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The African American Ecogothic of E. Levi Brown's "At the Hermitage"
Studies in American Fiction Pub Date : 2021-06-10
Matthew Wynn Sivils

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  • The African American Ecogothic of E. Levi Brown’s “At the Hermitage”
  • Matthew Wynn Sivils (bio)

The August 1893 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine contained works by the likes of Richard Harding Davis, Susan Fenimore Cooper, and Thomas Nelson Page. It also included a short story by an otherwise unknown author named E. Levi Brown who had contributed an enthralling southern gothic tale called “At the Hermitage.”1 But who was E. Levi Brown? In the 127 years since the story appeared in Harper’s—one of the elite literary magazines of the day—both it and its author have fallen into the shadows. Apparently Brown emerged just long enough to publish this single, masterful story before receding back into the fog of obscurity.

Magazine advertisements promoting the August 1893 issue of Harper’s offer a meager, if tantalizing, set of clues. The June 23, 1893, issue of the American Stationer describes Brown as “the wife of a colored minister in the South who has constructed a tale of unusual power out of the dark superstitions of her race.”2 And a largely identical mention in the United States Miller reads, “Mrs. E. Levi Brown . . . the wife of a colored minister in the South, has constructed a tale of unusual power out of the superstitions of her race. It presents a view of the Southern negro from the standpoint of a more intimate and sympathetic knowledge than has belonged to previous writers in this field.”3 These snippets of ad copy, repeated almost verbatim across a few periodicals of the time, serve as the only hints to the mystery of Brown’s identity.4 William Dean Howells and Henry Mills Alden reprinted “At the Hermitage” in their 1907 story collection, Shapes That Haunt the Dusk, but in their brief introduction to that volume they strangely refer to the author as “Mr. Brown” and offer no additional leads.5 Following this reprint Brown seems to have disappeared entirely, leaving behind no further work and no further clues [End Page 143] to her identity. Did she write other stories? Where in the South did she live? Who was her minister husband mentioned in the ads? These and other questions remain unanswered. For now, “At the Hermitage”—a story of skill and nuance that seems the product of an experienced writer—remains Brown’s only known work.

Harper’s own advertisement, in its July 1893 issue, provides essentially the same information as the others but further underscores the novelty of Brown’s race: “Especially interesting by reason of its merit as well as of its authorship, will be Mrs. E. Levi Brown’s story, entitled, ‘At the Hermitage,’ based upon the dark superstitions of her race—a narrative of idiomatic simplicity and thrilling interest.”6 But simplicity is hardly an apt descriptor for “At the Hermitage.” It’s a complex tale that—in ways similar to many of the stories of her contemporary Charles W. Chesnutt (e.g., “The Dumb Witness” and “The Sheriff’s Children”)—presents a southern gothic fantasy mixed with the all-too-real miseries of African American life in the postbellum South. There’s certainly nothing simple about how Brown abandons many of the tired conceits so common to regional tales. She eschews the frame tale format, first-person narration, cartoonish stock characters, and the peculiar brand of humor meant to appeal to bigoted tastes. Instead, in a story that boasts three African American women as its principal characters, Brown crafts a narrative both original and horrific. The fact that “At the Hermitage” is a newly rediscovered short story originally published in the pages of Harper’s in 1893 and presented at that time as a tale by the “wife of a colored minister in the South” makes it a notable work.7 But when we read the story and find within it Brown’s deft confluence of racial, gendered, and environmental concerns, we recognize it as masterpiece of southern gothic fiction, one that when read by the light of twenty-first-century criticism reveals a multitude of critical possibilities.

One compelling approach to “At the Hermitage” is to consider how it delivers a narrative ripe...


E. Levi Brown 的“在冬宫”的非裔美国人生态哥特式


  • E. Levi Brown 的“在冬宫”的非裔美国人生态哥特式
  • 马修·韦恩·西维尔斯(生物)

Ť他八月的1893年问题哈珀的新月刊由理查德·哈丁·戴维斯,苏珊尔库珀,和托马斯·纳尔逊页的同类作品包含。它还包括一个名为 E. Levi Brown 的不知名作家的短篇小说,他贡献了一个迷人的南方哥特式故事,名为“在冬宫”。1但谁是 E. Levi Brown?自从这个故事出现在当时的精英文学杂志《哈珀》上的 127 年里,它和它的作者都陷入了阴影之中。显然,布朗出现的时间刚好足以发表这个单一的、精湛的故事,然后又回到默默无闻的迷雾中。

宣传 1893 年 8 月号《哈珀》的杂志广告提供了一组微不足道的线索,虽然很诱人。1893 年 6 月 23 日的《美国文具》杂志将布朗描述为“南方一位有色人种部长的妻子,她从她种族的黑暗迷信中构建了一个非凡力量的故事。” 2在美国,米勒提到的大致相同,“夫人。E. 列维布朗。. . 南方一位有色人种部长的妻子从她种族的迷信中构建了一个不同寻常的权力故事。它从比该领域以前的作家更亲密和富有同情心的知识的角度展示了对南方黑人的看法。” 3这些广告文案片段在当时的一些期刊中几乎逐字重复,是揭示布朗身份之谜的唯一线索。4 William Dean Howells 和 Henry Mills Alden 在他们 1907 年的故事集《Shapes That Haunt the Dusk》中重印了“At the Hermitage” ,但在他们对该卷的简要介绍中,他们奇怪地称作者为“Mr. Brown”并且不提供额外的线索。5重印之后,布朗似乎完全消失了,没有留下进一步的工作,也没有进一步的线索[End Page 143]以她的身份。她写过其他故事吗?她住在南方什么地方?广告中提到的她的牧师丈夫是谁?这些和其他问题仍未得到解答。目前,“在冬宫”——一个似乎是一位经验丰富的作家的作品的技巧和细微差别的故事——仍然是布朗唯一已知的作品。

哈珀自己的广告在 1893 年 7 月的一期中提供了与其他广告基本相同的信息,但进一步强调了布朗种族的新颖性:“由于其优点和作者身份,特别有趣的是 E. Levi Brown 夫人的故事,题为“在冬宫”,基于她种族的黑暗迷信——一种惯用的简单和令人兴奋的兴趣的叙述。” 6但简单并不是“在冬宫”的恰当描述。这是一个复杂的故事——与她同时代的查尔斯·W·切斯纳特 (Charles W. Chesnutt) 的许多故事(例如,“哑巴证人”和“警长的孩子”)相似——呈现了南方哥特式幻想与过于真实的混合战后南部非洲裔美国人生活的苦难。布朗如何摒弃地区故事中常见的许多陈旧的自负,这当然绝非易事。她避开框架故事格式、第一人称叙述、卡通人物以及旨在吸引偏执品味的独特幽默品牌。相反,在一个以三位非裔美国女性为主要角色的故事中,布朗创造了一个既原始又可怕的叙事。哈珀于 1893 年创作,当时作为“南方有色人种部长的妻子”的故事呈现,使其成为一部引人注目的作品。7但是,当我们阅读这个故事并在其中发现布朗巧妙地融合了种族、性别和环境问题时,我们认为它是南方哥特小说的杰作,从 21 世纪的批评角度来看,它揭示了许多的关键可能性。