Miss Simpson's Impression of Stribling as a Student
MISS SIMPSON'S IMPRESSION OF HIM AS A STUDENT
Tom Stribling was a student in the Normal College for the two years required at that time for a diploma. Tall and rather loosely put together, with an air of perfect indifference to most things that others were eager about, he lounged through the day's schedule. Capable of brilliant work in whatever interested him, and equally capable of completely ignoring whatever failed to interest him, made him something of a problem in the college. Just how he passed finals in science, I have never known. He announced to me after his examination that he had failed. It did not particularly interest him, but since I was claiming in faculty meetings and elsewhere that he was a genius, he said he thought I might like to know. Whether this science teacher had softening of heart or whether Tom Stribling really bent to it for a short time, and learned enough to pass, I never knew, but he graduated on schedule time. He could not be bothered with such things as science; he was writing an essay on "Southern Literature", an essay afterwards published by "Poet Lore" and paid for too - a very high achievement. We sent some of his poetry to Bliss Perry for criticism. It attracted Mr. Perry's attention, and he wrote a very flattering letter, asking that he might see some more, for in his judgment the writer had a rare lyric power. But just about that time Tom decided he must make his living by writing, and nothing but novels could make a champagne living, the only kind that interested him.
He claimed in a recent letter that he had a crow to pick with the Normal College, because it had not taught him any of the history of his own country - "You can take a horse to water" you know. Nothing even faintly could attract him except English and amateur theatricals.
Again in this last he did some brilliant work. Never really interested in girls or love, he tried his hand at "affairs of the heart", more in a professional attitude to know from experience how to tell of it in his writing. He was described by one teacher as a man without soul - But in spite of his Puckish humor, which expresses itself as satire, he understands and can express great tenderness, see "Fombombo". Love affairs were to him matters for analysis not for passion. He really lived in the world created by his imagination, and was always happy. His sense of humor was the richest I have ever known, because so unselfconscious. When the joke was on him it was just the same as if it was on someone else, just so it was clever and really funny. His humor was due to his detached outlook on life that made him see it as pageant, often grotesque, at times pathetic, but always absorbingly interesting.
In spite of appearance he had as little self conceit as anyone I ever knew. His insight was too clear for that. He was interesting to himself, so was everyone else he met, but only for professional purposes.
I regarded him then, as I do now, as a genius, trusting his own intuitions utterly, guided by his whims, if you might call them so, but dead sure they could not lead him astray. Life was as interesting to him as was one of his own novels.
APOLOGY TO FLORENCE
T. S. Stribling
It is with no small satisfaction that I accept this opportunity in Wings to explain to the subscribers of the Literary Guild the exact connection between my new novel, Unfinished Cathedral, and the well known Scottsboro case in Alabama.
The Alabama trial has attracted wide attention. It has not only drawn endless columns of publicity in the newspapers, but in the New York theaters one play has concerned itself exclusively with this trial and now my new novel touches on the topic. It is the object of this paper to explain several points that may come up in the readers' minds as to the connection between the current Literary Guild selection and the notorious Alabama cause.
First and foremost my use of the Scottsboro material is incidental and by no means literal. I changed the locale of the trial placing it in Florence, Alabama, instead of Scottsboro because the scene of my trilogy, The Forge, The Store, and Unfinished Cathedral, was laid in Florence. I could by no means change my scene merely because the actual trial happened in Scottsboro instead of Florence because of the immense waste of print in establishing and solidifying a new mise en scene in the imaginations of my readers.
Moreover, I do not complete the trial in the new novel or make anything at all of its dramatic potentialities because the theme of the trial was not at all the theme of Unfinished Cathedral. The only connection the trial had with my book was the fact that such a trial could be held in the South, and when the reader grasps this fact and its social significance that ended the usefulness of the case on the stage I had set.
The points which preoccupied me with this trial were the different attitudes toward it taken by the different social classes of the South. Also I was interested in the great stir it made in the North among labor organizations, communist organizations, Negro Protective associations and civic liberty associations, and also of course, the intervention of Northern opinion in Southern affairs, and the Southern repercussion to such intervention. In fact the Scottsboro trial wept to be written, and I have almost a Sir Galahad feeling of charging forward to relieve the angel or imp of irony in distress, for the services of an interpreter.
And I would like just here to make a very small payment on a very large moral debt which I owe to Florence, Alabama. As every one sees I have lugged the Scottsboro trial into the courthouse at Florence when it did not happen there at all. But I have done far worse than that. My trilogy has been a survey; more or less, of the foibles and amusing social kinks of the whole South from Civil War times to the present. I have focussed everything I found on Florence because that was the scene of my prolonged story. I am in the position of a very sad literary dog indeed which drags every bone to his kennel, and I know this has made it quite uncomfortable for the perfectly nice and charming people who live in the house.
Naturally I need not say here that nowhere in the South exists such a concentration of moral and financial quirks, twists and biases as I have depicted in Florence. In exculpation I will say that nowhere in the world in any family or group of people do there exist two hours of such strain, suspense, dramatic ascent, hesitation and final catastrophe as may be found in any two hour show in the theaters. Compression is one of the necessities of art, which ought to mitigate, even if it does not, the feeling of the community compressed.
As a matter of literal fact, Florence, Alabama, is one of the pleasantest places I have ever known, filled with the most mellow and delightful folk. The only reason I chose Florence for the scene of my trilogy was because it had an interesting and romantic past and it possesses more than its share of actual physical loveliness and softness and floweryness which gave me precisely the sort of aesthetic relief which my ruthless narrative required.
So, as has happened to many another maiden, Florence has been mistreated because of her beauty.
Now, as a last word of concrete apology, I will say that, notwithstanding all my novels, in Florence, Alabama, the lives and property of its colored citizens are quite as safe and surrounded with just as much legal protection as are, say, the lives and properties of the millionaires in the North and the West.
In fact, I think statistics will bear me out in saying that black life all over the South enjoys a much higher degree of safety than is displayed in the Northern kidnapping norm. And Negro tenants are not so endangered from their white landlords in the South as white bank depositors are in jeopardy from bank presidents in the North.
And yet notwithstanding this state of fact, the writer does not know of a single Southern Association organized for the express purpose of sending legal help for the defence of Northern bank depositors or to rescue helpless Yankee millionaires.
With this brief word of explanation and apology, I submit the last volume of my trilogy to the consideration of, I trust, an indulgent public.
(Reprinted from Wings, June 1934.)
Letter to Mrs. R. D. Ridley from Strilbing
Mrs. R.F. Ridley,
Dear Mrs. Ridley:
My sister, Patricia Springer, forwarded me your letter in which you inquired something about me, something of my life and work.
My connection with Alabama started with my infancy. My mother was born at Gravelly Springs, Alabama sixteen miles Northwest of Florence and I spent my summers with my maternal grandfather's family ever since I was a baby until I was sixteen or seventeen years old. Nearly every one of the incidents of The Forge was told to me by my uncle, Lee Waits. He was a fountain of perpetual entertainment all through my childhood and adolescence. My mother also supplied endless material for the book, talking to me and telling about the Civil War days.
I have a deep sympathy for the young people who are growing up now, because they will never be able to make an actual believable connection in their minds between the present and the past of the South. Even with my advantage of having a mother who lived in those days the past of the South seems dreamy and unreal. For people to have had slaves...... that seems impossible. For them ever to have undergone the Reconstruction, not allowed to vote while the negroes did vote ... that is pure fantasy.
No wonder with such a past that the South has suddenly become the literary center of America. But I suppose I would better get back to myself since you want to know about me. Well, I went to school in Florence, later to University of Alabama where I was graduated in law. I practiced a year in the office of Governor O'Neal in Florence in Intelligence Row, where I lay the scenes in The Store.
It may interest your Club to know that I tried not to be precise in my description of Florence and the surrounding country because I was afraid somebody would not like for me to be writing precisely about his or her place, so I left it a little vague - when you come to try to put your finger on the exact place where the action took its course. This was suggested to me long ago by a little serial I wrote in a magazine giving a correct street address in Philadelphia. The person at that address was highly incensed, although I said nothing disrespectful in the least. This person didn't want to be pointed out.
I am glad you ladies are reading The Store and The Forge both. The two books not only go together, but there is a third inseparably bound up with them. The next will be The Temple. That will complete my trilogy on Alabama and will also complete the idea I set out to express. In fact any person stopping with just two of the novels won't have the slightest idea what I was driving at - but of course, tens of thousands of my readers will never know that and it will never disturb them.
You may be interested to know that I am now up here in New York taking a theological course just to get the background for one character in The Temple. Also I can add that theology isn't half so dry as I'll venture you ladies think it is. On the contrary I find it quite exciting. Trusting this will be of service to you in your Club, I am,
February 13, 1933
New York City
A letter to Mrs. Taylor from Stribling on winning the Pulitzer Prize
My Dear Mrs. Taylor,
I have been asked so many times to describe how it feels to take the Pulitzer prize that I am getting pretty good at the answer.
You feel it coming on early in April...about April first. Acute symptoms break forth in the middle of June, at a period that coincides with the longest day in the year. And you begin to see black spots before your eyes. A lot of doctors diagnose this as malaria, but it is merely the Pulitzer Prize coming on.
(All this is the year before the P.P. is given. We will now have to start in on the actual year the P. P. is given)
But why go into these gristly details, after all it isn't fatal, a lot of writers live through it and come out finally, quite sound...in fact that's all we do afterwards...sound.
Best luck for your club meeting,
Please tell Carl Tyree that my Unfinished Cathedral will be out May 16th and I'm looking to him to buy a copy, and I also have another man spotted to buy one. When I make these two deliveries, I'll start a new book.
A letter to Mr. Fuller, Principal of Mt. Hope High School from Stribling declining to collaborate on a biography of himself
Principal Mt. Hope High School
Dear Mr. Fuller:
I have been thinking about your project to write my life and I have to admit it depresses me very much. It is, I know, a perfectly idiotic depression, but unhappily it is just as real as it is idiotic.
I was really rather for it until you came down and we began talking about myself and then I found it was very unpleasant. I have always talked about other people's selves, and to talk so endlessly about myself is really awful.
Now of course I am not going to forbid you to write a life of me. In fact I have no earthly objection to it, but I don't want to be in on it. Many persons have written masters theses on my books and that has amused me. I thought helping you on the life would be rather like that, but I find it is not. Therefore, I hope it won't upset you too much to tell you I believe I will withdraw from your enterprise. I would do it if I could but everything in me cries out against such an endless dissertation on me.
I am sorry that I did not tell you sooner. I felt like this very strongly the day you called, but I hoped it would pass away. It did not however, and is just as obstinate as ever. Again telling you how sorry I am that I feel like this and how I regret giving you all this trouble for nothing, I am
Dec 15, 1938
Flor-Ala Review of "The Store"
New York; Doubleday, Doran and Co. $2.50.
Review by Wills Hollingsworth
Supporting the theory that Europe discovers our literary talent, and then nonchalantly tosses the remains back for our gaping appreciation, T. S. Stribling's The Forge was chosen as the Book of the Month by one of London's book clubs, after raising hardly a literary ripple in the U. S. American reviewers thought that it was so psychologically unbelievable that they could not look underneath the character motives for any literary beauty or charm. But The Forge was the first book in a trilogy, and the second, The Store, has gained much more favor in the eyes of America's ultra fastidious book choosers. It was made the July choice of that Sears-Roebuck of Literature, the Literary Guild.
But for one incident in Tuscumbia, the entire story is laid in Florence and Lauderdale county. It is the history of Milt Vaiden; the last incidents of his mad climb from the estate of poor white before the Civil war to the position of moneyed landowner during Grover Cleveland's first administration. The story is of interest because of its characters: Milt, Ponny, his fat wife, the half-way aristocratic Crowninsheilds, Sandusby, the jack-leg lawyer, Jerry Catlin (which seems to suggest a touch of autobiographical color) and especially the Negroes. But the greatest charm of the book lies in the vividness of his picture of Florence.
There is a great deal of talk among Florentines concerning the accuracy of Mr. Stribling's picture of Florence in the '80's. As far as action goes, Mr. Stribling is, I fear, a bit-flattering. Instead of having his Florentines sit on their porches and sip liquers, as most of our literary immortalizers are doing, he has them pay frequent visits to their former slaves in East Florence, sometimes for no other reason than to chat about their business affairs. Then there are frequent political rallies and an occasional lynching. Almost every character in the book, except three of the Negroes, speaks in a dialect that only suggests English. It is written, obviously, about a class of people that came into money and notoriety right after the Civil war concerning whom the author seems to know a great deal. However, he seems to give the impression, by his detailed account, that he is painting a complete picture of Florence. Maybe he is, but we rather hate to believe it.
However, considered in a purely literary light, as we feel sure that Mt. Stribling meant his book to be taken, the whole work is well-conceived and executed with that degree of skill that has led us to hope for much from our distinguished alumnus. As a book of realistic fiction, it is excellent, though not a complete picture. We can but wish that he had added a part of that better element which was surely present in Florence at that time.
Funeral Services for T. S. Stribling
MIDDLE TENNESSEE FUNERAL HOME, INC.
(July 9, 1965)
Services for Thomas S. Stribling
Prelude of favorite music - Largo from Fifth Symphony - By Stostakovick
Ave Maria --------------------------------------------Bach Gounod
The Twenty Third Psalm -----Malotte ---------------- Dr. Wayne Christeson
The Holy Scripture-Tribute to Thomas S. Stribling ---- Rev.David M. Blondell
Prayer ------------------------------------------------ Rev. David M. Blondell
Graveside services at Clifton, Tennessee Cemetery
Prayer ----------------------------------------------Rev. Oddvar Berg
Music ----------------------------------------------The Wayne Christeson Family
Benediction ---------------------------------------- Rev. David M. Blondell
T. S. Stribling Obituary
T. S. STRIBLING, 84, PULITZER WINNER
Author of 'The Store' Dies - Took '33 Fiction Prize
FLORENCE, Ala. July 8 (AP) - T. S. Stribling, who won the 1933 Pulitzer Prize for fiction with his novel "The Store," died today at a rest home here. He was 84 years old.
The book was the second of a trilogy that Mr. Stribling once described as a "survey, more or less, of the foibles and amusing social kicks of the whole South from Civil War times to present."
His widow survives.
Wrote Stories for $1.50
Thomas Sigismund Stribling started writing in 1900 when he was 19 years old. After working briefly as an office boy on a magazine published in Nashville, he began to write moral adventure stories for Sunday school publications. The usual pay was $1.50 a story and sometimes he wrote six a day. He also contributed to The American Boy and to pulp magazines.
His first novel, "Birthright," was published in 1921. "Teeftallow," his fourth novel, a story of Tennessee hill folk, was published five years later and made him comparatively well known.
Mr. Stribling's Pulitzer Prize novel, which deals with an inland Southern community in the middle of the 19th century was published by the Doubleday, Doran Company in 1932.
His trilogy has been described as depicting "the decline of the old civilization in the South." "The Store" was preceded in the trilogy by "The Forge." The third volume, "Unfinished Cathedral," was published in 1934.
Mr. Stribling, who was born in Clifton, Tenn., on March 4, 1881, made great use of the country life of Tennessee and Alabama as background for his novels.
"Every rustic in the Southern hill country," he once wrote, "believes that if he can get to the nearest village and set up a grocery store, his fortune is made. A groceryman doesn't have to work; he simple sits in his store and waits for customers. He pays nothing for bed and board; he can eat free out of his stock and sleep in the back of his store. Every penny he takes in is pure profit because he buys on a credit. More Southern hill men sell their lean acres, go to town and set up a grocery store than commit any other form of financial suicide."
Among Mr. Stribling's other books were "Clues of the Carribees" and "Strange Moon," 1929; "Backwater," 1930, and "These Bars of Flesh," 1938.
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