Form and Content
Marianne Wiggins’ volume Herself in Love and Other Stories includes thirteen stories ranging in length from a few pages to twenty-four. Each follows the general outline of the short story, focusing on one major character and one specific situation. Since the settings of the stories vary in time and place, Wiggins uses a style and language appropriate to the locale and type of character she has created. Likewise, the tone of each story varies from delightful humor to biting satire to lyrical pathos. Each story is almost a perfect miniature, making the volume a collection of thirteen perspectives on life. An examination of three stories can serve to illustrate the major aspects found in Wiggins’ writings.
The story “Stonewall Jackson’s Wife” is based on the life and death of the Confederate Civil War General Thomas Jonathan Jackson (1824-1863), known as “Stonewall” Jackson. It is evident that Wiggins has researched the history of the general’s life at the time he was mortally wounded and the subsequent funeral for Jackson, who next to Robert E. Lee was the South’s greatest and most loved general. Also evident is a fine portrayal of the facts surrounding his family life and home in the South; his deceased first wife, Eleanor; his second wife, Anna; and his daughter Julia.
The story is, however, not written in the traditional style of historical fiction. The narrator—a first person “I”—is the spirit of Stonewall Jackson’s first wife, who comments, often disparagingly, on the events from the time that the news of the general’s death first reaches the household in Richmond, Virginia, until the funeral train departs for Lexington, Kentucky. As narrator, Eleanor allows all the characters to speak in their own voices—ranging from the slaves who first report the death, to the dying words of the general, to the often unpleasant and unfeeling discourse of the genteel second wife.
It gradually becomes obvious that the personality of the general changed significantly during the time between his first and second marriages. The younger Jackson was a joyous and passionate man, while the older man seems concentrated on being a devout Calvinist engaged in long periods of prayer and a morose fighting man primarily intent on serving his country. The second wife is portrayed as a loveless woman whose only concern is to ensure that General Stonewall Jackson receives a burial befitting a great military hero. Anna feels slighted when the ongoing war makes it impossible for the military hierarchy to attend the funeral, she despises the masses of ordinary people and soldiers who come to mourn, and she cannot understand why those whom she ignores in turn reject her and pay homage to the general’s daughter. There is a haunting similarity between the people’s response to their young general—who is called Jack by those who love him—and the funeral and cortege of another young Jack—President John F. Kennedy—who was also shot, dying exactly one hundred years after Stonewall Jackson.
“Gandy Dancing” is the story of a modern alienated man who, in a moment of recognition of his state of being, strikes out and does the unexpected. One day shortly before Christmas, a businessman arrives as usual by...
(The entire section is 1336 words.)