Samuel Butler: Erewhon, or Over the Range (1872)
Guest Lecture: The Story within the Story
Ernest Hemingway: In Our Time (New York, 1925)
I first read Hemingway's short stories when I was a teenager. I'm not sure I really understood a lot of them, but one thing that really struck me in his first collection, In Our Time (1925), was the way that each story was prefaced by what seemed a completely unrelated short prose paragraph.
I spent a good deal of time trying to find connections between the stories and their epigraphs. Some, such as the famous passage about the leopard found frozen on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro before the story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," worked quite well, but that story was written quite a bit later. The ones in In Our Time were quite baffling.
It wasn't till years later that I found out that Hemingway had originally published the prose vignettes as a separate book, also called "in our time" (lower-case) in Paris in 1924. He added the stories later. In a sense, then, I was wasting my time. In another sense, though, it was my first introduction to the art of literary collage.
Ernest Hemingway: In Our Time (Paris, 1924)
If you set things side by side, readers are forced to see them as related. This can have very odd effects on the way they read. My own addiction to the process began, I suspect, with this unintentional effect in Hemingway's first book. I say "unintentional," but who really knows? Certainly much of what he was doing in that book had strong analogies with art movements such as cubism.
Pablo Picasso: Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper (1913)
With that in mind, I thought I'd start off by talking about a recent piece of writing I did called "General Grant in Paeroa."
Essentially, the point of the piece is the fact that I found an old book about the American Civil War in a second-hand shop there, with some very intriguing annotations.
The basic story, then, is about buying and reading the book. The story within the story is about the clues I could glean from it about the person who scribbled all over it in pencil before selling it to the local hospice shop.
He wanted to use this biography of General Grant as the basis for a novel about the Civil War, which is why he underlined so many useful details. He must have given up on the idea, though, or else he wouldn't have thrown out the book. It's a story, then, about a conjectural story someone I've never met was in the process of dreaming up.
The first version was full of scanned bits of text from the original book. When I tried to publish it, though, the editor said that those bits wouldn't reproduce clearly, so I had to take them all out. Personally I prefer it with the scans, but I understand that they make it look pretty odd: like a piece of cubist collage, in fact.
Here are some of the scans I would have liked to use:
Flyleaf Annotations (9/1/15)
Table of Contents
date: 1864 + 150 = 2014
Here's another example of a story within the story. This one I've called an essay rather than a story, but I don't myself see much difference between the two forms.
I was trying to write an essay about the nineteenth century New Zealand classic Erewhon for a collection of essays on place. Since its author, Samuel Butler, only lived in New Zealand for five years or so, and composed only a couple of chapters of his novel here, most international readers don't tend to see it as having anything much to do with here specifically.
That's why I reproduced the cover of this particular edition, from the early 1970s. It was the first one I read, and has therefore stuck in my imagination.
The first version of the essay was too academic: there were a lot of literary parallels there, but very little about place. I rewrote it, according to the suggestions of the editor of the collection, and added some more personal associations with the South Island over the years.
That seemed to work much better. The essay really came together, and we sent it off to the publisher for (as we thought) a final run-through.
I think her surprise was as great as mine when the publisher's editor came back to us with a lot of questions about potential libel! Who were the people in these pieces of personal reminiscence? Were they alive? Had they given permission for their names and details about them to be used?
No, they hadn't, was the answer. Another rewrite was therefore required before they would agree to publish it. as well as the story I was writing about, and the portions of my own story I'd embedded in my original draft, there's also now the - ongoing - story of the writing of the story to contend with.
dirty.ru: cigarette butts (2014)
I suppose for me moving bits and pieces of text alongside and apart from each other has always been an important part of the craft of writing. It's a bit like mosaic work, I suppose. At a certain distance things come into focus, but up until then the associations can seem quite random.
Jason Mecier: Patricia Highsmith (2008)