The 15-Minute Pulitzers
Farmers, farmers, farmers, and Death. The world of the Pulitzer. The world of Caroline Miller’s 1934 Pulitzer winner, Lamb in His Bosom. A cruel world, mid-19th century Georgia. A world of “painters” (panthers), malarial swamps, and infidelities. A world of heat and fire, fever and gangrene. A world with a war waiting at the end of it. But it doesn’t start out that way. Young love never does.
The beginning is densely descriptive. Lyric. Saturated with budding, aromatic imagery. But then Miller works in something dark. A reference to past and secret hanky-panky. An intrusion of vicious, unfeeling nature. The terror and inexorability of childbirth in the 1840s in more-than-rural Georgia.
And then the novel gets down to the narrative. We become involved with the characters. Some good things happen, some bad things happen, but they seem more of a matter of journalistic fact rather than some metaphoric statement about the temperament of life in general. The premeditated vicious quality of nature (of humanity and of the great outdoors) withdraws into the background, malignancy appears to become less fashionable, but Miller is just saving that for the end. As will I. Mwa ha ha ha ha ha! (I will say that among some of the most beautiful language in the book, the most dastardly of deeds is committed. It makes me shiver just to think about it.)
An interesting note about Caroline. She was truly writing what she knew. Born and bred in Georgia, she collected stories from family members and characters from the locality where she bought chickens and eggs (10 miles into the backwoods, evidently) to supply her narrative with events and players. Lamb in His Bosom was her first novel and an immediate best-seller perhaps best summed up by a children’s rhyme the reader will find recurring within it’s pages:
Bay-black sheep! Where’s yore lamb?
‘Way low down in the valley;
The buzzards and the butterflies are pickin’ out hit’s eyes —
Pore little lamb cries: Ma-a-a — Ma-a-a —
There’s that shiver again.