Monday, October 15, 2012

Countdown to Halloween: Nathaniel Covington Brooks, "Clara Lawson; or, The Rustic Toilet" (1836)

Today's story: the curiously named "Clara Lawson; or, The Rustic Toilet", written by Nathaniel Covington Brooks and published in Godey's Lady's Book in 1836, available here.

Is it any wonder that Brooks renamed it "The Royal Professor" for his 1840 collection, The Literary Amaranth? But don't let the original title put you off, because this is a charming story that hinges around a Halloween party in 1800, and features love-tests of the kind outlined by Robert Burns at the beginning of this countdown - told you it was important. Here's how Brooks describes the day - and note the nostalgia wrapped up in the description, which in this part of the century, as you'll recognise by now, also seems to be pretty much a constant:
Other things to enjoy in here: New Orleans makes a cameo appearance, showcasing its already infamous reputation in fine style. And there's an interesting bit of Transatlantic tension in this short work - "I am an American," the heroine declares, "and hate the English and all their fooleries"; indeed, the villain of the piece is an Englishman.

Brooks himself was a familiar presence in the literary magazines of the antebellum period. He's best known now for his associations with - thunderclap, lightning bolt, brimstone - Edgar Allan Poe. Yes, Poe has finally made his way into this Halloween countdown. Brooks was actually responsible for publishing a number of Poe's stories in his own magazine, The American Museum. The Edgar Allan Poe society has a letter from Poe to Brooks, written in 1838, in which Poe thanks his editor for a payment of $10 but declines his offer to write something on the works of Washington Irving. Interestingly enough, though, Poe suggests that Brooks should write the piece himself: "I fancy you are conversant with Irving’s works, old and new", he notes. And indeed, you don't have to have read much Irving to be struck by his apparent influence on this story, which in many ways feels like a reworking of his "Legend of Sleepy Hollow". That'll serve as a recommendation, I think.

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