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Literary New Orleans: Essays and Meditations.

The sub-title, Essays and Meditations, indicates that Literary New Orleans is not a typical scholarly book. The essays, meditations, and well-chosen photographs result in an edition that should have appeal for both scholars and the general reader. It can be called, without affectation, a truly delightful book.

Literary New Orleans, an edition in the Southern Literary Studies Series, deals with New Orleans as a source of literary inspiration for more than a century. In the Preface, editor Richard S. Kennedy says, "I have subtitled this book |Essays and Meditations' because most of the essayists have fallen under the spell of the New Orleans atmosphere and written in a ruminative, speculative way about the authors whom they are considering" (p. xv). He also notes that most of the essays were part of a session on "Literary New Orleans" at the 1988 Modern Language Association meeting in New Orleans.

"Sense of place" is a prominent and often cited feature of Southern literature. This collection of essays deals with the influence and impact of a specific place, New Orleans, on prominent Southern writers from the late nineteenth century to the present. There are individual essays on George Washington Cable, Grace King, Lafcadio Hearn, Kate Chopin, William Faulkner, Walker Percy, and Tennessee Williams, with a concluding essay by Lewis P. Simpson on "New Orleans As a Literary Center." These essays are particularly valuable in elucidating not only the differing and conflicting reactions to New Orleans (such as Cable's criticism and Grace King's defense), but also the various and contrasting perceptions of New Orleans as place. This is particularly enlightening in Lewis Simpson's essay, which points out how Walker Percy and John Kennedy Toole have redeemed New Orleans of exoticism and the effects of local-color fiction by avoiding the Vieux Carre as primary literary setting.

While all of the essays are well worth reading, the two by Kenneth Holditch on William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams are particularly enjoyable. His careful and original research (including interviews with people who knew the authors) provides personal anecdotes and sometimes striking insights. The essay on Williams seems most to illustrate how the "spirit" of New Orleans, a metaphor for the artistic freedom he needed, enabled the artistic potential of the author to be realized. Holditch says, "If St. Louis represented for him captivity as symbolized by the confinement of Amanda, Laura, and Tom in an unpleasant culde-sac in a Northern city in The Glass Menagerie, New Orleans seems to have represented a degree of liberty he had never dreamed existed" (p. 70).

Literary New Orleans is valuable for scholars of Southern literature and for anyone simply interested in New Orleans. An enjoyable and very readable book, it carefully addresses the role of New Orleans as place in providing literary inspiration to writers who lived there at some time in their lives. It is well worth having.
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Author:Gaudet, Marcia
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 1992
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