The days have been overcast, drizzly, misty. Colors are muted this year, beautiful in their faded tints. Walking in mist and coolness, I remember Robert Frost’s “My November Guest,” the standards, “Autumn in New York” and “September in the Rain,” the poignant “Another Autumn” from Paint Your Wagon.
Our town had a fall celebration downtown on Saturday. There were activities for children: pony rides, searching for needles in hay (there was no stack), bowling with huge plastics pins and balls, winning a prize by picking up a duck in water. A hayride for everyone was a few bales of hay on a trailer pulled by a Gator. As it passed, everyone on the ride was registering boredom. There was good: Mexican, Cajun, Hibachi, Snowballs, Donuts, Creole, Chicken, two barbecue stands, kettle corn. There were vendors selling candles, hot sauce, folk art bird houses, army surplus, old radios, Craftique furniture, soaps, posters, framed botanicals. At one booth, “Salvaged Art,” I saw framed this typed message: “I said, ‘Can I take you home with me?’ She said, ‘Never in your wildest dreams.'” I loved it, but I did not buy it.
Two short novels made up my reading for the week: Steinbeck’s The Moon Is Down and Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw.
As I was reading the Steinbeck, I from time to time thought the narration and dialogue were like stage directions and stage dialogue. When I finished the novel and read the good notes in The Library of America edition, I learned that the novel was originally a play. The setting is a non-specified town in northern Europe occupied by a non-specified enemy. The book gives excellent insight into the psychology of both the occupiers and the conquered, resisting people. The message: “. . . the one impossible job in the world, the one thing that can’t be done . . . To break man’s spirit permanently.” The view of war: “. . . war is treachery and hatred, the muddling of incompetent generals, the torture and killing and sickness and tiredness, until at last it is over and nothing has changed except for new weariness and new hatreds.”
The most frightening thing for me about The Turn of the Screw is the mental state of the governess who sees ghosts and believes that they are there to harm the two children in her charge. As she ruminates about possibilities, we realize her instability and neuroses. I never much like the book, but it was excellent to teach. High school seniors loved it for its ambiguity. There are ambiguities about most of the characters, including the ghosts, and the questions raised give the novel a frightening effect.
Thank you for reading. I hope your week will be good. Often the upcoming week is one of the most beautiful of the year. I look forward.