Oct. 6, 2007


by Margaret Atwood

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Poem: "Habitation" by Margaret Atwood, from Selected Poems II. © Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Marriage is not
a house or even a tent

it is before that, and colder:

the edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert
the unpainted stairs
at the back where we squat
outside, eating popcorn

the edge of the receding glacier

where painfully and with wonder
at having survived even
this far

we are learning to make fire

Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in 1930, William Faulkner's novel As I Lay Dying came out. Faulkner wrote the book while working nights in the power plant of the University of Mississippi, listening to the hum of the generator, and he finished it in just a few months. He later said, "Before I ever put pen to paper and set down the first word, I knew what the last word would be and almost where the last period would fall." It's the story of the Bundren family and their journey to fulfill their mother's last request to be buried in her family's cemetery. Anse Bundren helps his children bury his wife even though he has long believed that he will die if he ever breaks a sweat. His son Darl is mentally disturbed, his daughter Dewey Dell hopes that the trip will give her a chance to get an abortion, and his son Jewel is furious at everybody for not taking the situation more seriously.

On the way to bury their mother, the Bundrens have to deal with a flood that has washed out all the bridges, their mules are drowned in a river, they are almost thrown out of town by a marshal due to the smell of their wagon, they barely save their mother's body from a barn fire, and they are followed everywhere by a flock of birds. When they finally reach the cemetery, Anse Bundren realizes he forgot to bring a shovel, borrows one from a little old lady, and marries her. He also takes the money his daughter was hoping to use for her abortion and buys himself a set of false teeth. The story is told in the voices of all the people involved, including the Bundrens, the neighbors, the doctor, the preacher, and even strangers passing by. One chapter is narrated by the dead mother, Addie, who says, "The reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time."

It was on this day in 1847 that Charlotte Brontë published her novel Jane Eyre, about a poor orphan girl — raised by her cruel aunt, Mrs. Reed — who never gets along with her prettier cousins, but works her way up to a position as a governess at the mysterious Thornfield Hall, where she begins to fall in love with her employer, Edward Rochester, only to learn that he is actually married, and his wife, Bertha, is locked away on the third floor of the house, living like an animal. Jane runs away, but after Bertha's death, Rochester persuades her to marry him after all.

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