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J A M E S M. C A H A L A N Indiana University o f Pennsylvania Edward Abbey, Appalachian Easterner Edward Abbey is part of a long tradition of western writers from the East.1 By focusing on Abbey’s Appalachian roots, I want to extend his sta­ tus—already well established in western literature—and emphasize the very real links between his eastern heritage and his achievements in writ­ ing memorably about the Southwest as well as his native western Pennsylvania. I outline the facts about his Appalachian experience and his earliest writings, and then focus on Appalachian Wilderness, Jonathan Troy, and The Fool’ s Progress in the light of these key contexts. As Kentucky novelist Gurney Norman tells me, “I don’t think that it’s ultimately fruitful to try to set up an opposition between the Appalachian region of Abbey’s boyhood and the far West of his later life. It isn’t that there is a contest. There is no split; it’s just that the linkages have not been made manifest.” A writer who grew up in Appalachia, lived in the West for a number of years, and then returned home to write about such experi­ ences, Norman articulates a vision that connects Appalachia and the Southwest, two mountainous regions linked in our history since the time of Daniel Boone and other pioneers.2 Abbey’s Appalachian roots must indeed be made manifest, as Norman recommends, and the facts set straight.3 To begin with, Abbey was not born in the tiny, unincorporated village of Home, Pennsylvania, ten miles north of the much larger town and county seat of Indiana, as virtually every writer about Abbey—including Abbey himself, even in his vita and his journal—has claimed.4 Abbey succeeded in mythologizing himself as “born in Home,” just as his book jackets have managed to convince many readers that he lived in Oracle (rather than in suburban west Tucson, as he actually did) and Wolf Hole, Arizona. He always loved a good name. As his wife, Clarke Cartwright Abbey, tells me, “he just liked the way it 234 Western American Literature sounded—the humor of being from Home.” 5 The oldest of five children, he was born in Indiana Hospital, fifty-five miles northeast of Pittsburgh, not “in that lamp-lit room in the old farmhouse near Home, Pennsylvania,” as the phrase appears in Abbey’s private journals (Confessions of a Barbarian 308).6 During the first four years of his life, Abbey lived in two different houses in Indiana, followed by two other dwellings in Saltsburg (twenty miles southwest of Indiana). He then spent the summer of 1931 on the road with his parents, Paul and Mildred, traveling throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, staying in various camps while his father entered sharp-shoot­ ing competitions and picked up occasional jobs. The Abbeys did not live in or around Home until “Ned” was more than four-and-a-half years old. Then they moved four more times before settling—in 1941, when he was fourteen years old—in the backwoods house midway between Home and Chambersville that he subsequently immortalized as “the Old Lonesome Briar Patch.”7 This was a “gray good gothic two-story clapboard farm­ house,” as he accurately described it in The Fool's Progress—wistfully fictionalizing the claim that it “remained, after a century, still the . . . fam­ ily home” (85). In 1967, his parents left this property behind, moving to a small house several miles away along busy Rt. 119, and the old “two-story clapboard farmhouse” burned down just a few years after that. Reviewing two books by Wendell Berry, who moved back onto his family’s land in Kentucky, Abbey wrote about the Old Lonesome Briar Patch that “Berry has the right idea. We should have kept the place in the family. My broth­ ers should have stayed” (archive 25: 5, pp. 2-3). Abbey seems to have suppressed, forgotten, or not known all the par­ ticulars concerning his more than eight different residences during the first fourteen years of his life. Yet the facts of his family’s Depression struggles throw new light on his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 233-253
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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