Dorothy Canfield Fisher published several books of short stories, and I have read all of them except Basque People (from 1931). I have found something to enjoy in each of them, many with familiar settings in Vermont or France (particularly in the Basque region). I can see connections to her novels, common themes that run through her fiction and non-fiction. Though I have read the books of short stories, I still wanted to read A Harvest of Stories, an anthology collected by DCF herself and published in 1956. I wanted to see which ones she chose, as the subtitle says, "From a Half Century of Writing." I hoped that she might have something to say about the stories or about the writing of them.
There are twenty-seven stories included, divided into three sections: "Vermont Memories," "Men, Women - and Children," and "War." DCF introduces them with a Prologue, "What My Mother Taught Me." In it, she explains the part her mother played in making her a teller of stories, one who has "to try with all one's might to understand that part of human life which does not lie visibly on the surface. And then to try to depict the people involved, and their actions, so that they may be recognizable men, women - and children." I love that in her stories, that she wants us to understand her people, to see not just what they do, but why - their motives, which they themselves don't always recognize or understand. And she has such compassion, such empathy for people. She sees them clearly, and she doesn't gloss over or whitewash, but she does understand, and she wants her readers to as well.
This collection includes some of my favorites. "Uncle Giles" is about a relative who considered himself a gentleman, someone who "should not be forced to the menial task of earning a living."
The tales of how Uncle Giles blandly outwitted [his able-bodied and energetic kinspeople's] stub-fingered attacks on his liberty and succeeded to the end of a very long life in living without work are part of our inheritance. For three generations now they have wrought the members of our family to wrath and laughter. He was incredible. You can't imagine anything like him. Unless you have had him in your family too."The Bedquilt," on the other hand, is the story of Aunt Mehetable, "of all the Elwell family...certainly the most unimportant," until she has an idea for a bold new quilt design. "A Family Alliance" is about the parents of a young engaged couple, meeting for the first time, trying to live up to the expectations that their children have created. It's very funny, and very sweet. And "As Ye Sow," the story of a busy mother whose young son and his friends are excluded from their class's Christmas entertainment, because (as she discovers) they are terrible singers. "Through Pity and Terror..." and "In the Eye of the Storm" describe life in France, under German occupation in the Great War. They are difficult to read even now.
I am so happy that Jane included Dorothy Canfield Fisher in her celebration. And if anyone would like a copy of The Home-Maker, I have one to share. I don't want to give it to the library sale, I want to give it to a fellow reader, to someone who I hope will enjoy her books as much as I do.