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World of Relations

World of Relations: The Achievement of Peter Taylor

DAVID M. ROBINSON
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130j04n
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  • Book Info
    World of Relations
    Book Description:

    A leading figure in modern southern literature, described byNewsweekas "one of the best American storytellers," Peter Taylor secured a national following through his long relationship with theNew Yorkerand his widely read volumes from the 1980s,The Old Forest and Other StoriesandA Summons to Memphis. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author's portrayals of the battles of strong-willed fathers and mothers with their equally strong-willed sons are at the center of his achievement in fiction.

    David Robinson presents Taylor as a writer deeply concerned with the interworkings of family relationships, and emphasizes his role as chronicler of the shifts in southern culture in this century.World of Relationsprovides an important critical assessment of the work of one of the South's greatest writers, and includes the first extensive critical discussion of Taylor's last two works,The Oracle of Stoneleigh Court(1993) andIn the Tennessee Country(1994).

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5774-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    In 1959 Peter Taylor published his third collection of stories under the titleHappy Families Are All Alike.Both the historical moment of its publication and the nuances of the title’s implications reveal Taylor’s overall purposes as a writer of fiction and drama. Launching his career in the late 1940s and 1950s, Taylor wrote during the Cold War era, in which the cultural pressure for a national consensus centered on the construction of the “family,” usually defined as the nuclear unit of father, mother, and children.¹ The normative quality of this concept was perhaps most memorably reinforced through the 1950s...

  6. Part 1 Family Relations

    • 1 Fathers and Sons
      (pp. 11-38)

      Peter Taylor has made his own early conflicts with his strong-willed father, Matthew Hillsman Taylor, a matter of biographical record. After his high school graduation, Taylor had earned a scholarship to Columbia, where he hoped to prepare for a literary career. His father, an attorney who wanted him to become an attorney also, insisted that he go to Vanderbilt instead. “And we had a knockdown, dragout quarrel and stopped speaking,” Taylor told J. William Broadway. “The trunk was packed and I was going. My mother supported me—you know how mothers always support you. But he wouldn’t give in, and...

    • 2 Mothers and Sons
      (pp. 39-60)

      Although Taylor made the bond and conflict between father and son a pivotal concern of his fiction, he also centered two of his most compelling narratives on the relationship of mother and son. Both his first novel,A Woman of Means(1950), and the late novelIn the Tennessee Country(1994) focus on the motherhood of a strong woman, weakened by the psychological consequences of her own upbringing. In each case, this flawed strength has a profound impact on a son who is deeply dependent emotionally on her but must struggle against her to effect his own transition into maturity....

    • 3 Fables of Maturity
      (pp. 61-86)

      In centering his analysis of family on the parent-child relationship, Taylor brought the process of developing identity and maturity into focus, as well. The stories and novels that we have examined as father-son or mother-son narratives can also be regarded as accounts of the struggle for maturity. Taylor took a particular interest in the problematics of the process of maturing, understanding that his characters, often beset by parental conflict, carry significant emotional burdens into the families they form as adults. Some of his most powerful stories therefore represent failed or balked personalities such as Phillip Carver and Nathan Longfort, whose...

    • 4 Men and Women
      (pp. 87-120)

      If we understand “The Captain’s Son,” “Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time,” and “The Old Forest” as varied but representative stories about the difficulties of the transition to a psychologically balanced maturity, we should also note the prominence of the theme of sexuality in all of them. Tolliver Campbell’s unwillingness to consummate his marriage and the Dorsets’ refusal of sexual maturity are extreme examples of sexual dysfunction. The fear of adulthood has for these characters led to a fear of sexuality itself, a fear that, for the Dorsets, wars against a fascination with it. Ned and Emily Meriwether’s loss of ability...

  7. Part 2 Family and Culture

    • 5 Losing Place
      (pp. 123-146)

      The Tennessee society in which Taylor situates his dramas of intergenerational conflict appears on first examination to be tightly ordered and elaborately structured. But in some moments of crisis it reveals itself to be disordered to the point of chaos. Taylor portrays a culture that has, sometimes uncomfortably, intermixed aspects of the plantation South and the frontier West, thus embracing conflicting codes of familial paternalism and extreme individualism. In both cases, as Taylor observes, women are often the victims of restrictive social codes. But even these conflicting elements of Tennessee culture were in a state of rapid flux in the...

    • 6 The Racial Divide
      (pp. 147-166)

      Taylor’s depictions of the patterns of family life in the South include, in some of his most perceptive stories, an analysis of the complicated relations of genteel families with their African American servants, relations rooted in the slaveholding culture of the old South and perpetuated by the economic hierarchies that persisted in our century. Taylor recognized that these interactions were a crucial aspect of the cultural constitution of the South, subject to rapid change in the same way as other familial and interpersonal relationships. Several of Taylor’s strongest stories from the late 1940s and 1950s center on African American servants...

    • 7 Dramas of Southern Identity
      (pp. 167-192)

      The principal characters of Taylor’s fiction are almost all Southerners, most of whom have complicated and somewhat troubled identitiesasSoutherners and deep but ambivalent attachments to the family heritage, social customs, and geographies that constitute their “Southernness.” Taylor’s portraits of them suggest his irreverent skepticism about the usual regional pieties and his recognition that a Southern identity is sometimes a barrier on the road to self-understanding. His engagement with his own Southern identity was complicated, he explained, by his family’s residence in St. Louis during his late childhood and adolescence. As Senator Caswell remarks inTennessee Day in St....

  8. Notes
    (pp. 193-202)
  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 203-206)
  10. Index
    (pp. 207-210)