Thursday, August 25, 2016

Industrial Pennsylvania


 STEEL: Pittsburgh and Bethlehem in Literature
Walker Evans, 1935, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, from hill, across cemetery, to steel mills and furnace chimneys.  Large negative.

Retired persons, especially if they are not just tempted but compelled to use eBooks for their zoomable fonts, have the time and open schedules to follow ideas and motifs and recall novels and pictures that made an impression fifty and sixty years ago.  Sometimes it seems that motifs recur significantly.  For example, the adolescent girl, bound to become a protagonist, goes into service or takes a wearisome job, at only fourteen or so.  Even Isabel Allende uses this Type and I noticed it emphasized in the campaign film as the key idea in the youth of Hillary Clinton's mother.  Surely, in real life, it was not always the most important fact in a whole adolescence.  To me, as I'm sure to many others, the necessity to do whatever one could find at that age was commonplace and belonged to melodrama, as in the plays produced by David Belasco.  A real Girl of the Golden West, however, had plenty of self respect.  Early in this blog I wrote about San Pablo Poultry Company; I rather gloried in it.
Immediately I remembered Mary in Marcia Davenport's The Valley of Decision.  This novel made a great impression on me, though I never saw the movie.  I remembered the steel mill at night (though the photo that I chose, and it's only a little less than a decade earlier than the novel, and is of Bethlehem rather than Pittsburg), which is wonderfully described.  Ever since wherever I was traveling in the vicinity of steel-working I thought of Davenport's verbal picture.  I know that she did live in Pittsburg before writing about it.  She may not have been our greatest novelist, but her firsthand knowledge and sound research are pervasive in this book as in her first success, Mozart, and in her operatic novel, Of Lena Geyer (her mother being the soprano Alma Gluck).
But I need the electronic edition to re-read so long a novel, and having read The Valley of Decision while myself a teenager, and before I even was self-supporting, apart from the steel industry, the parts that remain vivid are the love interest!  I am certain that Davenport did all her homework, but the Kindle, for the first time, cannot help me.  I don't know why it is available only in hard copy, since it is, at least, as good as Gone With the Wind, and far more valuable for all its background. I'm sure it's worth reading, though I've moved on to George F. Kennan and Julian Barnes, which are really more rewarding!
But have you noticed, e.g. in the 1930s,  that there seem to be 'meaningful' recordings, usually Gramophone Society, and usually of Bach?
And I do think that the Poor Little Match Girl stereotype in political footage has been overdone (not that I hold it against the candidates themselves).