Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Storytelling Characters and the Mythmaking Process in Andrew Lytle's the Velvet Horn

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

Storytelling Characters and the Mythmaking Process in Andrew Lytle's the Velvet Horn

Article excerpt

The Velvet Horn is a story told by its author, Andrew Lytle. But it also is a story told by its characters, Sol Leatherbury, Lucius Cree, Jack Cropleigh, Pete Legrand, and Julia Cree, who relate the events of the novel and suggest the significance of those events by telling stories to each other and to themselves. Still, storytelling is not a quality that critics have analyzed when discussing what makes Lytle's novel work. Lytle himself writes that fiction is art, not storytelling (Hero 5). In his "The Working Novelist and the Mythmaking Process," he emphasizes action--action turned over to his characters--as the device upon which he relied to create his story. Critics attempting to account for the unique structure of Lytle's novel have followed the direction Lytle gave in that essay, emphasizing the mythical quality of the novel. Robert Weston, in "Faulkner and Lytle: Two Modes of Southern Fiction," and Thomas H. Landess, in "Unity of Action in The Velvet Horn," both credit Lytle's use of synthesized myth as a quality that unites the novel. The synthesis includes Lytle's own Southern myth, as expressed in "How Many Miles to Babylon," and the Christian myth, which Lytle links to his Southern myth, believing that "the old South ... was the last vestige of Christendom" (Weston "Faulkner" 39). This synthesis is expressed, according to Weston, through the vision of Jack Cropleigh, the unifying seer of the story (42); it is expressed, according to Landess, by the unifying action in the story (349). Lytle himself asserts that the unity comes from his "controlling image"--the loss of innocence and thus the loss of wholeness, expressed in the incest between Julia and Duncan ("Working" 184). What these critics recognize is what Lytle aspired to--The Velvet Horn is a story that works on a number of levels. On one level it is a story about the Cropleigh and Cree families; on another it is a story about the South; and on another it is a story about human experience. So, the myths exist on a number of levels, individual myth, historical/Southern myth, Christian/universal myth.

While these critics help us identify the mythical levels that unite the story, others point out that the reader's access to these levels is through the narrative's point of view. As Ann Foata writes in "Andrew Lytle's The Velvet Horn: A Hermeneutic Approach to Wholeness," the story is united by the "connecting consciousness of Jack Cropleigh" (430). It is true that Jack's point-of-view is crucial to the way the narrative functions; however, readers perceive that it disappears for varying lengths of time (most significantly when Jack leaves to trade mules after falling in Joe Cree's grave). It is important, then, to recognize that the mythic/archetypal quality is released through what Roland Barthes calls the "many `voices' out of which the text is woven" (qtd. in Foata 430). The unity of The Velvet Horn, and the reader's ability to perceive the various levels within the novel and experience its sense of wholeness, comes from the way the story is told by all its characters.

Just as the myths have various levels, so does the storytelling. In "Toward a Total Reading of Fiction: The Essays of Andrew Lytle," Robert Weston discusses one of the ways this idea of levels works. Using Lytle's own analysis in his "Foreword" to A Novel, A Novella and Four Stories, Weston finds levels of enveloping action and surface action, of symbolic action and archetypal action, and of conscious and subconscious point of view (427-28). The levels of storytelling in The Velvet Horn range from conscious reporting (Sol Leatherbury) to subconscious recreation (Jack Cropleigh). When the characters report information in stories to each other, they reveal significant insights about the people and events in their stories while yielding insights into their own characters. When the characters re-create a story for another character, or for themselves (as in a daydream or reverie), they reveal the meaning in the novel, enabling it to be "received actively," so that the reader can be "moved affectively, [and] his insight will comprise the fullest meaning which lies before him" (Lytle "Foreword" 195). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.