Thursday, January 27, 2011

Story # 3 - Echoes of a Life Still Being Lived

STORY: "Old Mr. Marblehall" by Eudora Welty


BASICALLY: Old Mr. Marblehall is an old man whose wife has a child when they are very old, and the whole small town they live in gossips about them. Old Mr. Marblehall also has another wife in the same town, that the first doesn’t know about, and they also have a young child. Or does he?

“Old Mr. Marblehall” is only the second short story I’ve ever read from Eudora Welty, but already I’m considering organizing some sort of mini-parade for how great she is, for how huge and wild and perfect her stories are. Like most of my other mini-parades, it will mostly just be me yelling at people from my open car window, and maybe throwing books at them. These parades are not very popular with other people, and have on more than one occasion gotten me arrested, but if anyone has ever deserved one, I suspect it may be her.

The story is set in a small town, but it’s also set IN THE ONLY SMALL TOWN. There is no world outside this town, its boundaries are as limiting as the doorways at one of Bunuel’s dinner parties, and in just such an unspoken way.

The story is set in a quaint early-Twentieth-Century past, but it’s also set IN THE ONLY TIME. Nothing ever really happened before this time, nothing that really matters anyway, nothing that was any different. Sure, Old. Mr. Marblehall went to Europe once and wasn’t that impressed, but that was almost like a dream, and really he’s just like his father, another Old Mr. Marblehall, and just like his grandfather, another.

A week or two would go by in Natchez and then there would be Mr. Marblehall, walking down Catherine Street again, still exactly the same degree alive and old.

In the heat haze of this southern setting, the world is reduced to one universal, homogenous, drowsily pleasant whole, and if there are any other places, they’re not to be bothered with, and if there are any other times, a past, a future, they are just the same, come on, don’t worry about them.

There is only one town and there is only one time, and it may be there is only one person. There is only one Old Mr. Marblehall. He has a wife, and a son, and his son was born when Old Mr. Marblehall was already old, and his son seems like an old man already, like the next Old Mr. Marblehall, just smaller.

The story talks about his double life, his waiting until he was sixty to get married and have a child, but then even the term “double life” gains a double meaning, as we find out that he has another wife, also married at sixty, in the same town, with another creepy old-looking sweet child. And perhaps there are even more. Who knows, really?

You will think, what if nothing ever happens? What if there is no climax, even to this amazing life? Suppose old Mr. Marblehall simply remains alive, getting older by the minute, shuffling, still secretly, back and forth?

One critic, Alfred Appel, in his 1965 book A SEASON OF DREAMS, suggests that “the story itself is like a marble hall in which the sounds of the real world and those of the fantastic invisible world echo and resound, becoming indistinguishable from one another, each world assuming the same identity," and I think that’s accurate. I think that’s what’s going on here.

This is a life in a jar, in a closed marble hall, echoing back and forth against itself in a closed time and a closed space. That’s what I’m feeling right now, anyway, though there’s more than just that, and this is an amazing, mind-stretching story that will surely receive many re-readings by me over the rest of my life.

If I’m not killed in a mini-parade first.


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