“The Pedagogue” by Maurice Thompson – selection #47 of Deal Me “IN” 2016

The Card: ♣7♣ Seven of Clubs

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, Clubs is my suit for “Legendary” Indiana Authors

The Selection: “The Pedagogue” from Hoosier Mosaics, published in 1875, I own an electronic copy (Kindle Version)  Deal Me “IN” 2016 featured one other story from this collection, “The Legend of Potato Creek” covered in week 8, way back in February.

The Author: Maurice Thompson Maurice (pronounced like “Morris”) Thompson (1844-1901), born in Fairfield, Indiana, is one from the “Golden Age” of Indiana literature. He’s also a member of the archery(!) Hall of Fame. In his honor, I included in the “mosaic” above the scorecard for “bow poker” 🙂

legacy project seal of approval 2What 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 img_6202cards/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.

The Pedagogue

“He was in love with learning. He considered the matter of imparting knowledge a mere question of effort, in which the physical element preponderated. If he couldn’t talk or read it into one he took a stick and mauled it into him. This mauling method, though somewhat distasteful to the subject, always had a charming result – red eyes, a few blubbers and a good lesson. The technical name of this method was “Warming the jacket.””

The word Pedagogue has always conjured up negative images for me. I am reminded of the sadistic schoolteacher in 1941’s great film, “How Green Was My Valley” or perhaps that one episode of the television series “Little House on the Prairie,” when the town votes to bring in a “disciplinarian” schoolmaster (Mr. Applewood) when they fear poor, sweet “Miss Beadle” can’t handle some of the rowdier boys. I fortunately don’t have too much personal experience with Padagogery, but what little I have experienced was indeed quite distasteful enough to lead me to be on guard against it in those instances where I’ve been called upon to instruct or train others.

(above: big – and small – screen pedagogues who learnt their lesson)

Thompson’s pedagogue, however, lives rather without too much stigma. It was a different age in which he lived, one where “pedagoguery” was an accepted practice in the education of our nation’s children. The above quotation notwithstanding, this story – thankfully – is not all about just an abusive schoolmaster. It’s about the collision of two men who both think they should be the unchallenged intellectual authority of the county. Blodgett, the pedagogue, registered his claim first. Though he was only the latest in a long string of pedagogues, he was already in town when an upstart printer shows up to start his own paper. Add to this perfect storm of 19th century conflict that, just before the editor appears, so does a young lady, Miss Holland, who, naturally, Blodgett makes a play for.( He is, after all, the most learned man in the countryside…) The editor has his own plans:

“One of two things must be done. Blodgett must be vanquished or his influence secured. He must be prevailed on to endorse the Star (the new paper), or the Star must attack and destroy him at once.”

Thompson goes on to explain that “…when nations wish to fight it is easy to find a pretext for war. So with individuals. So with the editor and Blodgett. They soon came to open hostilities and raised the black flag. What an uproar it did make in the county!”

They have an argument in the press (home field advantage for the editor!) over, of all things, the best translation of the Latin phrase “Nil de mortuis nisi bonum” (roughly ‘say nothing but good of the dead). Their exchange of editorials in the paper becomes comical and, eventually, one prevails by laying a clever trap for the other, who is judged by “a professor at Wabash College” (Hey, that’s my alma mater!) to be “certainly crazy or woefully illiterate; no doubt the latter.”

So ends the career of one of these men. You can read the story for yourself at several places on line, like this one.  I liked this story a lot, and at a few points it reminded me a little of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and the collision course it contains as Ichabod and Brom Bones compete for the affections of Katrina. In that story, I remember that Ichabod is said to have “read several books quite through” which grants him intellectual standing in that literary town.

What about you? Are you familiar with Maurice Thompson? I wasn’t until about a year ago and am so glad I “discovered” him.  I’m planning to read a couple more of his stories for next year’s Deal Me In challenge as well.  Also – have you had any encounters of the pedagogic kind in your education journey? Or know of any great ones in literature or the arts? I’d love to hear of them.

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A Ghost Story: “Is There Anybody There”

I’ve read, just this morning, a “ghost story” by an author I’d never heard of before, England’s Kim Newman (below).

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The story was part of a collection titled “Haunts: Reliquaries of the Dead.” It’s a book I started last October but have pretty much left alone since then, waiting patiently for another October to roll around.

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***Spoiler Alert***
If you’d like to read the story yourself, the book may be found on Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Haunts-Reliquaries-Dead-Stephen-Jones/dp/1569759847 (the kindle version is “only” $9.99)

The premise of the story “Is There Anybody There?” was unique to me and, I thought, brilliant. It is set in the early 1920s, where we meet “Madame Irena,” a spiritualist/medium who is involved in a Ouija board “session” with one of her sitters. One might think this story would be headed toward a “fraudulent medium getting her just rewards from beyond” theme, but that is not the case here for, you see, Madame Irena (aka Irene Dobson) does have the power to communicate with spirits and “presences.” As Newman explains:

“She was no fraud, relying on conjuring tricks, but her understanding of the world beyond the veil was very different from that which she wished her sitters to have. All spirits could be made to do what she wished them to do. If they thought themselves grown beyond hurt, they were sorely in error.”

Make no mistake about it, though, she is in this line of business for the money and for personal gain. The presence she encounters in this session, however, is somehow different from all those other spirits of the departed she has contacted. Identifying himself only as “MSTRMND,” he uses a slightly different method to spell out strange answers on the Ouija board, eschewing moving the pointer toward the “Yes” or “No” on the board, he instead compels them to move it to simply the letter “Y” or “N” as if he were using some abbreviated form of communication, YKWIM?? No, it’s not that he’s “texting” either, but he is clearly using some shorthand form of communication of a more modern time…

You can probably guess where this is leading. MSTRMND is really “Boyd,” a 21st-century internet hacker and predator (though the latter may be too strong of a word), trolling for “victims.” Somehow, his chat room messages are ending up being transmitted across time to the ouija board in Madame Irena’s parlor! Who will be “reeled in” by the other, though, and what methods will be used? The duel between these two animates the second half of this great story.

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(above: a Ouija Board complete with pointer. The pointer is called a “planchette.”)

What about you? Are you familiar with this author? Have you ever “played” with a Ouija board? You can tell me…

H. Somerset Maugham’s “The Outstation”

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They were like men dwelling in regions of eternal night, and their souls were oppressed with the knowledge that never would the day dawn for them. It looked as though their lives would continue for ever in this dull and hideous monotony of hatred.”

Having recently read H. Somerset Maugham’s acclaimed novel, The Painted Veil, I had no complaints when his short story, “The Outstation,” came up next in my random selection for my short story reading project. This story is a little longer (24 pages) than some others I’ve read in the past week, but hey, it’s Saturday, and I have plenty of reading time. 🙂

(below: Maugham hard at work)

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I came to think of this story as more of a character study. Set probably in the 1920s, it deals with the relationship of two Englishmen (and by reading the quoted passage above, you can tell that their relationship is not a good one) who serve their country’s empire in one of its remotest locations – on the island of Borneo. Mr. Warburton is the established presence at the outstation, having already served there some twenty years when we find him at the beginning of this story awaiting the arrival of his assistant, a Mr. Cooper. Warburton has some misgivings about Cooper’s arrival, even though another man is needed, since it means of an intrusion on what has become sort of his private domain; he is respected and admired by the natives – a man of power and importance. They get off to a rocky start, too, when Cooper shows up not “dressed” for dinner and professes surprise that Warburton has retained that custom. (“I always dress for dinner.” “Even when you’re alone?” “Especially when I’m alone.”)

You see, Warburton is a “snob” and has always been so, even though he inherited HIS money from a father who was a frugal hard-working commoner, indeed only to lose it through gambling and speculation. (Upon gaining that intelligence about Warburton, you would think the reader’s sympathies would reside with the younger man, Cooper, but that position became untenable for me, when I saw how poorly he treated the natives.)

Cooper is from “the colonies” (in his case, Barbados) and has no respect for the old system of privilege and class consciousness. In short, he has a chip on his shoulder. Over a dinner, Cooper offers the opinion,

” ’Well, at all events the war has done one good thing for us,’ he said at last. ’It`s smashed up the power of the aristocracy. The Boer War started it, and 1914 put the lid on.’
’The great families of England are doomed,’ said Mr. Warburton with the complacent melancholy of an emigre who remembered the court of Louis XV.”

Is it any surprise that these two won’t get along?

In spite of their differences, the unlikely pair struggle on and do their duties for some time, even as their antipathy grows. Things erupt into “bitter hatred” after an incident that occurs when Warburton returns to his office after being absent three weeks on an assignment. During his absence, Cooper has gone through Warburton’s mail and separated the newspapers he receives from home. Thinking it no big deal, Cooper unpacks them and reads them. Warburton is furious. Cooper doesn’t know, and Warburton doesn’t feel the need to explain to him, that meticulously reading the papers, in order, is one of Warburton’s “great pleasures” and a link to the civilized world of which he is no longer a resident. Later in the story, Warburton feels “on a sudden discouraged with life. The world of which he was a part had passed away, and the future belonged to a meaner generation.”

The story left me a little sad too. Two very different characters, out of place in the “normal world” of others end up in a remote region of the world (& I liked how, earlier in the story, Maugham refers to how Englishmen, when they’d run out of other opportunities “went out to the colonies.”) where they perhaps could find a home (indeed Warburton had done just that before Cooper’s arrival) but each other’s presence prevents them from living happily even there. The story is worth reading, though, even if it is not among my recent favorites. It can even be read “for free” on line at: http://maugham.classicauthors.net/outstation/
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The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

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How does a story without a ghost make it into an anthology of ghost stories? Well, maybe if there are ghosts, but only in the mind of the main character. (many think those are the only kind of ghosts, thus the expression, “There are no haunted houses, only haunted people.”)

**Major Spoiler Alert! – if you want to read the story yourself, do so before proceeding**
I first read this unsettling story almost twenty years ago. It chronicles a young woman’s descent (initially through journal/diary entries, but later this structure of the story loosens a bit) into psychosis. Suffering from a “nervous condition” (perhaps what today would be diagnosed as post-partum depression) her husband, who is also a physician, prescribes, effectively, what was known as a “rest cure,” a popular treatment for hysteria in the late 1800s, when this story was written.

As part of his “prescription,” they rent a home for three months in the summer while their own home is being remodeled. Over the wife’s objections, he chooses an upstairs former nursery room for their bedroom. It has the most hideous yellow wallpaper. Gilman describes the paper in increasingly disturbing ways. “I never saw a worse paper in my life,” and the “pattern lolls like a broken neck,” and “great, slanting waves of optic horror,” and “It is the strangest yellow, that wall paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw – not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things.” She eventually decides there is something/someone lurking (creeping) behind the pattern, especially when viewed in the moonlight.

There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will.” This revelation comes about halfway through the story, and the reader is now certain that, even though at the start of the story it seems certain that she is a “victim” and her only physical illness is in her mind (or, actually, in her husband’s mind), she is now actually becoming psychotic. Clearly a case of “the cure being worse than the disease” – a charge frequently leveled against the “rest cure.”

As the end of their three month rental nears, she becomes more obsessed with “getting her (the “woman” she sees behind the pattern) out.” Having locked herself in her room she succeeds in ripping some of the paper off the wall, and when the frantic husband finally gets into the room she triumphantly tells him, “I’ve got out at last…and I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” He faints and becomes merely a obstacle for her to crawl around as she continues tracing the path of the wallpaper around the room.

This story is frequently offered as an early example of feminist literature. In the way that it condemns the unequal – and frankly condescending – treatment of women’s illnesses in an androcentric (that’s a new word I learned today 🙂 ) medical world, it certainly qualifies. I must admit, however, that the first time I read this story, I hadn’t even thought about that interpretation. I merely enjoyed it as the genuinely creepy, well-told story which it truly is.

Have you read The Yellow Wallpaper? What did you think of it?

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Rough Days in Chain Saw History…

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I recently read Sherman Alexie’s short story, “War Dances,” which included some of the most humorous material I’ve read so far this year. Alexie, a Spokane Indian, writes a lot about his alcoholic father and his foibles. He wrote a short poem about one incident:

“When I was nine, my father sliced his knee
With a chain saw. But he let himself bleed
And finished cutting down one more tree
Before his boss drove him to EMERGENCY

Late that night, stoned on morphine and beer,
My father needed my help to steer
His pickup into the woods. “Watch for deer,”
My father said. “Those things just appear

Like magic. “It was an Indian summer
And we drove through warm rain and thunder,
Until we found that chain saw, lying under
the fallen pine. Then I watched, with wonder,

As my father, shotgun-rich and impulse-poor,
Blasted that chain saw dead. “what was that for?”
I asked. “Son, my father said, “here’s the score.
Once a thing tastes blood, it will come for more.”

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Alexie goes on to explain the many embellishments he made to the actual story to satisfy the demands of his poem, but it is a funny story and good poem nonetheless. It reminded me of a somewhat similar “incident” during a childhood visit to my Granddad’s property in West Virginia… Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve read some more short stories…

In my ongoing effort to catch up on my 2011 reading project, I’ve read six more short stories (click on ‘deal me in selections’ to the left to see the full list) in the past few days. They are:

“A Terribly Strange Bed” by Wilkie Collins
“The Black Monk” by Anton Chekhov
“The Ash Tree” by M.R. James
“The Dead” by James Joyce
“The Adventure of the Speckled Band” by Arthur Conan Doyle
“War Dances” by Sherman Alexie

This “burst” has put a further dent in my backlog and I’m down to just over twenty to go for the rest of the year. I plan to write posts related to at least a few of these stories, most of which i enjoyed immensely. Next up is Howard Pyle’s “The Cock Lane Ghost.” Can’t wait!

Have you read any of these stories? What are some of the favorite short stories you’ve read this year? Who are some of you favorite short story writers?

“Bumper Crop”

 

Without fail it’s my favorite book club meeting each year:  “Short Story Month!”  We’ve been doing this every July now, starting with 2008.  Each of our nine members picks a short story for the members to read.  Most of them pick a ‘famous’ story that’s available in the public domain and thus on the internet, while a couple share an actual copy or copied pages from a book.  I love the variety and the change of pace from our normal meetings.  And there are always a few previously unknown gems discovered (at least by me, anyway.)

This time around, we even have a couple repeat stories.  With some member turnover since inception, a couple stories that have been picked before were picked again (well, one was a short story picked during our “Ghost Story Month” – another favorite meeting of mine), but we decided to just read them again anyway.  Some members hadn’t read them the first time, or weren’t part of the club the first time, and heck, they’re just darn good stories too.

So far, we’ve heard from all but one member (come on, Carla! 🙂 ), and here’s what we’ve got so far:

F. Scott Fitzgerald – “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz”

Kate Chopin – “A Shameful Affair”

Ernest Lawrence Thayer – “Casey at the Bat”

Jack London – “A Piece of Steak”

Rudyard Kipling – “Rikki Tikki Tavi”

Ambrose Bierce – “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

Alice Hoffman – “The Conjurer’s Handbook”

A.M. Burrage – “Smee”

I consider this a bumper crop of stories.  Yeah, yeah, I know Casey at the Bat is a poem (the member who picked that one is a chronic troublemaker…  🙂 ).  Also the member who selected An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge described it as “a dark story that keeps you hanging until the end.”  If you’ve read that story before, you may appreciate the humor in that description…  Chopin, Thayer, and Hoffman are all new authors for the club, whereas for some of the others we’ve read novels, and some are making their second appearance in Short Story Month.

What about you?  Have you read any of these stories?  Have you ever participated in a book club that read short stories (either every now and then, or exclusively)?  I’d love to hear about it…

 

A Clean, Well Lighted Place by Ernest Hemingway

Short stories really are a different animal than full-length novels. Even among short stories there are many types and forms. I used to sometimes think that short stories were more like photographs, that captured a moment in time for a character or event, while novels were like watching a motion picture where you “see everything” there is to see. This morning I read the Hemingway story, “A Clean, Well Lighted Place” as part of my 2011 short story reading project. This story is even short for a short story (not quite five pages in my edition) and to continue the analogy above, would be a photograph with a much quicker shutter speed. It still worked for me.

I’ve had this book, The Short Stories by Ernest Hemingway on my bookshelf for years but have never ventured to delve into it. I don’t know why. I wonder if it’s because my image of the man is a distasteful one. A narcissistic alcoholic? I don’t know anything from my own research so this may be unfair. Perhaps reading a biography of Hemingway is in order.

A Clean, Well Lighted Place captures a feeling, or mood or emotion for me. The basic “plot” – if you can call it that – is that of an old man who likes to drink, sometimes to the point of drunkenness, in a cafe until it closes. We are treated to two different
perspectives of this man’s condition by two waiters at the cafe. One is young and impatient and is only interested in how quickly they can get the old man to leave, so that he himself can go home early to his wife. The other is older and more worldly-wise and sympathetic to the old man. This second waiter, in just a few pages is able to expound on the virtues of “sitting in cafes” for hours (something I would speak in favor of myself 🙂 )

“I am of those who like to stay late at the cafe,” he says. “With all those who do not want to go to bed. With all those that need a light for the night.” Later the older waiter says, “Each night I am reluctant to close up because there may be someone who needs the cafe.” Later he says to the young waiter, “You do not understand. This is a clean and pleasant cafe. It is well lighted.” these few sentences capture the essence of the story for me. True, there’s not much “action,” but I enjoyed the ten or fifteen minutes I “spent in the cafe” this morning.

What about you? What do you know about and what have you read by Hemingway? Where should I turn for my next Hemingway read?

Sent from my iPad

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami

The author Haruki Murakami was recommended to me by fellow blogger, Bellezza. I’d heard of Murakami before but not read anything by him until today. This morning, for my 2011 “deal me in” short story reading project, I drew the King of Diamonds (what’s with all these diamonds? I will have a flush soon!), and that card is marked for the story Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (see my page titled “deal me in selections” for a complete list of potential reads this year). Of course, I didn’t already own this one, and it is too recent to be had for free anywhere on the Internet (at least anywhere I could find), so I downloaded a collection of his stories from my Barnes & Noble account.

The collection also includes an author’s introduction, which I found very interesting. It seems he likes to alternate between working on novels and short stories, but cannot work on both at the same time, hypothesizing that a different part of the brain must be in use for each. He also includes the wonderful paragraph:

“My short stories are like soft shadows I’ve set out in the world, faint footprints I’ve left behind. I remember exactly when I set down each and everyone of them, and how I felt when I did.”

This particular story takes its name from a dream/ story that the girlfriend of the narrator’s friend told them about when they had come to visit her in a hospital after a minor operation. It’s hard to say what this story is actually about (maybe it’s about “nothing” – like that famous sitcom). What it may be about, though, is that fragile escape into memories that we all are sometimes able to effect. In this story, the narrator’s task at hand is accompanying his young cousin to an appointment at a hospital to have his hearing in one ear checked yet again. As he waits for the appointment to be over, the narrator lapses back into memory of the other hospital visit years ago.

Though reading in translation, it seems pretty clear to me at Murakami writes beautifully. Speaking of his reminiscences as “returning to the realm of memory,” and – late in the story – when his cousin grabs him by the arm, asking “Are you alright?” when it appears the narrator is “lost in thought” he (the narrator) muses immediately after being ‘brought back to reality’ that “for a few seconds I stood there in a strange, dim place. Where the things I could see didn’t exist. Where the invisible did.” I found that to be one of my favorite passages I’ve read in ANYTHING lately.

This story left me with more of a “feeling” than a “literary take” or impression, and I can’t remember anything else I’ve read recently that I can say that about.

Haruki Murakami

What about you? Have you read any Murakami? What were your impressions?

-Jay

Master and Man – a short story by Leo Tolstoy

For my fifth week of “Project: Deal Me In!” I drew the three of diamonds, which led me to the famous Leo Tolstoy short story, “Master and Man.” And how appropriate that I happened to read it this week, as winter has just dealt much of the country a staggering blow. Here in Central Indiana, our portion of this storm was mostly ice and sleet, making travel hazardous and even convincing me to work from home yesterday. What does this have to do with Master and Man? Well, this story by Tolstoy takes place during a blizzard in Russia (where I’m sure they would laugh at our reactions to this latest storm here in America).

*****Warning: some spoilers follow*****
The “master” and the “man” are – quite naturally – the main characters in the story. The master (Vasili Andreevich Brekhunov) and his servant (Nikita, a local peasant) strike out into the teeth of a strengthening blizzard (with the aid of perhaps the third main character, the I’ll-fated horse Mukhorty) so that Vasili can be the early bird and purchase a tract of land before his competitors know it’s on the market and react themselves. We learn a little of how poorly Vasili treats Nikita (perhaps an alcoholic, but currently “on the wagon”), and we also see, in contrast, how well Nikita tends to and cares for the horse.

Vasili’s single-mindedness in pursuit of monetary gains leaves him not very well-stocked with common sense. His eagerness to arrive at their destination leads him to try an imprudent short cut, and they get lost more than once (whenever anything goes wrong, in his mind it always somehow happens to be anybody’s fault BUT Vasili’s, where the true blame lies). After stopping at a small village not far from their destination, they decline offers to stay the night (well, Vasili declines on their behalf) and they strike out again, this time to get completely lost and stuck in a kind of ditch. Nikita advises there is nothing for them to do but spend the night where they are. Their sledge (carriage) is not big enough for them both to stay “inside” so of course Vasili takes shelter inside while poor Nikita and the Horse do the best they can vs. the elements.

The last few chapters detail what must be a very long night for everyone, and how they each deal with the situation tells a lot about them. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but in the end a familiar Tolstoy theme reigns, and we have kind of a not happy, but not completely sad either, ending on our hands. This story can be read for free online in many places, one of which is the link below.

http://www.fullbooks.com/Master-and-Man.html

What do you think of Tolstoy? Have you stuck to his shorter works (as I have us far), or have you read the imposing volumes, War and Peace and Anna Karenina? I did make a small step this year and actually purchased War and Peace, but I haven’t started it yet, even with the temptation of a couple bloggers hosting War and Peace read-alongside at present.

-Jay

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