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  • Paradise Lost
  • Speer Morgan

Literature is replete with “lost” places, from paradise itself to those places—islands or interludes of harmony—that are simply better than the present world. It may seem easy to make fun of Milton’s idea of how paradise is lost, with Eve initiating the fall in a world of unquestioned hierarchy and authority, yet it is Adam going along with her disobedience that seals their fate, begetting sin and death.

In literature, the idea of paradise and its loss evolved from a religious Eden to one of nature. Romantic poets saw the experience of nature or moments in the natural world as both model and evidence of a deep human connectedness to higher powers. Wordsworth and Coleridge believed this sensitivity was especially present among children, who more easily than adults can experience “shards of time” in which they become transparent to the sublime power of nature and the imagination.

In the fully developed Industrial Revolution of England, writers such as Matthew Arnold, Alfred, Lord Tennyson and John Ruskin brooded over our destruction of the natural world, “turning flower beds into heaps of coke.” American Transcendentalists had their own love affair with nature, but it fell away quickly among America’s early important fiction writers. Dark romantics Hawthorne and Melville, as well as many writers during the age of Realism, depicted the hoped-for paradises of pastoral life or faraway places as harboring as much evil as the everyday world, or more. [End Page 5]

Yet while paradise may be just a fantasy projection of some place or time or time of life, it is not mere foolishness because it expresses what makes human beings powerful—imagination, the ability to dream up something far better than what we have.

In her essay “Ranching on Dry Ground,” Carolyn Osborn writes about the challenges of raising cattle on her small inherited family ranch in Central Texas. They include learning how to pick healthy cattle, keeping the land free of invasive, water-sucking vegetation and getting windmills repaired when they break down. Osborn depicts such a deep sense of the history and personality of the land in her essay that it almost becomes a character whose ongoing life is threatened by long-term water shortages.

Daniel Torday’s “Some Notes on Success” remembers life in the author’s twenties, when he yearned to succeed as a musician or writer but didn’t yet comprehend what he wanted or where he was going. He writes, “Success, I guessed then, was maybe inductive: a success, then another, sometime thereafter a mode of being. I could not yet allow myself to think of the things success would allow me to do. I just wanted first to succeed once. Then again. Then see.” When his bluegrass band is unexpectedly recruited to play in a Folgers coffee commercial, he gets a glimpse of the randomness of their selection and how insignificant they actually are—yet for more than one reason, the experience turns out to be strangely important in his life. It’s an engaging piece about the sorts of unlikely things that happen in one’s twenties, when despite all the weirdness and uncertainty, anything is possible.

This issue’s fiction includes “People in Profile” by Siamak Vossoughi, told from the point of view of Mrs. Leavenworth, an elementary school teacher in San Francisco. She sets up a program that she calls “People in Profile,” in which the children play the roles of great humanitarians from history. They are interviewed about their lives and, in doing so, naturally become more peaceable and cooperative among each other. It’s a quietly marvelous little story suggesting the human power to learn about greatness by imitation.

In “The Grinning Boy” Michael Larkin imagines a possible inciting event leading to the gang war between members of the Charlestown and Somerville Irish mobs in the 1960s. The unnamed protagonist is the son of a working-class alcoholic father who supports Irish nationalism and gives to the Fenian cause. The boy, who is regularly beaten by [End Page 6] a neighborhood bully, finds himself in the unexpected position to take unplanned revenge on both the bully and the whole...


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pp. 5-9
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