Monday, February 9, 2009

The Poetic Prose of Josephine Johnson's Now in November

I just finished reading Josephine Johnson's novel Now in November. First published in 1934, it's a tragic narrative of the poverty and mental illness suffered by a family of five during the Great Depression.

Johnson's prose is beautifully lyric throughout, but I was most impressed by her use of the ellipsis, especially in a passage about halfway through the story:

At no hour did life suddenly change, nor was there any moment which could be said to have altogether made or altered us. We were the slow accredtion of the days, built up, like the coral islands, of innumerable things.--The moment of evening air between the stove and the well outside...the sound of wind wrenching and whining in the sashes...the flesh of corn-kernerls...fear--fear of the lantern's shadow...fear of the mortgage...cold milk and the sour red beets...the green beans and the corn bread crumbling in our mouths...fear again...and the voice of Kerrin singing to herself in the calf lot...the sense of safety in mother's nearness...the calm faith that was in her and came out of her like a warmth around...the presence of each other and a lusty love of being, of living and knowing there was tomorrow and God knows how many more tomorrows and each a life sufficient in itself...We were added to by the shadows of leaves, and by the leaf the blue undulations across the snow, and the kingfisher's rattling scream even when creeks were frozen over. (58-59)

Johnson's close attention to time throughout the novel is apparent here. Her usage of the ellipsis serves as a reminder that the narrator is functioning from memory, that all of the tragic events of the novel have passed through the prism of time before the narrator can recall them in often fragment and incoherent forms.

But the ellipsis does more than that. It gives the prose of these two pages a poetic glow they would not ordinarily possess.

Happy Reading,


1 comment:

jilmeka said...

That's really beautiful. I like the thought of each tomorrow being a life unto itself.