"The woman's face baffled me, and I do not like to be baffled. It was a face that was old and at the same time young; it had deep lines, it was colorless, and the heavy hair was gray; and still I felt that it was not old in years, but that it was like the peaches we find sometimes on the ground, old, wrinkled, and withered, yet showing here and there traces of that evanescent bloom which comes before the ripeness. The eyes haunted me; they haunt me now, the dry, still eyes of immovable, hopeless grief." from "In Cotton Country"
As I listened spell bound to the beyond heartbreaking story of the once aristocratic woman at the center of "In Cotton Country" I began to hear in a waking dream The Band singing "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", then I began to hear Joan Baez's rendering of this song about defeat, watching the enemy, people below you in every way, occupy your land, take the very best from you and yours. In my limited reading of Woolson, so far seven short stories, I see a deep fascination with aristocrats of fallen cultures. In the Italian stories it is the glory days of the Medici and Renissance culture. Venice, a city she loved and wrote about with her full heart, was once a great power. By the times Woolson experienced the city, it was a place for tourists, expatriate artists, and the decadent
rich. The fallen aristocrats of America in 1878 were the old planter caste of the Confederate states. Like the White Russians, the aristocrats of America's South had blood on their hands, they were from a morally decadent culture based on slavery just like the White Russians and the Samuri. The southern stories of Woolson I have so far read, are about a culture in transition, about people lost in the shuffle.
As of right now there is sadly little interest in the Book Blog World in Catherine Fenimore Woolson. I hope this will changed when the two books by Anne Boyd Rioux become available in February of next year. I have completed her biography Constance Fenimore Woolson Portrait of a Lady Novelist and it is a master work.
This story gives us an exquisite look at the terrible destruction of the old south through an extended description of a ruined cotton field. We see the terrible driven by a lust for revenge done to the south by the northern troops. The narrator comes upon a broken down old house. He expects it will perhaps be occupied by ex-slaves. Instead he encounters a very strange woman, I quote her at the first of this post. The story she tells the narrator about how she ended up living where she is with a young boy is the soul of this story. It is just an amazing story, deeply emotional born of total desolation, hopelessness.