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JO S E P H J . W Y D E V E N Bellevue, College Focus andFrame inWrightMorris’s The Works of Love Through the dusty lace curtains at my hotel room window I spied on passersby I secretly envied, as Sherwood Anderson spied on his neighbors in Winesburg . They were dream-drugged, these people, and I envied the depth of their addiction. —Wright Morris The passage above, from Photographs and Words (28), might well serve as a critical epigraph to The Works of Love, a novel which has given readers and critics considerable difficulty. That Morris called this work “the linchpin in my novels concerned with the plains” is appropriate, not so much because The Works of Love encapsulated his themes, but because the novel developed the groundwork for his more ambitious project of probing the American psyche. Further, as will be argued here, the narrative method oiThe Works of Love was shaped by Morris through an imaginative fusion of his dual preoccupations as fiction writer and photographer: through his own practice of photography Morris introduced a motif of intersubjectivity and potential violation of consciousness which runs through much of his fiction. Morris experimented with the relations between photographs and words over two decades—from the mid-1980s to the mid-50s. His first pub­ lication, “The Inhabitants” (1940), was a photo-text which juxtaposed photographs and brief prose sketches, and several of Morris’s novels over the next fifteen years—especially The Man Who Was There (1945), the photo-text The Home Place (1948), and The Deep Sleep (1953) — included explicit references to photographic epistemology as well as care­ fully described “photographic” images. 100 Western American Literature That Morris had photography much on his mind throughout the writ­ ing of The Works of Love is obvious from the chronology of his creativity at that time. The Works of Love went through seven drafts between 1946 and 1951, when it was finally published in severely shortened form. The first draft was composed in 1946, the same year as the publication of his first photo-text book, The Inhabitants (enlarged and modified from the 1940 “The Inhabitants” ). About the time of the second and third drafts, Morris paused (with the help of a Guggenheim) to write and take the photographs for The Home Place (Cohn 178-79, 230). Then, in the same year that The Works of Love was published, Morris contributed an essay to The Magazine of Art entitled “Privacy as a Subject for Photography,” a plea for photographic “revelation” as opposed to “exposure” (Morris’s term for intrusive violation in photography). Dedicated in part to Sherwood Anderson, The Works of Love con­ tinues Anderson’s analysis of men and women subjected to peculiarly American failures of communication. But whereas Anderson often dealt with damages to the self caused by psychological trauma, Morris seems to develop his protagonist, Will Brady, as a person moved paradoxically by an absence of motivation: Brady seems to exist at times as little more than a receptor of sensual stimuli, unable to convert perception into conception in the interests of a better life and fuller consciousness. It is true that Morris suggests Brady’s “redemption” through the inclusion of mystical insights which hover about this character’s consciousness, but throughout the book Morris emphasizes the more mundane processes of Brady’s perception. The Works of Love is obviously an ironic novel, and the chief irony is how little knowledge Brady achieves from so many detailed acts of perception. Unable to cope with the hostilities of environment, Brady retreats from the world, transcending it only within his imagination, where he seeks “mystical” escape from reality. The Works of Love follows Will Brady from his birth in Indian Bow, Nebraska, to his death in Chicago: dressed in a Montgomery Ward Santa Claus suit, he plunges to his death in a sewage canal. The novel follows Brady’s eastward course as he leaves the sandhills behind; we see him accept as his own a child, dropped off the eastbound freight and tagged simply “M y name is Willy Brady,” and we observe the pathos of his first marriage, to Ethel Bassett, and later the bathos of his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 99-112
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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