The Suit: For 2016, Diamonds is my suit for “Contemporary Writers with an Indiana Connection”
The Selection: “Schliemann in Indianapolis” from “Fort Wayne is Seventh on Hitler’s List: Indiana Stories” I own a hardcopy, purchased at Bookmama’s Bookstore in Irvington (Indianapolis)
The Author: Michael Martone (picture at left from IUpress.typepad.com). Last year I was quite impressed with “Winesburg, Indiana: A Fork River Anthology” which he edited, and I had heard of this volume through the grapevine so it found a place on my Deal Me “IN” roster. He was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and is currently a professor at the University of Alabama. I just noticed this week that he is teaching a one-day class at the Indiana Writers Center this fall. Maybe I will try to attend…
What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? I’m glad you asked! Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card, and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/storyroster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is also now officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.
Schliemann in Indianapolis
“No one must know the real purpose of my presence here.”
I really liked this one! It was almost a custom-written story for me, as someone who has read The Iliad of Homer multiple times and even minored in Classics at Wabash College right here in Indiana. But I guess I should check first, do you know who Heinrich Schliemann is? He was a famous “Bulldozer Archaeologist”/Treasure Hunter of the 19th century, whose claim to fame was the discovery of the ruins of ancient Troy in Turkey. Until his time, the going opinion was that The Iliad was largely a work of fiction and that there was no actual “Trojan War” that it describes. Well, many parts of it may be still be fiction, but Troy was a real place – one Schliemann was convinced he could find and actually did. He also “excavated” the classical ruins of Mycenae in Greece, famously digging up the gold “Mask of Agamemnon” and making the massive “Lion’s Gate” of that city (drawing, from Wikipedia, below) famous.
At this point you may be wondering why on earth there would be a story titled “Schliemann in Indianapolis.” The fact is, Schliemann did spend time in Indianapolis in 1869. He was here because he had heard that Indiana was a good state to get a divorce in – something he was desperately seeking, since he married hastily in his youth and later learned to his chagrin that his Russian bride shared none of his Classical interests and refused to let their children accompany him on his travels. Martone’s story is the manuscript of an imagined journal that Schliemann kept during his time in Indiana’s capital, where he was waiting for a tenuous legal process to make his divorce official…
We get to see the city of Indianapolis in its early years through the eyes of a wealthy European: “The city was built overnight. It is the newest of cities in the state, evolved from nothing save a swamp. There was not even an Indian village on the site. No one had lived here before. It is an example of parthenogenesis and pride. I am taken by this. Here are a people who build cities for no other reason than that the locations are geographical centers of arbitrarily decided government regions.” We also get “As a general rule, classic literature is despised here owing to the universal enthusiasm for acquiring material wealth; thus classical education is at a low ebb.” Easy for you (who was born wealthy and retired at thirty-six) to say!
Clearly, the Schliemann of this story has little, if any, residual affection for his first wife. When reading letters from her where pet names are employed, he thinks, “Sometimes it is a curse to know all the different names for a thing. Husband. Wife. One longs for the dead tongues and a world that does not change.”
Part of the drama in this story is the danger that Indiana’s liberal divorce laws may soon change before Schliemann has time to finish his petition, etc. It seems a current cause celebre had raised public awareness about some potential unfairness or injustice to a woman being divorced (gasp!), and Schliemann has many anxious days praying that a change in the law would be delayed sufficiently for him to complete his “business.” This gives him a glimpse into the workings of the Indiana legislature, about which he shares his thoughts: “After all, I am very glad to have got an insight into the doings of these people’s legislative assemblies, which presents democracy in all its roughness and nudity with all its party spirit and facility to yield to lateral influences, with all its licentiousness. I often saw them throwing paper balls at each other and even the speaker.”
While all this is going on, Schliemann is also actively trying to procure a new, more “acceptable” bride, enlisting the aid of a clergyman overseas. He has a laundry list of qualities that he requires and this part of the story feels really creepy to a modern reader. His self-centered-ness truly knows no bounds. He even proclaims, “How like noble Paris I feel, choosing among the goddesses.” ‘Oh, that poor girl’ was all I could think…
♫ Personal notes: I was wholly ignorant of Schliemann’s time in Indianapolis until a few years ago, when I attended a special program exploring his time here at the Indiana State Library. Fortunately, this was after I became a “book blogger,” and I can refer you to that story by linking to my post from long ago. See here if interested. Also, there’s one final “personal note” that I’d like to share. The Schliemann of this story shares how the city was built on what was once swampland and frequently complains about the temperature, once saying: “On account of the humidity, the heat is unbearable and oppressive.” Some things haven’t changed in Indianapolis in the last 150 years….