Hubert is in his sixties now. His partner Tildy is dead. He lives on top of Long Ridge. He has grown fogbound and disgusted with himself. Here are some pictures of him I found in my notebooks.
I wrote this for and read it at The Arnow Conference In The Humanities at Somerset Community College in Somerset, Kentucky on April 7, 2022. I appreciate them asking me to do it.
It is a heady time to be in the humanities business. We have never been so relevant nor so close to extinction. The emergence of critical race theory as a wedge issue has turned elections, gotten people fired, threatened lives. The renewed zeal for banning of books discussing gender, race, and sexuality has turned teachers and librarians into some of the most controversial figures in our culture. Are we who traffic in the humanities guardians or destroyers of civilization? Are we good? Are we evil? Like the protagonist of the 2008 superhero film The Dark Knight, are we the heroes our culture deserves, but not the ones it needs right now? I feel as close to Batman in this moment as I am likely to get. I am happy and terrified to be here.
Let us begin this evening with an excerpt from The Dollmaker, a novel by Harriette Simpson Arnow, published in 1954. The following is an abridged version of a scene between Gertie Nevels—the tall, artistic, mountain woman who is The Dollmaker’s protagonist—and Mrs. Whittle, Nevels’ son Reuben’s homeroom teacher in an overcrowded school in wartime Detroit.
Here we go: