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Reviewed by:
Jeannee P. Sacken. "A Certain Slant of Light": Aesthetics of First-Person Narration in Gide and Cather. New York: Garland, 1985. 272 pp. $35.00.
Carol S. Manning. With Ears Opening Like Morning Glories: Eudora Welly and the Love of Storytelling. Contributions to Women's Studies 58. Westport: Greenwood, 1985. 221 pp. $29.95.

Although at first glance Jeannee Sacken seems to have made an arbitrary choice of André Gide's L'Immoraliste and Willa Cather's My Ántonia as subjects for an analysis of first-person narrative technique, she succeeds in illuminating the narrative complexity of both novels by the comparison. This study provides a detailed application to L'Immoraliste and My Ántonia of the structuralist narrative theory of Gerard Genette and selected elements of Roman Ingarden's phenomenological approach. Over a third of Sacken's book is devoted to a rather mechanical presentation of these highly abstract theories, however, before we come to any commentary on Gide's and Cather's novels. Even then, discussion of the literary texts is encumbered and obscured by the theoretical apparatus.

The strength of Sacken's approach is its identification of the various dimensions of first-person narrative stance for Gide's Michel and Cather's Jim Burden and of the other frames or perspectives the writers have set up to qualify further their fictional narrators' claims. Gide, for instance, gives us not only the "present" oral moment in which Michel tells the story of his past three years and the consciousness that he describes himself as possessing during those years but also the boyhood friend whose letter frames the whole. Cather's Jim Burden tells the story of his own and Ántonia's childhood, recounts what he has learned about parts of Ántonia's later life from old friends in the town of Black Hawk, and is himself described in the framing narrative of an old acquaintance he meets on a train traveling across Iowa. Sacken analyzes these narrative positions to show that the "promised sincerity and sense of spontaneity [of Michel's confession] are undermined by the nature of Michel's studied and self-serving manner of narration" whereas "Jim Burden's carefully crafted memoir, on the other hand, manages to impart a certain candid innocence."

Such a demonstration of how narrative forms interact in the first-person novel is valuable in teaching us to read and in providing a fuller sense of the two works in question. However, the same message could have been delivered more briefly and clearly, without the unweildy cargo of theoretical apparatus which it has been forced to carry. The allusion to Emily Dickinson's poem in the book's title does not seem appropriate to Sacken's conclusions.

Carol S. Manning looks at Eudora Welty from a more practical perspective, exploring the implications of Welty's frequent references to her lifelong delight in storytelling. With Ears Opening Like Morning Glories begins by examining Welty's career as an apprentice in this distinctively Southern art so that we see her early stories as experiments in various storytelling modes through which she gradually developed her own distinctive methods based in good part on oral traditions. [End Page 272]

From this introductory premise, Manning moves through chapters on Welty's distinctively dramatic focus on Southern storytelling traditions and her use of place to the relation of memory to mythmaking and her satiric examination of heroic figures and romantic illusions about the past. Two more chapters look closely at Losing Battles and The Optimist's Daughter as culminating achievements in Welty's long career. Losing Battles seems for Manning a unique modern embodiment of oral traditions of frontier humor that parodies literary conventions established during the Southern Renaissance. The Optimist's Daughter is treated as a direct confrontation and transcendence of the familiar Old South/New South conflict.

As a whole, Manning's study ranges engagingly back and forth over the body of the fiction, sometimes picking up familiar themes of Welty criticism, such as her treatment of heroism and myth and her commitment to place, and sometimes providing fresh perspectives. Manning's emphasis on Welty's continual dramatization of Southern storytelling is a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 272-273
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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