Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

"A Game Played against Time": Life in Bourbonville

Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

"A Game Played against Time": Life in Bourbonville

Article excerpt

Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future,

And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

All time is unredeemable.

-T. S. Eliot

NOVELIST AND HISTORIAN RICHARD MARIUS understood the differing demands of nonfictional and fictional writings: nonfiction requires attention to evidence and facts, and fiction allows the creation, or fabrication, of characters and narratives. But given the etymology of the word history as "narrative of past events, account, tale, story" (OED), he further realized that "there are probably more similarities in the two than differences." Specifically, fiction and nonfiction, especially biography, rely on "descriptions of places, narratives of events, and analyses of causes" (Marius, "How I Write" 148). And both genres tell stories.

There is no record of when Richard Marius decided to write his stories set in a distinct fictional world. For The Coming of Rain, his first published novel, he had created Bourbonville, and Bourbon County, based on Lenoir City, Tennessee, the town where he grew up, and its environs, particularly Loudon County. Some early unpublished fictional works-at least one short story and a novel-use the wild, unsettled West of the nineteenth century for settings, but another story "The Jewels of Aunt Margaret," dated 27 March 1963, is set in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the summer of 1920. Ann Close, who became Marius's editor at Alfred A. Knopf while he was working on Bound for the Promised Land, speculates that he was collecting ideas, perhaps even subconsciously, while he was writing for the Lenoir City News during his high school and college years-writing news stories, interviewing elderly citizens of the county, and writing his weekly column "Ramblin' with Richard." In 1977, in a column for the University of Tennessee Daily Beacon, Marius acknowledged Lenoir City as the basis for his fictional world of Bourbonville and confessed that he "plundered" his memories of a "happy childhood" and the town's stories for his fiction ("Town" 2). Certainly through the years he collected countless stories. In an interview with Carroll Viera, he emphasized the importance of his home for his fiction: "Living intimately with a town-seeing its conflicts and its virtues and its hypocrisies-has given me the sense that there's enough to keep writing about in Loudon County (alias Bourbon County in my novels) as long as I live" ("First Step" 9). His statement parallels William Faulkner's comment about Yoknapatawpha County in which Faulkner claims to have "discovered that [his] own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that [he] would never live long enough to exhaust it" (Meriwether and Millgate 255).

Once he turned to his home for the setting of his novels, Marius the historian paid careful attention to details in creating his fictional world of Bourbonville, Bourbon County, in East Tennessee, southwest of Knoxville. He devoted more than thirty years to building this realistic fictional place through two centuries of its history, with at least one additional novel, set in an even earlier century, in progress at the time of his death. Bourbonville is a combination of Lenoir City, Kingston, and Loudon. He fondly recalled this real world in a speech to his classmates at Lenoir City High School on the occasion of their thirtieth class reunion:

Our town was small, full of trees and green grass and quiet places . . . .

[O]ur town was a community . . . where nearly everyone knew everyone else, where during the weekdays Broadway seemed almost asleep and on Wednesday afternoons when the stores closed, almost dead. In the hot summers before air conditioning, doors stood open, and in some places big-bladed wooden fans slowly beat at the thick air gathered below the high ceilings while the streets outside lay locked under the spell of the sun. I recall with special delight the dimness of the Eason-Norwood Hardware store with its friendly smells of leather, rope, kegs, and tools. …

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