I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, but it keeps slipping my mind. Writer Jeffrey Bilbro disagreed with an essay I blogged about earlier — the essay is by Tamara Hill Murphy — in which Murphy, an admiring reader of Wendell Berry — criticizes Berry for having rose-colored glasses about agrarianism and the agrarian past. Bilbro, who is co-editing a collection of essays on Berry’s fiction, writes a robust defense of the great Kentuckian. Excerpt:
It is precisely this sense of a complex, multifaceted heritage that Berry’s fiction conveys. Port William’s past is riven with violence, anger, and sin, yet it also carries love, forgiveness, and beauty. This sense of an irreducibly entangled inheritance is poignantly articulated by Margaret Feltner after the funeral of an alcoholic relative. The drunken sprees of Andy’s great-uncle Leonidas Wheeler, known as “Uncle Peach,” cost his family great time and sorrow. They also had real costs for himself; one memorable night he fell asleep in the front yard and lost several toes to frostbite. On the way back from Uncle Peach’s funeral, Andy’s father’s stern sense of justice leads him to amend the preacher’s rosy confidence regarding Uncle Peach’s eternal state: “‘If Uncle Peach is in Heaven,’ Wheeler said, ‘and Lord knows I hope that’s where he is, then grace has lifted a mighty burden, and the preacher ought to have said so.’”
Read the whole thing. I really appreciate Bilbro’s response. If I didn’t emphasize it before, let me say so now: I have read very little of Berry’s fiction (though a short story about Uncle Peach I did read, and shame on me for not recalling it), so my impression of his worldview is almost totally dependent on his nonfiction. Murphy’s essay resonated with me, in large part because I try to be vigilant against my own tendencies to romanticize the past. But it seems to me that Bilbro, in his short but detailed essay, has provided a strong rebuttal. I’m eager to read what you readers of this blog who are also close readers of Berry’s fiction have to say.