizes him for not allowing for a fully active intention within composition: 'Hancher can accommodate the period before the composition, the moment of completion, and the indefinite period afterwards; but DURING [in this blog I substitute caps for italics]--the ongoing creative process itself--has no place in his theory.'" (My next sentence reads: "For all practical purposes he does not seem to believe there is any such thing as the creative process.") What does Bushell's "but" mean? I engage Hancher "but criticize him." "But" makes it clear that Bushell has shut the valves of her attention just when she most needs to be alert to the possible value of my point. No more than Hancher does she want to focus on what the writer does during the creative process. Perhaps her removal of my italics is subliminal, but (or "and") significant.

When she quotes me Bushell repeatedly deflects attention from what I say or else she gets what I say askew: "Parker almost always focuses on the text immediately before publication or in its development around the act of publication, with authorial intentionality 'built into the words of a literary work during the process of composition'" (3). I don't recognize this "Parker." I am rarely concerned with the text immediately before publication; rather, I am concerned with the text during the process of composition and with the text as the writer completes it. The wording "its development around the act of publication" is alien to my way of thinking. Is this James Thorpe talk, or his follower Jerome McGann talk, or Jack Stillinger talk? I do not think much "development" occurs "around" the act of publication, whatever "around the act of publication" can mean. It sounds as if Bushell has so internalized (by way of McGann and Stillinger) the Thorpe notion of the socialized text (the text as the result of whatever anyone did to it after it left the author's hands) that she cannot focus long on what I really say. Her own fixation is on publication and mine is on composition. Bushell seems very uncomfortable dealing with the idea of anything going on during a "creative process" and drops it like, well, a savage thought.

A similar shiftiness, almost a sleight-of-hand, comes out in Bushell's comments on the Cornell Wordsworth where, I think, she misuses the word "draft" (78). Cornell is publishing "draft material," or in Laurent Jenny's term Cornell is publishing "pre-texts." This reminds me of Fredson Bowers's declaring that the Pragmatism manuscripts were "something close to drafts," in so "rough" a state of inscription that they could not "be thought of as normal authorial printer's copy." But in fact the Houghton "manuscripts" were the "authorial printer's copy" from which the real living compositors set very nicely (see their stint marks!), although they misread the manuscript at a few points where what William James wrote is clear even to my eyes. Not even bothering to collate the manuscript, much less choosing to print from it, Bowers perpetuated these compositorial errors in the Harvard University Press Pragmatism. In a similar spirit, although not in such bullheaded, wrongheaded folly, Bushell argues that for Wordsworth "there is no such thing as absolute completion" (79). "Draft" as she uses it means the result of the creative process, what the author had achieved when he was done with the thing.

You can see clearly how little Bushell and I have in common by the way we talk about the end of the creative process. Bushell finds it impossible to talk seriously about an end ever coming to the creative process. The title of her section "Dickinson's Anti-Telos" is susceptible of different readings, but she is saying that Dickinson is "'anti-teleological'"--opposed to endings or completion (179). (This, most folks will agree, is not a friendly way to talk about Dickinson, the poet who plundered Shakespeare for gorgeous words.) Bushell holds (181) that "the act of completion, and the production of a single 'fixed' version of a work, may not be as absolute for a writer as it might seem to be to the reader of that work." When she considers the poems where the manuscripts show multiple "candidates" (Dickinson's term) for placement in the final poem, the perfect word not yet arrived "unsummoned," she seems to forget that Dickinson did after all leave such poems. Completion for Bushell, pretty much as for Thorpe, McGann, and Stillinger, is accomplished by publication, for she continues: "Nonetheless, if an act of completion results in an act of publication, then a work is released into the public arena at a certain point of time." Her unwillingness to imagine the writer engaged in completing a literary work comes out in her word choices (181): "Closely related to the writer's ability, or willingness, to bring a work to a single fixed state must be the question of creative judgment." She is talking about the writer's creative judgment as if it were wholly rational, and she talks as if for every writer there is "a judgment of completion and a judgment of readiness for public reception."

My second main objection is that while Bushell works through French and German textual theory and at least cites Anglo-American textualists, she does not work with evidence from other fields at all. She ought to have looked at what scientists have discovered about cognitive psychology and about memory, for example, and especially about the creative process. We need all the help we can get from people who study the way the human mind works in the act of creating literature.

All through the late 1960s and the 1970s I was on a quest to discover some writer on the creative process whose arguments I could apply to what I was learning about the finality of the creative process from studying manuscripts of American and some English writers. "Sober second thoughts," I had learned early, were apt to be disruptive to any unity that had been achieved the first time round. I was gradually realizing that this meant that W. W. Greg's rationale was inadequate--perfect for incorporating later corrections into the text the writer completed, quite useless for dealing with later revisions. In the 1970s what you found on creativity was usually pathetic ("How to Have a More Creative Child"; "Free Your Creative Powers"), so for a few years I kept citing the best I could find, a challenging short discussion by John Dewey in Art as Experience. Early in 1981 a librarian showed me a review of Albert Rothenberg's The Emerging Goddess: The Creative Process in Art, Science, and Other Fields (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, l979). "You are going to like this," she said smugly. Glory be! what a wonderful book! Chapter 13 should be the beginning textual student's Bible. And Rothenberg, I found from a footnote, in 1969 had published a monograph-length article, "The Iceman Changeth: Toward an Empirical Approach to Creativity," in which he had worked through many of the problems I had been wrestling with at the same time. His study in the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association had been ignored by the annual American Literary Scholarship (which is supposed to look at everything published) and by all the O'Neill critics I could find. How I would have cherished that article if I had seen it back then! How grateful I was when I got my copy of The Emerging Goddess on 9 March 1981!

In The Emerging Goddess Rothenberg's evidence dwarfed my own attempts to think my way through the creative process based on textual histories of a few dozen American novels, but our conclusions were identical. I could slap down vivid illustrations of almost everything Rothenberg said. The only place we diverged was on the New Criticism, and that was because as a Yale man Rothenberg was a little too deferential to some of the original New Critics whom he knew personally. I felt liberated, and felt oddly loved: at last someone I respected understood what I had been thinking and saying, and was saying it better than I had.

Bushell ought to have tested her description of the author as rational, judicious self-critic against this description in Rothenberg (370): "Beginning with undifferentiated knowledge and experience, the creator proceeds through differentiation and joining, expansion and constriction, stray pathways and returns, diffusions and sharpenings, fantasy and reality, world visions and narrow technical concerns, cultural concerns and individual preoccupations, art styles and personal styles, arousal and ratiocination, abstraction and concretation, breaking and making. Always, as there are factors and processes tending toward diffusion and expansion, there are equally strong factors and processes directed toward differentiation and joining."

While Bushell evades the "during" process, just as Hancher does, Rothenberg describes it, and defines some stages in it: "the creative process involves increasing anxiety as it progresses. The creator engages in a task that makes him increasingly anxious as he pushes forward. And, as we know, he does this again and again, usually taking up another creative task as soon as he has finished the last one." This corresponds with what I had observed in American fiction writers. The creative process, like any other process, ends--assuming always that the writer continued in it until he finished the work. One creative process ends, and the writer begins another. The earlier one is off his mind, often, long before it is off his hands. The creative process ends with absolute finality. The writer is done with the thing, and trying to regain even partial control is almost always repugnant to the writer.

Since she was supposedly using me, Bushell ought to have paid attention to my discovery of allies among cognitive psychologists such as James J. Gibson and Eleanor J. Gibson, particularly his The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems (1966). Heartened by Rothenberg, I was consulting a colleague for something useful on memory when he handed me Ulric Neisser's hot-off-the-press Memory Observed (1982)--a wonderful book, you see at once, for any lover of Henry James. I incorporated in Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons the best that I could find from workers in these related fields. I have not kept up with advances, but surely there must be new work to draw from for someone like Bushell. I think now that a book called Text as Process which does not draw on wise work in related fields such as aesthetics, creativity, cognition, and memory, and which does not grapple with objections to the Thorpe-McGann-Stillinger line of textual theory, cannot become the sort of model that Bushell wants her book to be. Since I want to see Bushell grappling with textual tangles and communicating vividly about them, I respectfully suggest that as she writes her next book she take to heart Jim's question to Huck about the Frenchman. Why can't a textual theorist talk like a man or a woman?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Irresponsible Reviewers Series--Brodhead, Delbanco, & Schultz

In the old days if someone printed an error about a historical event, say, in a newspaper or magazine you could try to get a correction printed in the same paper or magazine. Now, errors put into print in (say in a review of a book) frequently live for years, fresh as ever every day, on the Internet. Is there any way of scotching this snake? Hopeless to think of killing it?

Early in the twenty-first century three prominent Melville critics, Richard Brodhead, Andrew Delbanco, and Elizabeth Schultz, warned that my biography of Melville was unreliable by citing my treatment of the lost The Isle of the Cross (1853) and the lost Poems (1860). The second of these reviewers, Delbanco, did not cite the earliest, Brodhead, as his authority, and Schultz cited neither Brodhead nor Delbanco.

Brodhead in the New York Times for 23 June 2002 disparaged “Parker's surmises about works Melville never published that did not survive”:

“He makes the case that in 1852-53 Melville wrote a novel based on materials he shared with Hawthorne about a sailor who deserted his wife. If this is true, then the theory that Melville renounced writing after ‘Pierre’ is just wrong, and the mysterious leap from ‘Pierre’ to the work he published after a silence, the very different ‘Bartleby the Scrivener,’ can be explained in a new way. [This “insight” is not Brodhead’s but mine; “as Parker says” would have made that clear.] Parker is also convinced that Melville prepared a volume of poems in 1860 that failed to be published. If this is so, a stretch that had seemed empty of literary strivings was instead a time of new effort and new failure--a black hole Parker alone has the instruments to detect.”

Similarly, Andrew Delbanco in the New Republic (September 2002) warned that my second volume, like the first, “must be used with caution”:

“For one thing, Parker is amazingly certain of his own conclusions. . . . He is sure that immediately after completing Pierre, Melville wrote an unpublished novel (Parker implies that after failing to find a publisher, Melville burned it) inspired by a story he had heard about a sailor who disappears for thirty years, then returns to the wife for whom he has become a distant memory. He is sure that when Melville traveled by slow boat [“slow boat is a romantic intrusion] to San Francisco in 1860, he expected to find waiting for him a finished copy of a book of poems that he had entrusted in manuscript to his brother for transmission to his publishers before leaving the East. (Such a book was never published--and it is a surmise that Melville ever wrote it.) . . . . In short, Parker trusts his own intuition completely, and, presenting inferences as facts, he expects his readers to trust it, too.”

Brodhead and Delbanco refrained even from naming The Isle of the Cross, as if the title gave it too much actuality. Elizabeth Schultz in The Common Review (Winter 2002) mentioned the title skeptically in her complaint:

“Parker also reads betrayal and despair into the disappearance of two manuscripts, which he contends Melville completed--a novel, putatively titled The Isle of the Cross, and his first collection of poems. Throughout his biography, Parker bemoans the loss of The Isle of the Cross's ghostly manuscript, imagining Melville's regret at never having found a publisher for it. [But where throughout the biography are these ghostly references?] Although there is only tentative evidence for the manuscript's existence and submission to a publisher, its ostensible rejection leads Parker to view his heroic author as victimized: ‘masterful as he could be, [Melville] had a way now, after the failure of Moby-Dick and Pierre, of seeing himself as passive victim to whom things were done.’"

In their implication that I had invented these lost books none of these three reviewers mentioned the existence of any documentary evidence that earlier scholars and I had brought forward concerning these same two lost books.

All three critics, Brodhead, Delbanco, and Schultz, ignored a full half century of accumulating evidence about the book Melville completed in 1853, the book he had tried to get Hawthorne to write but had decided in December 1852 to write himself. (It was 1987 when I found the title The Isle of the Cross.) All three ignored extensive evidence about Poems, most of which had been available for eight decades. To ignore the work of generations of dedicated scholars comes close to being a mortal sin, it seems to me. To ignore their work is to erase their lives.

In their 1960 LETTERS, Merrell R. Davis and William H. Gilman showed that Melville had taken a book to the Harpers in the spring of 1853 but had been prevented from publishing it and still had the manuscript when he wrote the Harpers on 24 November 1853. Merton M. Sealts, Jr., building upon work by Harrison Hayford in 1946, concluded in his 1987 "Historical Note" to the Northwestern-Newberry "The Piazza Tales" and Other Prose Pieces, 1839-1860 that Melville had completed the “Agatha” story. Sealts managed to narrow the completion date to around May 1853, demonstrating, on the basis of available evidence, that Melville had offered to the Harpers in June 1853 a new book which he still had in his possession that November in manuscript. Sealts quoted the forthright assertion at the start of Melville’s letter to the Harpers on 24 November 1853: “In addition to the work which I took to New York last Spring, but which I was prevented from printing at that time; I have now in hand, and pretty well on towards completion, another book—300 pages, say—partly of nautical adventure, and partly—or, rather, chiefly, of Tortoise Hunting Adventure.” Then Sealts commented: “The opening sentence of this letter would seem to indicate that Melville still had ‘in hand’ the unpublished work of the previous spring; if so, he had not at this point destroyed the manuscript.”

In 1987, just after Sealts’s “Historical Note” went to press, in the course of transcribing Melville’s cousin Priscilla’s letters to his sister Augusta, I found that Augusta Melville’s letter to Priscilla on 6 April 1853 had mentioned Herman’s new manuscript as near completion. Consequently Priscilla for weeks afterwards had “constantly” looked in “the journals & magazines” that reached her in isolated Canandaigua, New York, hoping to see notices. On 22 May she asked eagerly: “When will the ‘Isle of the Cross’ make its appearance?” Her letter reached Arrowhead on 26 May, and Augusta replied four days later, telling her that Bessie, the third Melville child, had been born on the 22nd and that Herman had completed his book. In her reply on 12 June Priscilla commented: “the ‘Isle of the Cross’ is almost a twin sister of the little one & I think she should be nam’d for the heroine—if there is such a personage—the advent of the two are singularly near together.” Some time passed before the manuscript was in good order and Melville felt he could be away from his family and the farm. It was around 6 or 7 June when he left with the manuscript for New York, very much as Sealts had said. In the same 1990 issue of American Literature where Parker published the new evidence for the title and date of completion, Gary Scharnhorst announced his discovery that on 11 June the Springfield Daily Republican had reported regional news: “Herman Melville has gone to New York to superintend the issue of a new work.” On 14 June (as Scott Norsworthy discovered in 2001) the Daily Evening Transcript repeated the news for Bostonians : “Herman Melville has gone to New York to superintend the issue of a new work.” The newspaper items in themselves are not conclusive, but in conjunction with Priscilla’s letters and with Melville’s own comments in November, where he implies the unpublished manuscript he was prevented from publishing was a book (in the same class as “another book” he was engaged on in November), the matter should have been settled. For Sealts and Hayford the matter was settled after Parker’s discoveries, before the news reports were found, although the fate of The Isle of the Cross was left as mysterious as ever. In his February 1990 “A Supplementary Note to Melville’s Reading (1988)” Sealts added a note to his earlier assertion that in June 1853 Melville took to New York “for submission to Harper and Brothers a book-length manuscript”: “Hershel Parker, working with Augusta Melville’s correspondence as recently added to the Gansevoort-Lansing Collection, New York Public Library, has established that this work was in fact ‘completed under the title of The Isle of the Cross.’”

Sealts’s use of the words “in fact” revealed his bias: he believed that sometimes archival evidence could reveal historical and biographical truth. Sealts knew that he was writing at a time when many academicians professed not to believe that any historical or biographical truth could ever be established. The repudiation of biographical information by the New Critics in the 1940s and 1950s and their successors through the New Historicists in the 1980s and 1990s had, after half a century and more, resulted in a professoriat which far too often not only did not know how to conduct archival research but was skeptical that any new information could be gained from archival research.

When he wrote his 1921 biography of Melville, Raymond Weaver had not known about POEMS (1860); his primary source of family information, Melville's granddaughter Eleanor Thomas Metcalf, treated Poems at length in her 1953 book, Herman Melville: Cycle and Epicycle, but she apparently had not learned about it in time to tell Weaver. The evidence had rested, unread, in the Duyckinck Collection in the New York Public Library until 1922, the year after Weaver’s biography appeared, when Meade Minnigerode published Some Personal Letters of Herman Melville and a Bibliography (New York: Brick Row). There he printed documents that showed that Melville had completed a volume of poetry early in 1860 and left it to be published when he sailed with his brother Thomas around Cape Horn. The documents included Melville’s two letters to Evert A. Duyckinck asking if he would “lend something of an overseeing eye” to the launching of his new manuscript and telling him to expect to hear from Mrs. Melville. Minnigerode also printed three detailed letters from Elizabeth Shaw Melville to Duyckinck and, very tellingly, her copy of a letter Melville wrote to his brother Allan: “Memoranda for Allan Concerning the publication of my verses,” twelve specific directions. (In one of her letters Mrs. Melville later conveyed a thirteenth directive directly to Duyckinck.) The documents printed in 1922 show that Duyckinck submitted the manuscript to at least two New York publishers. In what became a standard anthology, often used as a textbook, Melville: Representative Selections (1938), Willard Thorp reprinted or summarized this evidence. Thereafter, the fact that Melville had completed a volume of poems in 1860 was familiar to Jay Leyda (who in The Melville Log published additional evidence, the letter from Charles Scribner rejecting Melville's Poems), to Leon Howard, Eleanor Metcalf, Walter E. Bezanson, Merrell R. Davis and William H. Gilman (the joint editors of Melville's Letters), Harrison Hayford, Merton M. Sealts, Jr., and Hershel Parker—that is, to all Melville scholars after Thorp, and even to many critics who had not worked with Melville documents themselves or would not have seen Minnigerode’s book. It seemed that no one could deny the existence of Poems except by demonstrating that the documents Minnigerode discovered (and the later-discovered letter from Scribner) were forgeries, part of a gigantic hoax on Melville scholars.

The claims made in 2002 and 2003 that THE ISLE OF THE CROSS and the 1860 POEMS had only a hypothetical existence were published in the New York Times and in influential magazines, just where they could most seriously mislead the general literary community and Melville critics, including the reviewers who read at least the early review in the Times. But the existence of Poems in 1860 is simple fact, inarguable to anyone who believes there is such a thing as verifiable biographical fact. A few decades ago scholars could hope at least that a printed correction would ultimately scotch the snake of error, if not kill it. In the twenty-first century errors in reviews are almost uncorrectable, for false statements may continue to mislead incalculable numbers of readers during an extended afterlife on the Internet, where an eager new Melvillean of the indefinite future may encounter even the most inaccurate review without the advantage of a warning label.

Weirdly, Andrew Delbanco in his 2005 MELVILLE: HIS WORLD AND WORK (208) refers to “a novel-length manuscript, now lost, submitted . . . to Harper’s under the title The Isle of the Cross.” Eerily, on 266-267 he refers to “a small manuscript” of poems Melville asked his brother Allan to place with a publisher when he sailed for San Francisco in 1860, although he does not give Melville’s title, POEMS.

Nowhere does Andrew Delbanco explain his sudden rich knowledge of Melville’s world and work between 2002 and 2005, or apologize for his trashing of my reputation for careful scholarship. Is it odd that in the advance proofs of his MELVILLE: HIS WORLD AND WORK there was no mention of my contribution to Melville scholarship at all?

Richard Brodhead and Elizabeth Schultz have not recanted their reviews, as far as I know, and no one of the three has explained whether or not any two or all three consulted about their decision to base their discrediting of my biography on my discussion of the very real but lost THE ISLE OF THE CROSS and POEMS.

On 17 February 2011 the President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences announced that this same Richard Brodhead has been named as Chairman of the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, charged “to bolster teaching and research.” Does no one at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences have a sense of irony or a sense of humor?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Comment on James W. Loewen's LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (Paperback)

I am copying this from Amazon comments on the paperback.

Today I received the routine Amazon invitation to review LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME because I had bought it. I have been brooding about the book for the last weeks, so I can write at least a short hasty personal response to a chapter that happened to fall open when I took up the book. It may not be typical of what Loewen does in other chapters.

When my paperback copy of LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME arrived it fell open to 172-173--and stayed open, for it is a surprisingly well-bound book, for a paperback, a book easy to use. I read on 173 that in the mid-1850s slaveholders from Missouri had established "a reign of terror" to drive free-soil farmers out of Kansas. In May 1856, I read, "hundreds of proslavery 'border ruffians'" raided free-soil Lawrence, "burning down the hotel and destroying two printing presses." Loewen quotes an old textbook on the retaliation: "a militant abolitionist named John Brown led a midnight attack on the proslavery settlement of Pottawatomie. Five people were killed by Brown and his followers." That's all I see about the killings at Pottawatomie at that point. Loewen goes on to focus on whether or not Brown was crazy in 1859, when he led a raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry in which five "people" were killed. Rather than being crazy, Loewen thinks, "Brown provided the nation graceful instruction in how to face death." He raises the possibility that textbooks "should not portray this murderer as a hero," "murderer" only in reference to those killed at Harper's Ferry. Later Loewen explains that previous textbooks have told what Brown did at Pottawatomie, "where he was the attacker," and make it seem that "Brown's Pottawatomie killings" were "unmotivated." I kept looking in Loewen for a full account of what Brown did at Pottawatomie and did not find it.

Does it matter what happened at Pottawatomie? It mattered to me when I was editing Thoreau selections for the first edition of THE NORTON ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN LITERATURE even while Nixon was still drawing out the war in Viet Nam. I put Thoreau's most radical essays into the first edition (1979), and kept them in as long as teachers did not demand that they be excluded as irrelevant to their teaching plans. I wanted the selections to show the consistency or inconsistency in Thoreau's attitudes toward how he could change society. I wanted to know how much he and the other Concord abolitionists knew about Pottawatomie, and in those years before newspaper databases spent some weeks looking for accounts of Pottawatomie. I wanted to know what Thoreau was willing to ignore or justify as he wrote his plea for Captain John Brown. I was particularly interested in showing whether or not he was ever willing to let someone else vote his proxy.

In the first edition of NAAL (1979) I gave this account of the background out of which Brown "assumed near-mythic dimensions in the American consciousness as madman-saint": "In May, 1856, at Pottawatomie Creek, John Brown routed five men and boys out of their cabins by night and murdered them in cold blood. Kansans knew who led the massacre, but news reached the rest of the nation in imperfect form and was played down by papers sympathetic to the antislavery forces. When Brown went east in 1857, 1858, and 1859, acquaintances of Emerson and Thoreau supplied him with money for guns. Probably ignorant of Pottawatomie (Brown's guilt was suppressed until 1879), Thoreau easily justified the Harpers Ferry raid." In the second edition (1985) I changed "Probably" to "Possibly" on the basis of more research in newspapers and after consulting the best Thoreau experts. Thoreau probably knew and probably was willing to overlook those murders because Brown was a hero to him, a man willing to act on principle. In his "Plea" Thoreau demanded: "Do the thousands who know him best, who have rejoiced at his deeds in Kansas, and have afforded him material aid there, think him insane?" I don't see how you can teach Thoreau powerfully unless you grapple with Brown's ordering his sons and others to hack men (and one boy?) to death with sabres or machetes. All this you find on Google now and can probably find more in some newspaper databases, although a quick look at America's Historical Newspapers database was unproductive just now. Fultonhistory.com? The Gale site?

What did Thoreau know and when did he know it? And does it matter for how we see his life and ideas? Focusing on Pottawatomie as well as on Harpers Ferry is a powerful way of teaching the essential Thoreau. Should we read the rapturous "A Plea for Captain John Brown" as the near-hysteria of one who had not acted boldly, himself, although he had one spent a night in jail? Is "A Plea for Captain John Brown" nearly insane? Idealistic people can go crazy from living in prolonged, unwilling complicity to evil, as many now-PC folks may feel they came close to doing, or actually did, during the Viet Nam years, during Watergate, during, they might say, Reagan's systematic deregulation, or during the presidency of the second Bush. Under the prolonged horror of living in a slave society did Thoreau stop being Thoreau, who would never, in his early years, have let someone else vote his proxy? In 1859 was Thoreau a hero in the light of his own early principles?

Years later, in 1997, while Captain Paul Watson was in a Dutch jail fighting extradition to Norway (on charges interestingly hard to pin down, using Google), I put on reserve copies of Watson's OCEAN WARRIOR and EARTH WARRIOR and asked students to decide if Thoreau in supporting Brown unconditionally was acting in a Thoreauvian manner. Is Paul Watson now being more Thoreauvian than the late Thoreau who was increasingly weakened by tuberculosis and willing to rely on others to act out his principles? Watson was soon freed from the Dutch jail. Years later he survived my feeding him sourdough blueberry pancakes and now is fighting the Japanese whaling fleet in the Antarctic to at least a temporary standstill. A hero. When Bob Barker gives him big money to carry on the crusade against whaling, is Barker, like the late Thoreau, letting someone else vote his proxy? Are those of us who send the Sea Shepherd society a little money letting Paul Watson vote our consciences when we might more actively be fighting Japanese whaling ourselves on the STEVE IRWIN or through safer means, since we know that the Japanese are slaughtering whales for their meat, certainly not for "research" on the habits of whales? A student can be powerfully challenged to read Thoreau in the light of Watson or other obsessed, dedicated or even fanatical heroes who value their lives less than their causes.

Pottawatomie and Harpers Ferry give teachers a chance to weigh momentous issues. Thoreau's "A Plea for Captain John Brown" can provide "teaching moments" that transform students' lives--but only if history is honestly taught. Loewen is so anxious to make Brown an American saint, as Thoreau did, that he suppresses history at least in this instance. Granted, news of Pottawatomie was suppressed in 1856, although information was out in at least one major eastern newspaper, I found, before being systematically suppressed for many years (apparently, Google confirms, until 1879). Untold stories, suppressed stories, dangerous stories, moral ambiguities--they all ought to be part of any book called LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Style and Sex in G. W. Harris's Sheriff Doltin Sequence

Hershel Parker
On academic visits South I used to claim to be a Faulkner critic, according to my self-servingly stringent definition--anyone who had published at least three pages in an issue of Mississippi Quarterly edited by James B. Meriwether then had been argued with in print by Cleanth Brooks. My record as a George Washington Harris critic may look still more meager (the editing of a few Harris tales for the Norton Anthology of American Literature), but I have qualifications for writing on Harris shared by few. My mother learned to talk in a part of Mississippi where one of the pronouns is "hit," and my father learned to talk in the part of Oklahoma where people get frogs in their "froat" in bad weather. When I was in the eighth grade, I discovered that the pronunciation charts for vowels in Webster's Third Collegiate Dictionary were all wrong--the start of my career as a textual scholar. If you pronounced according to those charts, you couldn't eat aigs for breakfast or run away on your laigs, much less drive a tin pinny nail straight. On the other hand, I have some disqualifications. Harris helped to do in a lot of my Cherokee kinfolks, and I do not enjoy hearing Sut Lovengood on "Injuns," "niggers," or the "Israelite" who "vash not Levi Shacobs." (l use "Lovengood" because that was the way the name appeared in early newspaper printings.)

But anyone with a sense of history must deal with such passages In Harris as they do with similar passages in Shakespeare, Milton, and Wordsworth, without roiling in self-righteousness, Moral superiority to great artists is not one of our more admirable stances. And in the face of political correctness, I take Harris to be one of the greatest American artists. In saying this, I assume that men and women become professors of American and British literature because they love to read literature and love most of all to read that literature which most challenges and offers the most intense rewards--usually, the literature that generations of readers, or at least some fine readers in different generations, have identified as extraordinary, great, in one way or another. I assume also that professors of American and British literature as a matter of course try to surmount their own limitations of background and experience so as to comprehend attitudes relating to race, class, gender, genre, and style as they vary over decades and centuries, determined to understand as fully as possible before judging. Those assumptions, I acknowledge, are not universally shared among professors, many of whom in recent years have repudiated the very idea of literary greatness. Such professors, and those professors who have transformed some English departments into cultural studies departments, have not yet shown much interest in reading George Washington Harris sympathetically, however significant the role he played in forming mass American culture. Even undoctrinaire readers, those who try to listen sympathetically to diverse voices of the past, will have to overcome moral obstacles before enjoying the Sut Lovengood stories, as I do when I deal with Harris's behavior toward Cherokees in real life and Sut's attitude toward Injuns in Harris's fiction. I knew, in my youth, one Indian ancestor born to survivors of the Trail of Tears, and in 1994 I have a living half-Indian aunt, as old as the century, born in Indian Territory, whose mother was deprived of her tribal rights by white chicanery. [2011: She lived in three centuries, it turned out, but not very long in two of them.] Were I interested in feeling victimized, I could find grounds for not reading George Washington Harris. But by politically correct standards, no one in nineteenth-century American literature can escape whipping--not the sexist Hawthorne, sure that women should not try to think; not the bigoted Stowe, appalled at the immigration of Europeans who did not speak English; not anyone. If we decide to avoid reading and teaching once-popular or once-respected writers because we are morally superior to them, we quickly run out of people to read and teach. As we get older, most of us begin to accept our benighted parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents (as long as their behavior stops shy of criminality) rather than shunning them because their social views are less enlightened than ours at any given moment. Any best-selling therapy book tells us that if we write off our families we cut ourselves off from our own histories and go through life as less than whole human beings. In similar ways, writing off our great writers diminishes us personally and very quickly diminishes us as teachers.

Of course even very competent writers can be so driven by bigotry, by sheer hatred, that any reader would want to avoid them, most of the time, the way a decent person may avoid any slasher movie, on principle, however cunning a reviewer says the camera angles are. Some of Harris's attacks on Lincoln, written in wartime (amid sufferings we cannot imagine), may be too rabid for us to read now with any aesthetic pleasure. Yet the pleasures of reading most of Harris are great indeed, and I deprive myself if I avoid Harris because of things he did to or said about some of my tribespeople. I reserve my outrage, just now, for anthologists who think they can enhance my self-esteem as a quarter-Indian by having me read a white man's homily packaged as if it were a speech delivered by "Chief Seattle," or a white racist's best-selling fake autobiography The Education of Little Tree, or a poem on "The Atlantic Cable" by John Rollin Ridge, an earnest Cherokee kinsman of mine who was just well-educated enough to write conventional English verse. I would rather enhance my self-esteem, the Cherokee and Choctaw parts included, by reading something better, even if it is by a white man or white woman. As a son of a halfbreed [less than half Indian, I know in 2011], I resented being excluded from good things when I was young, and I am not about to exclude myself from them now. Forty years ago [make that 60 and more, now], when I read Walt Whitman's announcement that his "Song of Myself" was the meal equally set, I knew he meant it, and I knew that my invitation was irrevocable, whoever I was. The Sut Lovengood stories are also a meal set for anyone to come to on equal terms, even-or especially-e-cultural materialists.

A problem beyond political correctness is that some people cannot easily decipher the invitation to read the Sut stories: the dialect looms as an intimidating barrier. Yet there is no need to feel left out. Even if you were not lucky enough to learn to talk from a mother who learned to talk in Mississippi (or, still better, Tennessee), all you have to do is read the stories aloud, learning pronunciation patterns as you go and pretending you are reading them the way William Faulkner or Eudora Welty would, on an uninhibited evening in a circle of friends. The effort it takes to enter into Sut's world is repaid by bounteous rewards, heaped-up delights. In all of nineteenth-century American literature, there is no politically correct meal that remotely compares to the riches of Harris's banquet, and, to tell the truth, even a lot of the passages we all teach in Mark Twain look a little watery when judged against the bald-face whiskey of Harris's prose.

Having held forth on political and linguistic hurdles to reading Sut, I will focus my loving tribute to his creator George Washington Harris on three Sut Lovengood stories, "Rare Ripe Garden-Seed." "Contempt of Court--Almost," and "Trapping a Sheriff"--what I call for convenience the "Sheriff Doltin sequence." I will lead into my discussion by looking at some of the preliminary biographical-bibliographical problems any reader of Sut Lovingood. Yarns Spun by a "Nat'ral Born Dum'd Fool" (1867) confronts, then by talking generally about author and audience in Harris's tales, a tricky subject, and unusually tricky because of the state of scholarship.

Despite the work of Franklin J. Meine, J. Cleveland Harris, John J. Hellin.jr., Donald Day, Ben Harris McClary, M. Thomas lnge, my student Janet Casey, and others, we do not have all the Sut stories that Harris published, some of which probably are no longer extant. Some stories that were printed are known only by references to them in surviving stories and some stories are known only by quotations from them or references to them by early admirers. We do not know in any detail the sequence in which the known Sut stories in Yarns were composed, because we have to rely on only a little external evidence--the knowledge of when a handful of stories were printed in newspapers--and some internal evidence, such as cross-references to earlier stories in later-written ones (though some of these references could have been planted as Harris put together the book). We assume that the stories in the newspapers were written in something like the order of their publication, but we do not know for sure. Some of us assume that many, if not most, or even almost all, the stories in the 1867 volume were first printed in newspapers, but we do not know for sure. (We do not know, for instance, of any previous publication of the Sheriff Doltin sequence.) We know not to assume that either the order of the first printings in newspapers or the order of the stories in the book will necessarily correspond with the order of composition. "Blown up with Soda" starts off as if it should follow the starched shirt story more closely than it does in the book, yet Milton Rickels lists the first surviving text of "Sut Levengood's Shirt" (Yankee Notions, October 1857) not earlier at all but later than the first known text of "Sut Lovengood Blown Up" (that of the Nashville Daily Gazette, 21 July 1857, reprinted from the Savannah Morning News of some unknown date). Janet Casey, one of the succession of students I sent down to the Library of Congress to solve such mysteries, found just what you would hope to find, an earlier printing of "Sut Lovengood's Shirt," in the Nashville Union and American (1 May 1857), as well as a reprint in the Louisville Democrat (7 May 1857). (I have been planning for years to make a systematic sweep for unknown Sut stories, as a gift for Nathalia Wright, and in the meantime have taken comfort from several reprintings of known stories that Janet Casey, and also Robin Gaither, have discovered.)

Many other matters that look anomalous to us may yet be explained, such as possible clues to the time of composition of the Sheriff Doltin sequence in relation to other stories. The Sheriff Doltin sequence in the 1867 book follows well after the story of "Bart Davis's Dance," which like the Doltin stories is not known prior to book publication. There is one clue to the date of the Bart Davis story, Sut's allusion to the famous wartime phrase "all quiet on the Potomac," which does not particularly help, because it could have been added in 1867 or before and because there is no such datable reference in the Doltin sequence. However, in "Contempt of Court--Almost" Harris has Sut use the word "horspitable" without playing upon it in any way, an odd lapse unless this story was written before "Bart Davis's Dance," where Sut creates chaos by persuading Davis that "ole Sock" the "hard-shell preacher" had insulted him by saying" 'Yu is hosspitabil.'" There is, in short, a lot we do not know (even whether or not Harris wrote the Sheriff Doltin stories sequentially).

Ignorance, however, is not going to stop me from making some more guesses now. I would guess, for starters, that Harris was a remarkably privileged writer. That may sound like an odd thing to say about a man who was long frustrated in his efforts to publish a collection of the Sut stories, who faced censorship in the Spirit of the Times at least once, who made arrangements for a series of Sut stories to appear in the New York Atlas only to have the project fizzle out, who died on the way home after arranging to publish his second book, the manuscript of which disappeared (left on the train when Harris was carried off unconscious at Knoxville, as Professor Meriwether thinks possible, or kept and suppressed by his new second wife and her family, as some of Harris's children thought). Privileged indeed! But as far as we know there was a ready market for his stories in the newspapers once Harris had published "Sut Lovengood's Daddy, Acting Horse" in the Spirit (4 November 1854). In a backhanded way, it is a great privilege not to have to get paid for your stories but to publish them to the delight of your friends in Tennessee and strangers around the country. [You could say something of the same sort about the privilege of blogging in 2011.] I would guess that the references in the stories to earlier Sut stories are not at all evidence of self-promotion for Harris or even a calculated attempt to establish a richly storied background for Sut. Knowing that his stories were reprinted enthusiastically all around the country--knowing of printings in some papers we have not yet searched--knowing of printings in many other papers no longer extant--Harris made these references as a convivial way of recalling and celebrating pleasures he and his readers had already shared.

And I would guess that once the "Acting Horse" story was published and widely reprinted and talked about, Harris did not have to worry about holding an audience. After a while, in any newspaper story (certainly in any story first printed in the Yarns), Harris could trust the reader to have confidence in Sut as a narrator, to know that Sut's self-deprecation of his ability as a storyteller was a surefire way of entrapping any unwary auditor around the camp or outside the doggery. In "Mrs. Yardley's Quilting," for instance, Sut claims to ladle out his words at random, "like a calf kicking at yaller-jackids" (135), but he turns that mock apology into a put-down of the man with a wen over his eye. In "Frustrating a Funeral," Sut says he thinks at random, just as he talks and does. He knows better, and we had better know better. In "Eaves-dropping a Lodge of Free-masons" Sut taunts George into trying to tell the story, but when George starts off in pompous formal style, Sut breaks in and decides to tell it his way, to "talk hit all off in English" (I 16). No contemporary reader could have doubted that Sut was in control in the narration. The modern reader, coming without preparation to one story or another, may have more trouble. A reader of the Cohen and Dillingham Humor of the Old Southwest, for instance, might well be confused about Harris's skill as a storyteller, inasmuch as that collection includes the first two stories in the Doltin sequence but not the final one, which resolves the plot lines.

Sure, Sut's way of telling a story may seem random enough to any new reader. In "Rare Ripe Garden-Seed" Sut bombards the reader, rapid-fire, with an anecdote about his "fust big skeer" from the sheriff who took away the bed and chairs when Sut was the baby of the family; a philosophical digression on the pecking order of the universe (better than anything in Dreiser); a little essay on sheriffs and their uneasy consciences; a mention of old John Doltin, a "'spectabil sheriff" (a new one, we have to figure out, not the one who gave Sut his first scare); the introduction of Wat Mastin and the splendid evocation of what it is to be young, healthy, and in bad need of sex; an interruption by an officious encyclopedia salesman; the obscene but delicately euphemistic account of the devastating effects marriage has on War's health; and the rest of the wonderful fabliau about Wat, his wife Mary, her mother Mrs. McKildrin, and Little Rar Ripe, Mary's baby by Sheriff Doltin; and a final interruption by the salesman. In "Contempt of Court-Almost" Sut starts with an essay (better than Poe's) on human perversity, a subject suggested by the encyclopedia salesman (whom Sut, feigning to confuse the man's product with his name, refers to as Onsightly Peter), and leading into the illustrative anecdote of Sut and the dandy (which you think will have to do with Doltin but does not, and which itself is interrupted by a little disquisition on mustaches), followed by a one-sentence shift to Judge Smarty and a new shift to Wirt Staples (smoothed by Sut's promise to make it relevant to the Doltin story). Then comes Wirt's magnificent tall talk and Sut's tribute to Wirt as champion man, fit to be displayed at a fair, then the rampaging scene in which Wirt comes close to committing contempt of court by slamming the sheriff with his ham of venison then flinging it at the judge. In the concluding story, "Trapping a Sheriff," Sut has fun indulging in high Victorian sentimentality in describing Doltin's wife, then sabotages that style and moves on to a speculation on "hereafters," especially the part of hell where sheriffs go. After Sut's conversation with Doltin (who is nursing his head after Wirt's onslaught), there comes the conspiracy of Sut, Wirt, and Witt's wife Susan that is broken by an enthusiastic, digressive tribute to Susan's cooking (capped by the great bit of deflected sexuality: "I gets dorg hongry every time I sees Witt's wife, ur even her side-saddil, ur her frocks a-hangin on the close-line" [262]). Then comes more of the ironic sentimentalizing, a self-conscious "word-portrait" of Susan pouring coffee (the sort of portrait the grown-up Huck might have given of Mary Jane Wilks, if Mark Twain had been as good as Harris), then the story of the trapping of Doltin and his punishment--pages about as good as the best trickery in Twelfth Night mixed up with the most rambunctious pages of Tom Jones.

All this may seem to be a run-amok narrative extravaganza. Characters come in without being part of the present story, other characters come in looking as if they are part of another story but turn out to belong to this one, times shift without transition, from Sut's boyhood to the present, sheriff replaces sheriff, and literary styles change abruptly. But everything is in the control of one of the greatest characters in American literature, Sut--always peering (or peeping), absorbing, philosophizing on human nature and animal nature (making it clear they are the same), drinking, bullying, eating, inventing outrageous pranks, rampaging (by proxy), escaping serious punishment, and loving good (or well), entertaining us in his way, in his own good time, in words that are Shakespearean in plentitude and precision and felicitous combinations. The narration is not at all aimless, never like Mark Twain's Jim Blaine and the story of the old ram, where the point is not to get to the point. There is a character in Harris like Blaine, but it is not Sut--it is the late Mrs. Yardley, who in her prime talked in free association, nonstop. Sut's narration is headlong, pell-mell, but always controlled, always delighting us.

Sometimes our delight arises directly from our pride in following Sut's fancy turns, ambushes, leaps, shifts, digressions, and seeming irrelevancies. We know Sut, and we are up to the challenge. Sometimes Sut even cheats a little so as to set us up for special surprise, as in the great fabliau section of "Rare Ripe Garden-Seed," where he makes it look as if Mrs. McKildrin is going to persuade Wat Mastin, the April Fool bridegroom, that her daughter Mary conceived promptly after the wedding and bore his baby before the middle of August, all because of the "rar ripe garden-seed" Wat had bought from a Yankee peddler. Mrs. McKildrin serves Wat whiskey after he revives from his faint at the sight of Little Rar Ripe, and Sut reminds us of the power of alcohol: "Wun ho'n allers saftens a man, the yeath over" (234). Wat counts the months, and recounts, and says, "Haint enuf, is hit mammy?" (236), But she sweetly reminds him how active he had been about the place: "yu planted hit waseful , , ." (237). And Sut comments on her strategy of patient waiting: "Widders allers wait, an' alters win" (237). Then Sut gives us a marvelous turn: obtuse Wat Mastin rises to the occasion at last with a retentive memory and a quite unexpected capacity for irony when he throws up to Mary her mother's description of her as a "pow'ful interprizin gal" (239): she ought to be good for twenty-six or maybe thirty children as opposed to the thirteen her mother had "the ole way." After this turn of events we have the delight of Sut's sudden, unaccounted-for presence, just in time to step on Doltin's note to Mary and pick it up when no one is looking so he can get Jim Dunkin to read it to him. You do not want to know why Sut is suddenly there, any more than you want to know why he is suddenly peeping out of the old doggery door at Wirt in "Contempt of Court--Almost." He is always around at just the right time.

In "Contempt of Court--Almost" the reader delighting in Sut's dazzling turns may well be thrown by two textual errors. In the 1867 edition Sut says that Wirt Staples "tuck a skeer in what's tu cum" of his "narashun about the consekinses ave foolin wif uther men's wives" (249), but that is a slip brought about, probably, by a compositor's memory of Sut's "furst big skeer"; the word has to be "sheer," the usual spelling of "share" in Sut's dialect. The first edition also contains a garbled passage describing how fast the spirits from the new doggery were working on Wirt: "So when cort sot at nine o'clock, Wirt wer 'bout es fur ahead es cleaving, ur half pas' that." As a native speaker of this dialect as well as a textual scholar, I figured out that what Harris wrote was '''bout es fur ahead es eleving, ur half pas' that" (249). The word has to be an hour of the day, and in Sut's dialect "seven" comes out "seving," so eleven should come out "eleving"--a form mysterious enough to baffle a compositor. What Harris meant was that when court went into session at nine in the morning, Wirt was as drunk as he would normally have been at eleven or eleven-thirty.

Quite aside from these unintended pitfalls, Harris set loose in his narrative a series of questions any good reader will have to hold suspended. What does all the opening of "Contempt of Court--Almost" have to do with Wat Mastin? Does the dandy, a new character, fit somehow into Doltin's punishment? Who is Judge Smarty? Who, for that matter, is Wirt Staples?--though Sut assures us that Wirt "tuck a sheer in what's tu cum" about Doltin. In listening to Wirt's tall talk we forget about Doltin, for it is not the sheriff but Judge Smarty he is insulting so magnificently. After the heroic challenge has been followed by the wreck of the watch tinker's shop, Wirt gets a little more liquid kindling wood from Sut. That is when Doltin comes waddling out of the courthouse and when Sut says, "Now Wirt were Wat Mastin's cuzzin, an' know'd all about the rar ripe bisness, an tuck sides wif Wat strong" (253). Wonderful surprise, wonderful fun to have Wirt quote back to the sheriff his love note to Mary. It is even better--more coherent and more satisfying than we thought it would be, for Wirt is on the rampage not only against Judge Smarty but also against Sheriff Doltin, as well as the assorted deputies who get laid low by the "buck's hine laig."

Here the reader holds a question in suspension until things turn out better than anything that could have been expected. Such rewards are joyous to encounter, but I think Harris gets stronger effects by having Sut leave us at times in a state of unresolved curiosity, or even uneasiness, which colors our response as we proceed through the tale. Sut does not acknowledge that he knows the cause of our uneasiness--a technique akin to his use of euphemism in order to be more suggestive than if he were direct; for euphemisms of this sort implicate the reader in the obscenity. The best example in the Sheriff Doltin sequence is at the start, the time the former sheriff traumatizes little Sut. Things were going along fine because Sut was getting fed: "Mam hed me a-standin atwixt her knees. I kin feel the knobs ove her jints a-rattlin a-pas' my ribs yet. She didn't hev much petticoats tu speak ove, an' I hed but one, an' hit were calliker slit frum the nap ove my naik tu the tail, hilt tugether at the top wif a draw-string, an' at the bottom by the hem" (227). When the sheriff comes, Sut darts "on all fours onder mam's petticoatails" (229). Naturally, if you are solemncoly, you do not want to think about what little Sut might have seen there, especially if you remember how sharp-eyed he always is and if you recall a later story in which Sut watches his mother lose most of her clothes while fighting with Sall Simmons in the creek (after the fight is over; Sut says he "never seed a frock fit an 'oman as clost as hern did"--so close he could count her ribs through it). But naturally, if you are scholarly, you want to know when Sut gets out from under there. He does not. Well, he must have gotten out sometime, but you are not told when, and you worry about it, a little, in the back of your mind. If you are just a little prurient, you are bothered enough about it to be in a heightened state of awareness when you read about the manifestations of Wat Mastin's interest in Mary McKildrin (his bellowing and pawing up the dust around Mrs. Mckildrin, and so on). You might even worry about it through the whole Sheriff Doltin sequence, for you may be reminded by contrast when Doltin shows up with all that excessive yardage for Mary. For sure, you are reminded by the way the ferryman's wife exposes herself during Doltin's flight in "Trapping a Sheriff." She bounces out of bed and comes to the door in her "shif-tail." Then at the great spectacle of Doltin and the tomcats and the lighted, turpentine-soaked ball of tow, she forgets what she is wearing. As Sut says, she "pulled up what she tuck tu be her aprun, an' kivered her face, an' shet the door wif a snap, an' lef hersef on the outside. I holler'd 'Higher---yer forrid ain't kivered yet.' She run roun the chimley outen sight, still holdin up her aprun" (272).

Well, most of the narrative threads in the Sheriff Doltin sequence are tied up well enough. We know the "consekinses ave foolin wif uther men's wives," for instance. But maybe some of the best questions are left unresolved. Does Mrs. McKildrin ever return after she flees the accusing ghost of her husband? Mary comes back after her own flight, but does Wat keep her--and her and Doltin's Little Rar Ripe? When does Sut get out from under his mam's petticoats?--a question the more urgent because we know she was standing, the sheriff having taken away the chairs. These matters are not only un resolved but unresolvable; Sut is too far away to ask, working his long laigs, his flask glinting in the sun, leaving us a little uneasy, and a little in awe. He would not have told us anyhow, and in the present academic climate it will be a long time before many professors ask such serious questions about either Sut or the man who created him, George Washington Harris, a man who could write about as good as anybody in our country.

I read "Style and Sex in G. W. Harris's Sheriff Doltin Sequence" at the American Literature Section at the Louisville South Atlantic MLA, November 1981. The talk was much later printed as “A Tribute to Harris’s Sheriff Doltin Sequence” in James E. Caron and M. Thomas Inge’s SUT LOVINGOOD’S NAT’RAL BORN YARNSPINNER: ESSAYS ON GEORGE WASHINGTON HARRIS (Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1996).