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

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Two Short Stories by Jean Stafford “The Interior Castle” and “A Reading Problem”

Two Short Stories by Jean Stafford

“The Interior Castle” and “A Reading Problem”

Jean Stafford 

Born - July 1, 1915 - Covina, California 

Married 1940 to 1948 to Robert Lowell . One of three marriages.

She published three novels but is

  now most regarded for her wonderful short stories, most of which were published in The New Yorker or The Partesian Review.

1970 - Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 

Died - March 26, 1979 - White Plains, New York

A few days ago I was very kindly given a copy of Library of American Edition of The Complete Stories and Other Writings of Jean Stafford.  

My first venture into her work was “Maggie Meriwether's Rich Experience” - A Short Story set in Paris 

- first published June 17, 1955 in The New Yorker. It contains one of the most wonderful sentences I have ever read.

“There  was a hole so neat that it looked tailored in the dead center of the large round beige velours mat that had been thrown on the grass in the shade of the venerable sycamore, and through it protruded a clump of mint, so chic in its air of casualness, so piquant in its fragrance in the heat of mid-July, that Mme Floquet, a brisk Greek in middle life, suggested, speaking in French with a commandingly eccentric accent, that her host, Karl von Bubnoff, M. le Baron, had contrived it all with shears and a trowel before his Sunday guests arrived at his manorial house, Magnamont, in Chantilly.”

Now that is an opening sentence!

The Interior Castle”

“The Interior Castle” The Interior Castle" was first published in Partisan Review in 1946, later anthologized in five collections, including The Best American Short Stories of 1947, and collected in Children Are Bored on Sunday in 1953.

This story is said to be partially based on time Stafford spent in the hospital after a car crash which sent her through the windshield.  In the imagined  wreck, the cab driver was killed.  In real Life she was badly hurt when riding with a drunken Robert Lowell at the wheel.

Set over a good bit of time, ths narrator has suffered some memory loss and needs surgery on her nose to breath normally.

Stafford shows us the narrator trying to recover her identity.

“[The surgeon] had now to penetrate regions that were not anesthetized and this he told her frankly … The knives ground and carved and curried and scoured the wounds they made; the scissors clipped hard gristle and the scalpels chipped off bone. It was as if a tangle of tiny nerves were being cut dexterously, one by one; the pain writhed spirally … The pain was a pyramid made of a diamond; it was an intense light; it was the hottest fire, the coldest chill, the highest peak”

The story takes place entirely in Pansy Vanneman’s stream of consciousness as doctors, nurses, and hospital workers are  floating in and out of her mind.  Nurses try to draw Pansy out with magazines  and radio.  Pansy’s biggest concern is the integrity of her mind.

The hospital is described as bland, like a bank where her mind is focused on Beauty.  The story takes us deeply into her struggle.  There is an interesting section on her nose surgery where she thinks about how handsome and vain The doctor seems to be.

“A Reading Problem”

This story was first published  in The New Yorker June 22, 1956

“One of the great hardships of my childhood—and there were many, as many, I suppose, as have ever plagued a living creature—was that I could never find a decent place to read. If I tried to read at home in the living room, I was constantly pestered by someone saying, “For goodness’ sake, Emily, move where it’s light. You’re going to ruin your eyes and no two ways about it,” or “You ought to be outdoors with the other youngsters getting some roses in your cheeks.”  

For sure i heard this sort of thing often 

during my early days and I bet others in the forum did  also.

 it turns out the local sherriff loves to read and lets her read in the jail as long as there are no prisinors locked up. She enjoys it and the sherriff is very kind and supportive of her Reading”. Then one days he tells her some very Rough sellers of illegal whiskey, moon shine, are coming in and she must stay out until they are gone.  An intersting story that gets much more interesting as she reads by the roadside.  She encounters a man, a traveling preacher, and his daughter, her age.  They see her Reading so they offer her book, meant to save souls, for $1.00, a fortune to her.  They reduce price to fifty cents.  They insist she get The money from her parents.  What ensued from here is Right out of a perfect southern Gothic classic.

The ending is a joy.

I selected these two stories because they are so adifferent from each other.

I am confident other great stories await me.


1 comment:

Buried In Print said...

This sounds like a wonder. Is your copy an e-copy or a printed copy? I love those editions, but their print is often cramped and tiny (which sounds critical, but I still love them)!