November 2014 favorites


November 2014

The November stories ordered solely on my personal tastes.

  1. ‘Chickamauga’ by Ambrose Bierce
  2. ‘Paul’s Case’ by Willa Cather
  3. ‘The Veldt’ by Ray Bradbury
  4. ‘The Story Of An Hour’ by Kate Chopin
  5. ‘Of This Time, Of That Place’ by Lionel Trilling
  6. ‘The Nose’ by Nikolai Gogol
  7. ‘A White Heron’ by Sarah Orne Jewett
  8. ‘A Circle In The Fire’ by Flannery O’Connor
  9. ‘Going For A Beer’ by Robert Coover
  10. ‘Two Thanksgiving Gentlemen’ by O. Henry
  11. ‘Dawn Of Remembered Spring’ by Jesse Stuart
  12. ‘The Middle Years’ by Henry James
  13. ‘The Catbird Seat’ by James Thurber
  14. ‘The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story’ by Joel Chandler Harris
  15. ‘The Peach Stone’ by Paul Horgan
  16. ‘Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ by Jorge Luis Borges
  17. ‘An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving’ by Louisa May Alcott
  18. ‘Who Lived And Died Believing’ by Nancy Hale
  19. ‘The Devil And Tom Walker’ by Washington Irving
  20. ‘The Facts Concerning The Recent Carnival Of Crime In Connecticut’ by Mark Twain

‘Of This Time, Of That Place’ by Lionel Trilling

Trilling, Lionel 1944

Of This Time, Of That Place by Lionel Trilling, 1944

The magic trick:

Comparing the literary criticism of Howe with his actions and decisions as a professor

Much can and has been written about the character of Tertan in this story. I, instead, was most drawn to the way Trilling compares the literary criticism of Howe, related early in the story, with the professor’s actions and decisions of the story’s second half. Specifically, the critic writes of Howe’s poetry: “The Howes do no harm, but they do no good when positive good is demanded of all responsible men.” This is the key idea, as far as I can tell, in the story.

Howe does nothing particularly wrong, per se, in the way he deals with the ensuing classroom situations involving Tertan and Blackburn. But he is lazy, weak, maybe even a little scared, selfish, in the decisions he makes as a professor regarding those two students. Does he cause any great harm? No, perhaps not. But perhaps, in the bigger picture, yes. It’s a very interesting question to consider. And that’s quite a trick on Trilling’s part.

The selection:

There was a silence between them. Both dropped their eyes to the blue-book on the desk. On its cover Howe had penciled: “F: This is very poor work.”

Howe picked up the blue-book. There was always the possibility of injustice. The teacher may be bored by the mass of papers and not wholly attentive. A phrase, even the student’s handwriting, may irritate him unreasonably. “Well,” said Howe, “let’s go through it.”