Thursday, March 11, 2010

Entry 5.1: "Early Autumn," by Louis Bromfield (1927)

Here in the greater Chicagoland area, it seems as though winter is finally fading and giving way to Spring. The weather, for the past week and a half or so, has been heavenly—everyday, it has been in the mid-50's to mid-60's and the rains have been washing the snow away and exposing the remnants of last fall, buried in the drifts. This is my favorite season of all, second only to Autumn—the sun returns from his hiding place, behind the clouds, and Mother Nature rejuvenates herself for another six or seven months. The temperatures range from a crisp 45 degrees to a very pleasant and enjoyable 70 degrees and the whole world seems to come alive again.
At the behest of a fellow reader and my compatriot, Joshua, the next novel I chose to tackle in my Pulitzer journey is Louis Bromfield's 1927 winner, Early Autumn. As per my usual, Louis Bromfield is another author, I must admit, I was ignorant of before I embarked on this journey. I'm not sure how to think about my education and literary savvy when compared to the prolific nature of these writers. I mean, these people wrote best-selling novels that were revered enough (in their respective years of publication, at any rate) to win one of the most prestigious (if not the most prestigious) awards in all of American literature—the Pulitzer Prize. And yet, for all their critical acclaim, I had never heard of about three quarters of them. What does that say about my education? Or, conversely, what does that say about the novels' lasting impact? I'm not sure.

After the debacles that were The Magnificent Ambersons and The Optimist's Daughter, I'm wary of picking up another book that seems to be about one's own magnificence (this is with particular regard to The Magnificent Ambersons); but I have been assured by a couple different fellow readers that I will probably enjoy this novel much more. I'll confess, according to the review I read on the Pulitzer Prize Thumbnail Project's website, my fellow readers just may be correct in their assumptions:
The Pentlands of New England are an old rich self-satisfied family. But Olivia Pentland, the middle-aged central character of the novel, is a 20th Century woman struggling to live more honestly and passionately. She's not content "that all of us here may go on living undisturbed in our dream, believing always that we are superior to every one else on the Earth, that because we are rich we are powerful and righteous." Although this is another long and windy narrative about High Society, it's unusual because it attempts to question the self-image of that society and to create a heroine who openly challenges it.
We shall see.
I found a kooky old edition of this novel at Elgin Books, uncarefully filed away behind a pile of other books (much like the first edition of Tarkington's Alice Adams, which I also procured there). The book is included inside of a three-volume anthology, or collection (whatever), oddly entitled A Bromfield Galaxy—not "A Bromfield Collection," "A Bromfield Overview," or even "A Bromfield Trilogy," but A Bromfield Galaxy. This collection is an entire GALAXY of Bromfield novels, novels which were floating around in the cosmos and which some brave editor dared to defy gravity, ascend into the heavens and collect.

There really isn't any significance to my mentioning this oddity, I just find it fascinatingly peculiar.