Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Why haven't I heard of Elizabeth Spencer before? Or have I? - That was long ago when he was proud of her.

I could, and perhaps should, spend a week at Wuthering Expectations plundering The Hudson Review whenever a new issue arrives. There’s hardly a shortage of good writing in good literary journals, so I’m not sure my advocacy is especially useful, but The Hudson Review is the one I read all the way through, every time.

The last issue has (most links are PDFs), besides the Heaney essay, three (or possibly two) unpublished stories by Penelope Fitzgerald, fine poems by B. H. Fairchild and many others, and a long excerpt from Joseph Epstein’s forthcoming biography of Fred Astaire, a breezy and elegant piece. The short story by Elizabeth Spencer (“Sightings”) is unlikely to win an award for originality – it’s what one might call standard New Yorker stuff – but it ought to win one for excellence. It’s not innovative in any way, but merely has characters who seem like real people, insights into human nature, artful uses of symbolism. Ho hum.

I’m embarrassed that I had never heard of her, or had forgotten her. Look at this lovely website; look at all those books. She seems to be pegged as a Mississippi writer, and good for her.
Here’s a bit of the story. A teenage girl’s mother is going to marry an idiot; the teenager has fled to her father; the mother and new man have pursued her. The point of view is the father’s; Celie is his ex-wife, Guy is the idiot:

“Guy Bowden was a beefy fellow, large arms, thick legs, heavy feet. But wearing a nicely pressed grey suit, a satin tie. Celie was trim, she was a word he used to think about her: petite. It rhymed with neat. That was long ago when he was proud of her.”

The description is nothing special – a lot of writers can do that, or better – but that last line gets us somewhere.

Anybody else have warm feelings about Elizabeth Spencer, or particular books of hers? I’ll read more, I hope.


  1. Me. I usually see her when I go to Chapel Hill. I used to always have lunch with Elizabeth and the wonderful Louis D. Rubin, Jr. But now Louis is gone... But I still manage to see her, along with some other writers and a painter or two. She's a lovely person, elderly but with all her marbles well arranged.

  2. !!!

    What a treat.

    The Southern Woman is about perfect. You remind me that I meant to get her last book, Starting Over, but did not do so. Let me fix that.

    1. Back when I did not know her, I used to glimpse her at winter events, always in a gigantic fur hat! An impressive figure, tall and straight.