Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"Sister Saint Luke" by Constance Fenimore Woolson (1877, included in Miss Grief and other Stories, edited by Anne Boyd Rioux, forthcoming February, 2016)

One of the joys of the reading life is coming upon a new to you writer and feeling like you have been encountered a writer you wish you would have begun reading long ago.    I am beginning to feel that way about Constance Fenimore Woolson.  (1840 to 1894, USA- there is a little background information in my prior post.)  

Woolson is as a very well traveled person, especially for woman in her day.  She lived on and offin Florida, with her mother whose health took them there, from 1873 to 1878.  She lived near St. Augustine.  From Anne Boyd Rioux's very good introduction I learned that Woolson loved the untamed wilderness of the area, often cruising water ways, sometimes by herself.

"Sister Saint Luke" is set largely on Pelican Island, barrier island just at the mouth of the Matanzas Island near St. Ausustine, Florida.

                                                                   Pelican Island

There are five people in the story.  Keith and Carrington are two friends who have come together from the north to enjoy the wildness of the area and get away from the cold, tourists.  The other characters include Pedro, a descendent so of the Minorcan colonists who had come long ago in a group of 1300 or so from Greece, as indentured servants,  I Goggled the Minorcans and was fascinated to learn some very interesting Florida history.  I admit I was impressed that pre-Internet Woolson knew this aspect of local history.  To me this shows the real respect Woolson has for her subjects.  Never in this story do I feel the what could have been made backwoods Florida characters treated in a fashion that tries to reduce their full humanity.  We also meet Melvyna, she came from the north to be a private duty nurse and stay there when her patient died.  She ended up marrying Pedro.  I really liked the depiction of their marriage.  They live on Pelican Island and keep the lighthouse there.  Keith and Carrington are staying there a while and they also meet an ex-nun, Sister St Luke who also stays there.

Melvyna is a strong self reliant woman living in a place where you have to know how to take care of your self and your family.  She and Pedro have a good, it seems, relationship.  Buried in the storyline is no doubt a commentary on the differences of the attitudes toward life of Catholic Pedro, his name is no accident, and  Protestant Mevyna of tough "Yankee" stock.  Sister Saint Luke is an interesting person, it seems somehow she was left at a nunnery at an early age and put out once she became an adult.  She is a bit child like, longing to return to the security of the nunnery.  The characters of Keith and Carrington are not quite as well developed but from their actions and words we get to know them.  They are both decent men.

There are beautiful descriptions of the area.  There is a powerful storm.  The description of the flock of 100s of Pelicans makes me so wish I could time travel to see it.  

Exciting things happen toward the close of the story which I will leave for others to enjoy discovering as I very much did.

I really enjoyed reading this story.  I have a special interest in Florida history and that made the story resonate greatly with me.  

In her very well done introduction to Miss Grief and other Stories Anne Boyd Rioux mentions two other set in Florida short stories and I hope to read them both very soon.  

There is a lot of depth in this story, issues about cultural contrast buried in a passing remark.  It is also flat out a lot of fun to read.

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