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The Grandmothers: A Family Portrait

af Glenway Wescott

MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingOmtaler
752351,163 (3.5)1
Glenway Wescott's poignant story of nineteenth-century Wisconsin was first published in 1927 as the winner of the prestigious Harper Prize. Like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, Wescott left the Midwest behind to live as a writer in 1920s Paris. In this novel, based on Wescott's own life and family, the young Alwyn Tower leaves Wisconsin to travel in Europe, but finds himself haunted by a family of long-dead spirits--his grandparents and great-uncles and aunts, a generation whose young adulthood was shattered by the Civil War. Their images were preserved in fading family albums of daguerreotypes and in his own fragmented memories of stories told to him by his strong and enduring grandmothers. To disinter and finally lay to rest the family secrets that lingered insistently in his mind, Wescott writes, Alwyn was "obliged to live in imagination many lives already at an end."     The Grandmothers is the chronicle of Alwyn's ancestors:  the bitter Henry Tower, who returned from Civil War battlefields to find his beautiful wife Serena lost in a fatal fever; Rose Hamilton, robust and eager, who yearned to leave the cabin of her bearded, squirrel-hunting brothers for the company of courteous Leander Tower; the boy-soldier Hilary Tower, whose worship of his brother made him desperate; fastidious Nancy Tower, whose love for her husband Jesse Davis could not overcome her disgust with the dirt under his fingernails; Ursula Duff, proud and silent, maligned among her neighbors by her venal husb∧ Alwyn's parents, Ralph Tower and Marianne Duff, whose happiness is brought about only by the intervention of a determined spinster.… (mere)
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4/26/22
  laplantelibrary | Apr 26, 2022 |
We can't always see the way of things until we're far removed from them. That's a truth in art, as well as in other areas. So it was when Glenway Wescott wrote his family, his Wisconsin home, and their collective pasts as 'The Grandmothers' while living in France. I've just read 'Glenway Wescott: Personally' so it was clear to me how much of his family he'd put into his book, and how much of himself he'd put in as well.

The prose is ornate and hypnotically heavy, but suits the chronicle feel of the book. 'The Grandmothers' is Alwyn Tower's family history as told to him, as he remembers it, how he overheard it through the stories and news exchanged over his head at family gatherings as a child, and from the fading images in family albums. It is always through Tower's understanding that we view events. Gertrude Stein famously, infamously, dismissed Wescott as, and I paraphrase, being syrup too thick to be poured; that judgment would be simple to understand if it were not for the powerful insight and familiarity shining within each thick rivulet and stream of a sentence or paragraph. Wescott has Alwyn confess to it in the novel, and its true, he had a remarkable eye and ear for the inner-life of people, understanding more in a person's pauses and silences than others have with the benefit of a full conversation.

As thoughtful and personal as this novel is, it is by no means insular, Alwyn's understanding of his family's history mirrors his understanding of America and its place to be in the world. He meditates over his family's origins and their sense of 'coming down' in the world, of the New World's origins in the ruination of Tenochtitlan and the slaughter of the Indians. He has a sense of his own culpability in those matters but is unsure of what to make of them, of what his country must do to justify those actions. He knows that, like himself, the United States is made up of all those who came before it as well as those who currently till its soil.

That latter understanding of the book, the consideration of history and America's place in it, attracts me just as much as the family saga. It is a very different piece of work then any I've read of his contemporaries, but Wescott's 'The Grandmothers' deserves some of the consideration given to Fitzgerald and Hemingway and their definitive depictions of America's coming-of-age. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
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Glenway Wescott's poignant story of nineteenth-century Wisconsin was first published in 1927 as the winner of the prestigious Harper Prize. Like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, Wescott left the Midwest behind to live as a writer in 1920s Paris. In this novel, based on Wescott's own life and family, the young Alwyn Tower leaves Wisconsin to travel in Europe, but finds himself haunted by a family of long-dead spirits--his grandparents and great-uncles and aunts, a generation whose young adulthood was shattered by the Civil War. Their images were preserved in fading family albums of daguerreotypes and in his own fragmented memories of stories told to him by his strong and enduring grandmothers. To disinter and finally lay to rest the family secrets that lingered insistently in his mind, Wescott writes, Alwyn was "obliged to live in imagination many lives already at an end."     The Grandmothers is the chronicle of Alwyn's ancestors:  the bitter Henry Tower, who returned from Civil War battlefields to find his beautiful wife Serena lost in a fatal fever; Rose Hamilton, robust and eager, who yearned to leave the cabin of her bearded, squirrel-hunting brothers for the company of courteous Leander Tower; the boy-soldier Hilary Tower, whose worship of his brother made him desperate; fastidious Nancy Tower, whose love for her husband Jesse Davis could not overcome her disgust with the dirt under his fingernails; Ursula Duff, proud and silent, maligned among her neighbors by her venal husb∧ Alwyn's parents, Ralph Tower and Marianne Duff, whose happiness is brought about only by the intervention of a determined spinster.

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