Wendell Berry: A Jonquil for Mary Penn (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 11)

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On a bright, still day in the late fall, after all the leaves were down, she had stood on the highest point and had seen the six smokes of the six houses rising straight up into the wide downfalling light. She knew which smoke came from which house. It was like watching the rising up of prayers or some less acknowledged communication between Earth and HeavenShe could not say to herself how it made her feel.

At first glance, Wendell Berry’s stories may come across as quaint and old-fashioned; however, he usually moves beyond the quaint to universal before you know it.

In “A Jonquil for Mary Penn”, a story set in 1940 Kentucky, young wife Mary wakes up sick. Her ambitious husband Elton gets up, eats breakfast and is out doing the farming before the sun is up.

During her day at home, we learn about the rift between Mary and her parents for marrying below her status. We learn a lot about her community and Elton. She loves him deeply but is upset because he appeared to not realize she’s sick.

It’s a great story that is mostly setting, tone and mood. At the end of the day, she wakes up to her friend Josie embroidering a jonquil. As Elton had sent Josie to watch Mary, she realizes he knew she was sick. That makes all the difference.

This story is included in my copy of That Distant Land: The Collected Stories. I read it when I selected the Eight of Clubs for my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. My Deal Me In List can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

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4 responses to “Wendell Berry: A Jonquil for Mary Penn (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 11)

  1. Sounds like a touching story – and I love the quotation you shared regarding the smoke rising from houses. Reminds me a little of Marilynne Robinson’s writing in Gilead.

    • I had an idea from the title of the story that it would be kind of sentimental. But Berry’s writing keeps it from going too far over the edge.

      You’re right, Berry and Robinson do have some similarities in writing style and in subject matter.

    • I have yet to read any of his essays. I know that you have posted about some of them before and they sounded great! I need to add more essays into my reading, anyway. I’m sure Wendell Berry would be a great place to start!

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