Last night, while I was in bed, I remembered this short story titled “Scene” from the collection Suburban Sketches by William Dean Howells. I am not really a fan of realist writing but for some reason I had the imagery of this little short story in my mind, for some reason. I don’t do this and I actually try not to associate words with images – can images ever substitute words? Anyway, this collection of short stories depict the suburban life of people in Old Charlesbridge, and “Scene” is about a young women who drowns herself. She is found dead by the community, who are pretty curious to see what had happened. One of the townspeople says “It was the best thing she cuold do,” creating a story in his mind. The narrator responds: “Upon this answer that literary soul fell at once to patching himself up a romantic story for the suicide, after the pitiful fashion of this fiction-ridden age, when we must relate everything we see to something we have read. He was the less to blame for it, because he could not help it; but certainly he is not to be praised for his associations with the tragic fact brought to his notice.”

Anyway, after this brief introduction, I’d like to quote what I really like about this piece:

The vehicle was a grocer’s cart which had perhaps been pressed into the service; and inevitably the contributor thought of Zenobia, and of Miles Coverdale’s belief that if she could have foreboded all the post-mortem ugliness and grotesqueness of suicide, she never would have drowned herself. This girl, too, had doubtless had her own ideas of the effect that her death was to make, her conviction that it was to wring one heart, at least, and to strike awe and pity to every other; and her woman’s soul must have been shocked from death could she have known in what a ghastly comedy the body she put off was to play a part.

In the bottom of the cart lay something long and straight and terrible, covered with a red shawl that drooped over the end of the wagon; and on this thing were piled the baskets in which the grocers had delivered their orders for sugar and flour, and coffee and tea. As the cart jolted through their lines, the boys could no longer be restrained; they broke out with wild yells, and danced madly about it, while the red shawl hanging from the rigid feet nodded to their frantic mirth; and the sun dropped its light through the maples and shone bright upon the flooded date.

Isn’t this harsh? And beautifully written? It’s a little “things won’t work that way.”  And some attack on pathetic fallacy and romanticism of course – realist authors use pathetic fallacy too but apparently Howells is more close to the naturalist side – the sun is indifferent to the death of the young woman, who is carried in a grocer’s cart, face grotesque and has the ugliness of death – it doesn’t work like that you know – you don’t have the sad and sentimentalist attitude towards death.  And, why would the sun care anyway? Does anyone care?

sarapci and cahil peri, you are memed.  Write about and quote from a short story, poem or novel (plays? ok…) that you like or find interesting or perplexing or whatever.  Leave a trackback here, then meme two other people – two, because three is overused.


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