The first story in The Moons of Jupiter is a two-parter, the first originally published in “Chatelaine” and the second in “Saturday Night”, in 1979.
And because of this, with the information from the introduction, which states that “The Stone in the Field” comes from the author’s personal experience, one figures that the other half of the story, “Connection”, which features the same characters, does as well.
“Some of these stories are closer to my own life than others are, but not one of them is as close as people seem to think.”
My copy of this collection was purchased second-hand, but there is a note inside it that says it was purchased in Clinton, Ontario — New — with another note at the bottom of the page: The Progress of Love /Lloyd knows – is acquainted with.
I once had a friend from Clinton, where Alice Munro has lived for many years, and he said that everyone in Clinton was convinced that they knew exactly where the stories came from.
And, as the author herself notes in this introduction, “if it’s a certain sort of story — first-person, seemingly artless and straight-forward — people imagine that just about all you did was write down everything that happened on a certain day.”
“Chaddeleys and Flemings” is that kind of story. But of course that doesn’t mean that it’s a page from the author’s life, or thirty-five pages for that matter.
The Chaddeleys come to stay in Dalgleish one summer, the maiden ladies to stay with their cousin, the narrator’s mother.
Someone else might have called them old maids, but it “was too thin a term, it would not cover them”. The narrator’s memories of this summer are certainly robust, energetic and rambunctious.
She remembers her mother putting on a pair of pants and standing on her head. She remembers a twinned sense of impropriety and adventure.
The cousins were a connection, to the “real, and prodigal, and dangerous, world” but also a connection to “England and history”.
Throughout it all, there are the musings on social class. “The people who thought so highly of themselves in Dalgleish would be laughable to the leading families of Fork Mills.”
Yet someone is always the butt of someone else’s jokes, for “the leading families of Fork Mills would be humbled if they came into contact with certain families of England, to whom my mother was connected.”
And there’s where it gets confusing, for her mother is now from Dalgleish, as much as she might claim connections to someplace “better”, simultaneously a joke to those in Fork Mills and superior to them.
The narrator takes in both images of her mother, the presumed aristocratic connections and the trading and deal-making business woman, with a reputation for gathering up old furniture at estate sales.
And she struggles to recognize her own connection with this woman, with the women on the Chaddeley and Fleming sides of the family.
The Flemings were a family of eight, all of whom continued to live on the family farm throughout their adult lives (only the narrator’s father escaped to live elsewhere).
They persisted in the use of a horse and buggy and maintained the traditions and work ethics of a farming family, oblivious to what visitors would describe as progress.
The narrator can see how out-of-place the Flemmings are, when she sees them outside the context of their home, but their oddity was not evident to her as a girl and remains less obvious when she is in their milieu.
“They looked a good deal like me. I didn’t know it at the time and wouldn’t have wanted to.”
Now a married woman, living on the west coast, the narrator has relocated thousands of miles from Dalgleish (and those aristocratic English roots), but those farm fields are not as far away as she thinks.
How do you think her sense of connection changes throughout these stories?
Note: This is part of a series of posts on Alice Munro’s stories, beginning with with Dance of the Happy Shades, Lives of Girls and Women, Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You and Who Do You Think You Are? (The Beggar Maid). I aim to read through her work to date. She is one of my MRE authors.
The next in The Moons of Jupiter is “Dulse”; one story will be discussed on each Thursday, so that “Labour Day Dinner” will fall on the Thursday before Labour Day weekend. Please feel free to join in, for the series, or for a single story.