Month: January 2010

Last week’s episode of 30 Rock boasted this interaction between Tracy Jordan and a John Hancock reenactor interpreter guy:

We get a lot of this at the Wren’s Nest, especially on the phone — criticism of Joel Chandler Harris that’s (usually) more of an indictment of 19th Century culture. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, there’s a little bit of crazy sprinkled in for good measure.

Or, if we’re super-lucky, it’s all crazy all the time.

Here’s a quandary for you:

A woman calls to ask questions about visiting your museum.  She’s surprised her friends want to visit, given all the controversy surrounding the place, but is intrigued by their interest.  She’s on board, seemingly, but hesitant.

With me so far?  Sounds pretty typical if the museum in question is the Wren’s Nest, which would be a fair assumption.  Onwards!

The woman, as your conversation continues, is very, very up-front about the fact that she doesn’t like the person your museum honors.  In fact, she seems to, uh, hate him.  Still, she appears to like the idea of coming in to have a verbal throwdown, if nothing else.

Someone has an ill opinion of Joel Chandler Harris… or, uh, someone else?!  Wouldn’t be the first time.

As she goes on, it becomes clear that the things she hates about this historical figure are, you know, completely false.  It’s obvious why she would hate this guy, based on the history she knows, but it’s completely misinformed.  And she is SURE of its validity.

Do you correct her?  Or do you do what it takes to encourage her to come to the house of someone she hates, but on false pretenses?

I have a lot of respect for Joel Chandler Harris and like to defend him.  Usually, the easiest way to do that is to give accurate information. “No, Joel Chandler Harris didn’t write Song of the South — he had been dead for 38 years,” and so on.

But her claims were so out of left field that there would have been no defending.  Examples:

 It would have just been me telling this woman, as nicely as possible, that she was completely wrong.

I want her to come to the museum, not only because we like visitors and the entrance fees they pay (let’s call it like it is, folks), but because the legacy of Joel Chandler Harris is an important one.  We take the educational component of our mission for, like, serious.

So what do you do?  Throw JCH under the bus to get someone in the door, assuming the tour will set them straight?  Or correct them immediately, knowing they may be so put off by your perceived “attitude” that it justifies their stance?

Go on, I’m listening.

This may come as a shock to you, but the Wren’s Nest is more than a National Historic Landmark celebrating literature, folklore, and African American history.  It is also an old house.

A surprising (to me, I guess) number of visitors come here just as eager to discuss 100-year-old window panes as they do the work of Joel Chandler Harris.  Living in an old house is a unifying factor, I tell you what, and Lain and I are in the know.  (Let me just say that space heaters become really, really important.)

Decatur Old House Fair Poster

Which is why we’re so excited about the second annual Decatur Old House Fair on March 6th.  The fair brings together experts in repair and maintenance, design, energy efficiency and historic research with owners of old houses and the likes of you and me.

Last year’s fair — with the awesome tagline “The Greenest House is the One Already Built” — yielded our relationship with Tom Bretherton, who ended up installing our windows during our restoration.

Tom Bretherton, Sewing the Window

In fact, Lain had such a great time he’s now on the 2010 volunteer committee.  If joining a committee isn’t a sign of love, I don’t know what is.

Added bonus: one of our Board members, Ken Thomas, is co-leading the “Researching Your Old House and What Style is My House?” seminar.  Yay Ken!

Hope to see you there!

If you’re like our fearless docent Miss Nannie and make a point to read the obituaries every day (a fun-loving group, y’all are), you may have had a Wren’s Nest-related shock on Thursday:

Nannie Thompson Obituary

Nannie showed us this today with the intro, “Imagine my surprise when I saw I had died!”  For the record, this made me feel really, really weird.

To the family of (not our) Nannie Thompson, please accept our condolences.

This bizarre coincidence inspired (our) Nannie Thompson to kick what was ailing her to the curb, though I think we can all agree that perhaps she should take cues from subtler sources.

Welcome back, Miss Nannie.

T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound were friends.  Not only were they were friends, they were pen pals.

Weirdly enough, they corresponded via letters written in African-American dialect inspired by the Uncle Remus stories.  Eliot (below, left) was given the nickname “Old Possum” by Pound, who referred to himself as “Brer Rabbit.”

T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, or Old Possum and Brer Rabbit, respectively

The nicknames were no mistake — Pound viewed himself as a brash risk-taker, while he considered Eliot’s reserve to be quietly subversive. True to form, Eliot even signed one of his letters “Tar Baby” (as in the story where the “Tar-Baby ain’t sayin’ nothin'”).

Both had grown up when the Uncle Remus stories were ubiquitous and ridiculously popular, and both relished in the rebellious language that defied the Queen’s English. For example, here’s a poem within a letter from Pound —

Sez the Maltese dawg to the Siam cat
‘Whaaar’z ole Parson Possum at?’
Sez the Siam cat to the Maltese dawg
‘Dahr he sets lak a bump-onna-log.’

Their correspondence eventually became an intricate inside joke that signaled their collaboration against the London literary establishment.  Here’s another poem-within-a-letter from Pound —

Song Fer the Muses' Garden // Ezra Pound

Pound’s famous slogan — “Make it new!” — couldn’t be more apt here. By appropriating the old language from the literature of their youth, Eliot and Pound considered themselves to be at the forefront of poetic ingenuity.

Eliot’s “Old Possum” nickname became common knowledge in literary circles, and he even published Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats in 1939.  Yes, it’s the very same book that Andrew Lloyd Webber would adapt into the musical theatre atrocity, Cats.

[youtube 4-L6rEm0rnY]

(Please do not blame Joel Chandler Harris for Cats.  Instead, thank him for The Office or Mark Twain.)

I love how Eliot and Pound wrote from the context of the literature of their youth.  The old vernacular inspired their experimentation with language (not unlike Joel Chandler Harris recording the stories of the plantation!), and also allowed them to mock the old fuddy-duddies creating bland poetry.

It’d sort of be like if Amelia and I started writing our blog posts from the perspective of the Berenstain Bears because Pecanne Log wasn’t edgy enough.  Sort of.

For more on the dialect of Eliot and Pound, check out Michael North’s book The Dialect of Modernism.

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