The Cup of Fury: the preferred title of Caroline Gordon's None Shall Look Back.
Critics, moreover, are aware that the title None Shall Look Back was not Gordon's first choice among tides. In fact, before she ever wrote the first sentence of her novel, she had already decided on a tide, The Cup of Fury. This title also has its roots in the Bible: "For thus saith the Lord God of Israel unto me, Take the wine cup of this fury at my hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send this, to drink it" (Jet. 25.15). Critics note the reasons for the change in title, but they go no further. Both verses deal with invasion, a theme at the core of Gordon's novel. Within the context of the twenty-fifth chapter, however, the verse from Jeremiah takes on added significance. Because Jeremiah refers specifically to "all the nations," we must conclude that he is prophesying more than the fall of Judah. On the horizon, in other words, looms a cataclysmic battle, and the battle is Armageddon.
Nineveh, the subject of Nahum's prophecy, was the capital of Assyria, a brutal oppressor, so, on the one hand, we must ask whether Gordon is suggesting a parallel between Assyria and the Old South. The answer appears to be no. On the other hand, Jeremiah is addressing primarily Judah, the southern kingdom--and southern is significant here--the Promised Land. Is Gordon suggesting a comparison between the Promised Land and the Old South, an idea not far removed from Agrarianism? The evidence leads us to that deduction. We know that the South about which Gordon writes was caught up in its own Armageddon, the Civil War. Gordon shows that the South lifts the cup and tastes the fury. Following Jeremiah's prediction, Judah experienced invasion, destruction, and dislocation--the same fate that awaited the South. In the context of the novel, the title The Cup of Fury provided the panoramic sweep that None Shall Look Back lacked.
It is clear that Gordon settled on the title before she proceeded with the writing of the novel. In a letter to Ford Madox Ford in mid-December 1934, she revealed:
I have just been sitting here day after day writing and getting pretty tired of it at times. But day before yesterday I got the idea for my next novel, snap, like that, which is something to be thankful for. It's to be called THE CUP OF FURY. Do you like that? Jeremiah, isn't it, something about wailing at the gates and the cup of fury being lifted up. It's a cup of fury for the South, of course. It would be. And it's to be a big scale, lots of people and generations. Do you think I can manage lots of people? It won't be much like Penhally [her first novel]. There I depended a lot on style for atmosphere; in this book the emphasis will be on characterization. I'm going to begin it right after Christmas, anyhow, sink or swim. (Lindberg-Seyersted 75)
A number of significant points appear in this letter. First of all, we get a glimpse of the creative process at work. The idea for the novel came quickly--"snap, like that." Just as quickly she settled on a title--The Cup of Fury--and she wanted Ford's opinion, which she highly valued. She playfully asked whether the source was Jeremiah. We can safely assume that if she was able to find the phrase for the title, she was aware of the author. In addition, we can surmise that she was aware of the context in which the quotation occurs because she was careful to note that the South certainly drank from this cup.
The choice of a title predated the writing by several months. Sometime during the spring of 1935, she wrote to her friend Sally Wood, "I have The Cup of Fury pretty well planned out--every day I think I'll get the opening sentences. I'm afraid to force them" (Wood 186). Furthermore, around May of 1935, she once again wrote to Ford, "I am feeling low--haven't been able to start my novel and don't feel that I ever will" (Lindberg-Seyersted 83). Within a month, though, her creative fortunes were improving. In a letter to Wood on June 2, 1935, she wrote, "I have written three chapters of The Cup of Fury. It doesn't seem to go very well when you examine it in detail. I can only hope it will be impressive in the mass. Anyhow I am going to barge through, paying very little attention to the writing of it" (Wood 188). Many writers will agree that getting started--getting those first words down on paper--is difficult. Thus Gordon's lack of production during the first half of 1935 was not unusual. The important thing to remember is that during this period one aspect of the novel was firmly entrenched in her mind, and that aspect was the title.
The Cup of Fury remained the title until November 27, 1936, when Maxwell Perkins, her editor at Scribner's, notified her in a telegram that a 1919 novel by Rupert Hughes was entitled The Cup of Furyand that Metro Goldwyn Mayer controlled the rights to the title (Jonza 172-73). The search for a new title began. Gordon wrote to Robert Penn Warren that the search involved "much tearing of hair, thumbing of the Bible, Shakespeare and Milton. Can't get a title that's any good. I reckon they'll call it 'None Shall Look Back.' From Nahum if you've heard of such a prophet" (Makowsky 134). The tone of exuberance in her letter to Ford in which she announced the original title has now declined to one of dissatisfaction. The reason is simple: she did not like the new title, None Shall Look Back.
Upon finding out that The Cup of Fury would not work, Gordon pushed Perkins to accept a title her husband, Alien Tate, had suggested, The Great Invasion (Jonza 173). Perkins, however, did not like it, "as Caroline had been sure he would" (Waldron 164). The reason Perkins offered was that "The Great Invasion sounded too much like a history text" (Jonza 173). Gordon suggested other titles: All the Merry-Hearted, None Shall Look Back, Under the Sun, and Men That Ride upon Horses (Jonza 173). When she found out that Perkins's favorite was None Shall Look Back, she wished that she had not offered it, because it "sounded too much like [Margaret Mitchell's] Gone With the Wind" (Jonza 173). (1) Perkins tried to be helpful; he suggested "'Terrible Swift Sword' and 'Grapes of Wrath.' Caroline said she could not swallow a title from 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic'" (Waldron 164). With no room to bargain, Gordon relinquished her favorite title and accepted None Shall Look Back.
It is noteworthy that Gordon's second choice--the title Tate suggested--was The Great Invasion. In the novel we find the South at the mercy of invaders. At the beginning we see Brackets, the Allard plantation, as if it were a garden. For example, Fontaine Allard walks to the summerhouse, a haven of peace (3). Meanwhile, his wife, Charlotte, leads a group of women to the rose garden to view "a yellow-hearted rose blooming that at this season of the year was Charlotte's delight and marvel" (4). The image is one of tranquility, of growth, and of rare beauty. The setting, in other words, is Edenic. Furthermore, to emphasize the Edenic nature of the setting, the narrator reveals that, to the Allards, Brackets is "the center of the universe" (48). If we consider the Garden of Eden as the center of the Biblical world, then the comparison is complete.
For Fontaine Allard, the land is all-important. Without question, "he was governed entirely by the instincts and prejudices of his class, that of the landed proprietor. He and his ancestors as far back as he had any knowledge of them had drawn their living from the land" (30). That the land is at the core of the Allards' existence is in line with the beliefs of the Agrarians. The land defines Fontaine Allard. It is Paradise. Rives Allard, moreover, is ready to defend the new Eden, the new Israel:
No, it was not a question of slavery--his own family, for instance, did not think it right to own slaves--and he did not understand all this business about the tariff.... Our country had been invaded--it did not much matter on what grounds the invaders had come. Men, he thought shrewdly, could always find sufficient pretext for taking something they wanted, like Henry the Eighth who upset church and state whenever he wanted a new wife. The country had been invaded. Men were wanted for her defense. He was glad to go. (25)
Although his home is in Georgia--Good Range is the name of the farm--Rives shares the pastoral vision of the Kentucky Allards. Paradise is under attack, and he is willing to die to defend it.
Protecting the new Eden, the new Israel, is difficult and costly in terms of human lives. When Federal soldiers ride up to Brackets, Charlotte Fontaine asks the major where his home is; Illinois is his response: "My father settled on three hundred acres of Cook County land. It's rich as cream. They call it Egypt around there" (155). The reference to Egypt bears some thought. The major's statement makes us think of the Nile River and the fertile land alongside it. We must, however, consider more. The reference also brings to mind the ancient conflicts between Egypt and Israel. In the Civil War, the new Egypt is invading the new Israel.
Concomitant with invasion is destruction. After the Federals burn Brackets to the ground, Fontaine Allard lapses into senility. The destruction spreads throughout the South--both on the battle front and on the home front. Gordon's depiction of devastation emphasizes the significance of her original title. The South drinks from the cup of fury. Jeremiah asserts, "Then took I the cup at the Lord's hand, and made all the nations to drink, unto whom the Lord had sent me; To wit, its princes, to make them a desolation, an horror, an hissing, and a curse, as it is this day" (Jer. 25.17-18). Jeremiah foretells total war, a conflict in which all the people suffer. Besides Judah, other nations will feel the wrath of God. The first country Jeremiah mentions is, in fact, Egypt (Jer. 25.19).
To convey the devastation striking both soldiers and civilians, Gordon structures the novel skillfully. For a model she looks to Tolstoy's War andPeace (Makowsky 137; Brown 480), which also deals with invasion, and Gordon follows his precedent of shifting from battle to home scenes. Ashley Brown argues that "in War and Peace Tolstoy showed the way in which to alternate panorama with close-up views, and Miss Gordon follows his method with great tact" (485). Gordon certainly can be perceived as a careful craftsman, especially in terms of narrative technique. Nevertheless, Veronica A. Makowsky has difficulty with this technique:
In her ambitious attempt to master a variety of fictional techniques, she sometimes forgot the reader's need to follow and understand the action. Without an expert knowledge of the Civil War, the reader cannot know what the battle is, why it is important, or even the date. In a way, this lack of information contributes to a sense of confusion that mimics that of war; a soldier, however, would at least know where he was, the name of his general, and some of his larger purposes. (138)
Gordon has no need to apologize because the reader "need[s] to follow and understand the action." If such information is needed, the reader can turn to Shelby Foote's three-volume Civil War. In other words, it is the reader's responsibility to gain necessary background information; after all, Gordon has given us a novel, not a history text. While Makowsky recognizes the confusion in war, she does not understand that soldiers may not know their exact whereabouts. Yes, they should know the names of their commanders--unless, of course, the commanders are being killed in battle, which sometimes occurs--but they are frequently not going to know the objectives of their commanders. Especially during the Civil War, confusion reigned among many generals on both sides. As a result, missed opportunities abounded. Gordon does an excellent job of portraying this confusion in her section on the battle of Chickamauga.
Makowsky is not the only person bothered by Gordon's treatment of the battle scenes. In a letter to Sally Wood on September 10, 1936, Gordon revealed that Perkins "complained that I killed too many young men. I came here, settled down, and have killed one more young man, besides giving one chronic diarrhea and the other a gangrenous foot. I don't care whether he likes it or not" (Wood 201-02). The letter shows her confidence in the handling of her material. Perkins may have grimaced, but Gordon was fully aware that battles are very much about the killing of young men. After all, as Andrew Lytle succinctly puts it, "since the setting of the book is war, death becomes the Adversary" ("Historic Image" 579). Her depiction of the battlefield is accurate.
The result of this horrific total war, then, is death--not just death to the soldiers but death also to a way of life. Once again, in terms of the death and destruction of this Armageddon-type confrontation, the title The Cup of Fury has more validity than does None Shall Look Back, which is actually too narrow in scope. Eileen Gregory is correct in her assessment that "the verse from Nahum, in particular, describes the warriors in the last line of the city's defense breaking in terror" (xi). The problem is that the verse from Nahum does not encompass the civilian population, certainly not to the extent that Jeremiah does. Gregory goes on to mention what she sees as ambiguity in the title None Shall Look Back, for it may refer "to the kingdom of the invaders (the oppressor Ninevah) rather than to the South (Israel)--the parallel between the biblical text and the last scene clearly suggests that the defeat of the South is a kind of retribution, that it collapses out of some ultimate weakness of spirit" (xii). Gregory actually misinterprets the verse, for Nahum prophesies that Nineveh will become the oppressed rather than the oppressor. Nineveh was destroyed in 612 B.C. by the Medes and Babylonians under Cyaxares and Nabopolassar. (2)
Another problem, moreover, with the title None Shall Look Back arises. Because both Nineveh and the South are victims of invasion and destruction, does Gordon intend for us to equate the two? We know that Assyria was barbaric. Does Gordon portray the South in similar terms? To the contrary, her narrative stance precludes judgments. Gregory correctly points out that "the polemical is as alien to this novel as is the sentimental" (xii). In fact, a general characteristic of Gordon's style, according to Lytle, is "objectivity" ("Historic Image" 562). The South was an oppressor in terms of slavery and therefore stands parallel to Nineveh. Because Gordon chooses not to explore that territory, the link becomes ever weaker, as does the title None Shall Look Back.
The scope of the passages from Nahum and Jeremiah provides convincing evidence that the title None Shall Look Back lacks the breadth the novel requires. It is clear that Nahum focuses on the impending ruin of Nineveh, which has already been warned to depart from the evil that permeates its society. For example, in the eighth century B.C., a century before the writing of Nahum, Jonah preached repentance to the people of Nineveh, and what has been termed "the greatest revival in recorded history" (Scofield 943) postponed the city's destruction. By the time Nahum appears on the scene, Nineveh has returned to its wickedness, thus prompting Nahum's message of doom. In contrast, Jeremiah addresses more than a city. He speaks to all of Judah. His prophecy, in fact, extends beyond the borders of Judah: "For, lo, I begin to bring evil on the city which is called by my name, and should ye be utterly unpunished? Ye shall not be unpunished; for I will call a sword upon all the inhabitants of the earth, saith the Lord of hosts" (Jet. 25.29). Jeremiah's vision is apocalyptic. The title None Shall Look Back lacks the panoramic sweep that both Jeremiah's prophecy and Gordon's novel provide.
In addition to invasion and destruction, the total war envisioned by Jeremiah and Gordon involves dislocation. When he speaks to Judah, Jeremiah foretells the seventy-year captivity in Babylon. During this period, the people of Judah were uprooted from their homes; only a remnant remained in Judah. (3) Similarly, after the destruction of Brackets, the Allards accept lodging from Joe Bradley, a merchant in Clarksville. Bradley, the antithesis of the Allards, does not earn his money from the land. To make matters worse for the Allards, Jim, Fontaine's oldest son, goes to work in Bradley's store. Appalled, Cally, his sister, disparages him, "You, Jim Allard, running a store!" (331). Whereas the dislocation of Judah meant removal to Babylon, the dislocation of the South in Gordon's novel means removal from the land, from the garden, to a new economic order--business conducted not on the land but in towns and cities. Lytle notes that "business is rarely any man's whole life. If it is, he is a monster" ("Momentary" 182). The Allards would argue that Bradley, who shows little loyalty to the Confederacy, is a monster. Jim, moreover, is following in his footsteps. The Allards do not care for "his being able to absorb himself in his work" (332). Jim has a physical handicap, but, after the removal from Brackets and his decision to work in a store, the handicap appears to be moral. He is being transformed into the monster Lytle describes.
Just as a remnant--"the poorest sort of the people of the land"--remained in Judah during the Babylonian captivity (2 Kings 24.14), a remnant returns to the land in Gordon's novel. Like the remnant in Judah, the remnant in the South after the War was poor. These people had little or no money. All they had was the will to return to the land. It is significant that Jeremiah not only stays with the remnant in Judah, but conveys to the people God's admonition to remain on the land: "If you will still abide in this land, then will I build you, not pull you down, and I will plant you, and not pluck you up ..." (Jer. 42.10). Despite the destruction, despite the despair, there is the promise of better things to come--provided the people do not desert the land. Ned Allard, Jim's brother, would understand Jeremiah's words perfectly. After returning from a prisoner of war camp, Ned decides to live among the ruins of Brackets. He takes the remainder of his family with him. Jim wants him to work in the store, but Ned refuses: "'I reckon the land's still there,' he said. 'The Yankees couldn't burn that and they ain't strong enough to cart it off'" (337). Though more dead than alive, Ned heads for Brackets. He exhibits the Agrarian reliance on the land and rejects mercantilism. Moreover, he solidifies the novel's ties to Jeremiah, thereby emphasizing the importance of the title The Cup of Fury.
The parallels between the events in Gordon's novel and the events in Jeremiah are striking. Both present the invasion and destruction of a country. Drawing upon a biblical precedent, Gordon clearly wants to convey a panoramic, apocalyptic vision, for the South lifted the cup of fury to its lips and tasted destruction. Second Kings provides other knowledge of the faithful remnant. Gordon also provides us with such a remnant, Ned Allard and his family, who decide to return to the land. The Civil War ushered in the age of big business and dislocation of people from the land to the city. Ned wants no part of this transformation. The verse from Nahum which ultimately gives us the title of the novel simply does not have the impact of The Cup of Fury. Since legal concerns prevented the use of this title, Gordon should have been permitted to use her second choice, The Great Invasion, which captures more of the spirit of the book. The title None Shall Look Back lacks the panoramic sweep found in the novel. Perkins's insistence on this title proved to be a disservice to Gordon.
Brown, Ashley. "None Shall Look Back: The Novel as History." Southern Review 7.2 (1971): 480-94.
Gordon, Caroline. None Shall Look Back. 1937. Nashville: J. S. Sanders, 1992.
Gregory, Eileen. Preface. None Shall Look Back. vii-xx.
Jonza, Nancylee Novell. The Underground Stream: The Life and Art of Caroline Gordon. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1995.
Lindberg-Seyersted, Brita, ed. A Literary Friendship: Correspondence Between Caroline Gordon & Ford Madox Ford. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1999.
Lytle, Andrew. "Caroline Gordon and the Historic Image." Sewanee Review. 57 (1949): 560-86.
--. "The Momentary Man." From Eden to Babylon: The Social and Political Essays of Andrew Nelson Lytle. By Andrew Lytle. Ed. M. E. Bradford. Washington: Regnery Gateway, 1990. 179-83.
Makowsky, Veronica A. Caroline Gordon: A Biography. New York: Oxford UP, 1989.
The New Scofield Reference Bible. Ed. C. I Scofield, et al. New York: Oxford UP, 1967.
Waldron, Ann. Close Connections: Caroline Gordon and the Southern Renaissance. New York: Putnam's, 1987.
Wood, Sally, ed. The Southern Mandarins: Letters of Caroline Gordon to Sally Wood, 1924-193Z Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1984.
North Georgia College and State University
(1) Gone With the Wind was already a source of displeasure for Gordon. In a letter to Sally Wood, dated September 10, 1936, she wrote, "Margaret Mitchell has got all the trade, damn her. They say it took her ten years to write that novel. Why couldn't it have taken her twelve?" (Wood 202).
(2) For information on the fall of Nineveh, I am indebted to The New Scofield Reference Bible (951).
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|Publication:||The Mississippi Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2005|
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