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Violets and Other Tales by Alice Dunbar Nelson

Another wonderful Project Gutenberg find

Finding collections like this and a writer like Alice Dunbar Nelson is what makes my at times silly mining of Project Gutenberg such a delight. I had no idea who this person was and it’s a big oversight on my part. But you live and you learn. If you aren’t familiar with the life and genius of Alice Dunbar Nelson, her Wikipedia page is a good place to start. In short summary, Alice was married three times. She was one of the most instrumental figures in the Harlem Renaissance. She worked as a journalist, was a published poet and story writer. And last but certainly not least she was a great figure in the early women’s right movements, especially in the African American community.

While the title of this collection is Violets and Other Stories, the majority of the works in this collection aren’t really stories. There is poetry, there are reviews, there are meditations on subjects and even some attempts at her own dictionary. Overall, a very diverse and interesting collection from a very young but multitalented writer and thinker. I’ll just touch upon one non story that really caught my eye, and that is the review of Salammbo, the historical novel by Gustave Flaubert. She really lets him have it heh. She really lays into his lack of research and lack of respect for the most commonly known facts about the characters that he writes about. Artistic freedom is not her thing when it comes to historical fiction. She definitely wouldn’t have liked Adam McKay’s Showtime.

The writing is impressive for a 20-year-old, or younger. The collection was published around her 20th birthday, but she probably wrote the majority of the works when she was even younger. Depressing if you have an ambition to become a writer. There is a very nice combination of directness, get to the point-ness and aesthetic quality to her writing. Young as she was when she wrote this, she still struggled balancing it. Which leads to purple prose in some of the stories. The descriptions are over the top and don’t’ really serve to any dramatic effect within the story. Now onto the few stories that really caught my eye and made me feel.

Violets

The titular and first story. In three mini chapters we are told the story of a love that was not meant to be. While there is a lot of purple prose, the ending is very effective and brings out the innermost compassion towards one of the two lovers.

Woman

This is more of a meditation disguise as a gathering story. In this short work, the author talks the way a progressive person of her era would have approached the then new phenomenon of a working woman. Its beautifully written, with much insight and compassion, both for the new wage-earning woman, and for those people who’s rigid worldview has left them in historical dust.

Ten minute musings

Seems like an autobiographical epiphany more than an actual story. The narrator works as a teacher in a school. She thinks there is a fight outside, but its just kids playing football. While watching the kids run around the ball, desperately trying to catch it, the narrator concludes that adults aren’t very much different. While kids brainlessly chase the ball around, the adults do the same with money.

Titee

Named after the protagonist, a poor black boy who everyone perceives as lazy. But the truth is he is doing something very noble, which sadly leads to tragic circumstances towards the end of the story.

Story of vengeance

A woman falls in love with a man she knows is no good. But it doesn’t matter, because the intensity of their emotions makes it all worth it for her. They split after he expectedly cheats on her. Later in life she gets the opportunity to reconnect with him.

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