Drawing by Ancel Nunn Autobiography Continued from Cover youth which form the imaginary country of your novels, and this imaginary country in my case is named Prague.” The interview went on to tell that, although Kundera hasn’t lived in his home city for years he lives in Paris and likes hearing the French language around him he still sets his stories in Prague and writes about his people and in his own and their tongue. But Hawthorne writes in his Preface to The House of The Seven Gables: “The reader may perhaps choose to assign an actual locality to the imaginary events of this narrative. If permitted by the historical connection which, though slight, was essential to his, the author would very willingly have avoided anything of this nature. Not to speak of other objections, it exposes the romance to an inflexible and exceedingly dangerous species of criticism, by bringing his fancy-pictures almost into positive contact with the realities of the moment. It has been no part,of his object, however, to describe local manners, nor in any way to meddle with the characteristics of a community for whom he cherishes a proper respect and a natural regard. He trusts not to be considered as unpardonably offending by laying out a street that infringes upon nobody’s private rights, and appropriating a lot of land which had no visible owner, and building a house of materials long in use for constructing castles in air. The personages of the tale though they give themselves out to be of ancient stability and considerable prominence are really of the author’s own making, or, at all events, of his own mixing; their virtues can shed no lustre, nor their defects redound, in the remotest degree, to the discredit of the venerable town of which they profess to be inhabitants. He would be glad, therefore, if especially in the quarter to which he alludes the book may be read strictly as a Romance, having a great deal more to do with the clouds overhead than with any portion of the actual soil of the County of Essex.” Y OWN ROMANCES have had more to do with the “actual soil” of the County of Charity, Texas, than “the clouds overhead.” And since the people of the actual soil where most of my stories start or end \(al though they do, I believe, move in and talkers and use their speech with gusto and often with the air and bravura of sing ers; and since the language of their place is rich with phrases and ex pressions out of the King James Bible, from the Negro imagination and the Mexican fantasy, from Deep South Evangelism, from cottonfield and cotton gin, oil field, railroad and sawmill, I had at my ears a glorious sound. A marvelous instrument of language was given to me at the start. Why on earth would I want to invent a rhetoric of Parisians, Chicagoans, Londoners, or of a universal symbolic existential being? I was finally able to detach myself from my own native gift of speech so as to be able to hear it almost as a foreign language. This language, this landscape and folk I seized early, then, as mine to work with and to make some manner of art out of. This truly was, early, my absolute life’s work. In Europe, in nearly a dozen states of the United States, this was my work. Living in Rome, it was never more urgent, this faraway haunting landscape, this ringing speech, this tender and yearning, rollicking people, this notion, this vision of “home,” this ache of “homesickness.” It seems to me that I was always homesick. Standing before great paintings in Venice or Paris, I saw my own people in Rembrandt’s \(they were his my own countryside in Corot’s \(his bethe bull that was “raping” her was our When I was two-thirds through my first novel, The House of Breath, I announced to my editor, the memorable Robert N. Linscott, that I was going to live in Europe for a while. He was astonished that I would make such a radical move and was seriously concerned that the book would lose focus or locus since the novel was set in a little American town. I went. And what I saw in Europe I put into my novel; it fit very well ancient frescoes, grand avenues, plazas, noble ruins, they fit very easily into the little town of “Charity, Texas” that I was creating out of my own home town. In this way my Charity, like Kundera’s Prague, became a splendid imaginary town with real local inhabitants \(I generally, with the ardor of the young first novelist, used their real names this kept my feet on the ground, on that “actual soil of the county” of Hawthorne, on which my better I had gone up into Hawthorne’s “clouds overhead,” since I was thrown into such disrepute in the county and several of my countrymen threatened to sue me or run me out of town and county if I ever came back. In the Old World I saw families as friezes frozen forever as figures of guilt, self-pity, sin, yearning, like those people on the metopes of the pediments of ancient temples and on the very breezeway of my very house; and in our pasture I saw Flights and Annunciations, Expulsions of Adam and Eve from the Garden, Turners and Delacroix’s and Tintorettos. With one foot resting solidly 8 OCTOBER 29, 1982
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