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The Achievement of Wendell Berry

The Hard History of Love

Fritz Oehlschlaeger

Publication Year: 2011

Arguably one of the most important American writers working today, Wendell Berry is the author of more than fifty books, including novels and collections of poems, short stories, and essays. A prominent spokesman for agrarian values, Berry frequently defends such practices and ideas as sustainable agriculture, healthy rural communities, connection to place, the pleasures of work, and the interconnectedness of life. In The Achievement of Wendell Berry: The Hard History of Love, Fritz Oehlschlaeger provides a sweeping engagement with Berry’s entire corpus. The book introduces the reader to Berry’s general philosophy and aesthetic through careful consideration of his essays. Oehlschlaeger pays particular attention to Berry as an agrarian, citizen, and patriot, and also examines the influence of Christianity on Berry’s writings. Much of the book is devoted to lively close readings of Berry’s short stories, novels, and poetry. The Achievement of Wendell Berry is a comprehensive introduction to the philosophical and creative world of Wendell Berry, one that offers new critical insights into the writing of this celebrated Kentucky author.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: Culture of the Land

Front Cover

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Series page

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Title page

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Copyright page

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Contents page

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pp. vii-viii

I wish to begin by thanking Wendell Berry for the rich and honest work he has given, and continues to give, to his readers. I thank him, too, for his permission to quote more fully from the poems “Dante” and “Sabbath VII, 2008” than fair scholarly use customarily allows. I am also grateful to my editors at the University Press of Kentucky, Laura Sutton, Ann Malcolm, ...


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pp. ix-xi

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pp. 1-8

To attempt a work of literary criticism devoted to the writings of Wendell Berry might seem foolhardy. Afer all, Jayber Crow has warned critics off in no uncertain terms in the “Notice” posted “BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR” at the beginning of the novel bearing his name: “Persons attempting to find a ‘text’ in this book will be prosecuted; persons attempting ...

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Chapter 1. Practices, Particulars, and Virtues: What Mules Taught Wendell Berry

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pp. 9-42

Wendell Berry remarks in “A Native Hill” that he was born in “the nick of time.” If he had been born only five years later, he “would have begun in a different world, and would no doubt have become a different man.” Born in 1934 in Kentucky, where the Depression and later World War II “delayed the mechanization” process, Berry became “less a child of [his] time” than ...

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Chapter 2. Toward a Peaceable Economy for a Beloved Country: Berry as an Agrarian, Citizen, and Patriot

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pp. 43-76

I want to begin this chapter with the improbable proposition that the Mad Farmer of Wendell Berry’s poetry and his character Burley Coulter have something to contribute to the salvation of political life in America. In “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” Berry’s Mad Farmer urges us to “every day / do something that won’t compute”...

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Chapter 3. Against the Church, For the Church: Berry and Christianity

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pp. 77-116

Some years ago a student of mine asked in a seminar on Wendell Berry whether Berry’s ideas depended on Christianity or at least on a religious view of the world. I remember answering with considerable equivocation, first because I wanted to avoid saying anything that would encourage my non-Christian students to write off Berry’s ideas, but also because I was ...

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Chapter 4. Port William's "Hard History of Love": The Short Stories

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pp. 117-150

In the closing story of That Distant Land, Wendell Berry’s collected short fiction, fifty-four-year-old Danny Branch accompanies eighty-six-year-old Wheeler Catlett on a day trip to Louisville, where Wheeler is selling some of his calves. As Danny listens to the always voluble Wheeler, who seems to be “swaying on the edge of the world as if he might at any moment disappear,”...

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Chapter 5. Remembering the Names: Andy Catlett, Nathan Coulter, A World Lost, Remembering, and The Memory of Old Jack

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pp. 151-194

During his visit to his Catlett grandparents shortly after Christmas in 1943, nine-year-old Andy Catlett spends part of a day with the men working in the tobacco barn. Gathered there are his grandfather Marce, now aged beyond most work; Dick Watson, the family’s African American hand; the Brightleaf brothers, Jess and Rufus, tenant farmers working on shares; and...

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Chapter 6. Imagining the Practice of Peace in a Century of War: A Place on Earth, Hannah Coulter, and Jayber Crow

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pp. 195-236

A Place on Earth. Wendell Berry’s novel offers rich possibilities for meditation on its title. The novel is about a particular place, Port William, Kentucky, during a time, World War II, in which the life of that place has come under the influence—perhaps the tyranny—of places far distant on earth, unknown to those in Port William except through the thin details of...

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Chapter 7. The "Art of Being Here"; The Poetry

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pp. 237-268

Wendell Berry has repeatedly posted his poetry with signs saying, “NO EXPLAINING.” In “Stay Home,” the opening poem of A Part, he gives a turn to the well-known invitation, “You come too,” of Frost’s “The Pasture”...


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pp. 269-302


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pp. 303-312


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pp. 313-322

E-ISBN-13: 9780813130095
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813130071

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Culture of the Land