The Strange 50s

History of modern literature

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As in, the decade last century, not the period of life of which I have no experience.

It didn’t really occur to me but recently that I hadn’t read much literature from the 50s. Not like my literature classes covered modern works at all—or at least not those written after the thirties (because those are technically modern). And I haven’t exactly gone out of my way to look for novels or other works written in the 50s, mostly because I rarely go out of my way to look for any reading material, I just happen to be exceptionally good at picking anything/everything up.

Specifically I read a lot, and unlike many more disciplined readers, I don’t even have a favorite genre or subject. That’s a different issue.

Anyway, recently I’ve been introduced to two different works produced in the decade of the 1950s. The first is the play in which I ended up with a fairly significant role by some mysterious twist of face (re: they didn’t have enough people audition), and the second is the novel Thirty Days Hath September, by an author who may have lacked some longevity in history because her last name is Disney, and I’m pretty sure she’s not related to The Disney. But that’s the conspiracy theory; the truth may just be that there are lots and lots and lots of authors out there who produce a great many more books, and most have not had any kind of staying power—particularly those from the 50s. Now I’m just getting factitious.

And as soon as I typed Disney, the recommendations filter went “yay! a word used as tags!” or something, and showed me The Disney.

To find Thirty Days Hath September on I actually had to use both author names, who I don’t feel like looking up right now, because it’s just a 50s genre novel. Much like asking how easy it will be to find one of those random paperbacks in a dime store in fifty years. Yeah, not so much, even with the internet.

But back to The Curious Savage. In it, an old woman who is committed to an asylum by her three stepchildren, who are evil and crazy. And then we find out that she essentially stole all their inheritance, which was her money anyway. But she only kept the money to start a fund that would support “people with a desperate need to be foolish.” So that she could commemorate her husband. In the end, evil husbands lock their wives away after driving them crazy in the first place, but husbands who don’t (or are crazy themselves) earn the undying love of said helpmeets. As happens to Mrs. Savage, devoting your entire self, including desires and dreams, is completely fine until the husband dies, after which you devote everything to make sure he is remembered.

At least she did go out and act, since she couldn’t dye her hair blue when he was alive. (What can I say, the play is a little odd. As is the playwrite, but that’s another subject.)

Thirty Days Hath September has a great title and a moderately interesting and reasonably well-told plot. Genre-wise, it’s a mystery, and isn’t too bad—it’s full of gun shots in the night and fainting, screaming women and twins and dumping butter in the garden. Not to mention the crazy people (yes, more of them: were there just more crazy people in the 50s?) and the body under the seashells. But the narrator is a man who consistently refers to his wife as a girl (which you’d think would be disturbing) and though she has her own agency for the most part, she is still the good little woman. However, as part of this is from the narrator (who really is rather stupid) and both he and his wife come across as rather child-like, especially in comparison to the sheriff, who is very competent. They’re the summer people on a vacation island/resort area.

So both were rather problematic on several levels: you should have seen Tom’s (in Thirty Days) description of Jenny the murder victim and former career woman. But like I said, Disney’s work had a first-person narrator who wasn’t particularly clever in the first place, and for the most part all characters were given a chance to be developed. Yes, most of the women ended up weak or crazy (again) but Sally (Tom’s wife) ended up not too bad and had her own resolve, and the men weren’t any better off.

Sort of all rich people are stupid theme, come to think of it.

The Curious Savage is a little more problematic to me, mostly because of the beyond death devotion, and expectation of complete sublimation to the man. Of course, this is only what the characters say, and I really haven’t gone through and analyzed the text. In fact, I actually feel much better about my role when talking to two of the other actors who in real life serve counselor-type functions work-wise. But from all the notes left by the author, John Patrick just sounds rather pretentious anyway, so I’m probably right.

Isn’t that sound reasoning?


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