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The Grass Harp

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The Grass Harp

The Grass Harp
First edition hardback
Author Truman Capote
Country  United States
Language English
Genre Southern literature
Publisher Random House
Publication date
1951
Media type Print: (Hardcover / paperback)
Pages 216 pp
ISBN n/a
OCLC 282815

The Grass Harp is a novel by Truman Capote published on October 1, 1951[1] It tells the story of an orphaned boy and two elderly ladies who observe life from a tree. They eventually leave their temporary retreat to make amends with each other and other members of society.[2]

Contents

  • Conception 1
  • Plot summary 2
  • Characters 3
  • Reception and critical analysis 4
  • Adaptations 5
    • Play 5.1
    • Musical 5.2
    • Film 5.3
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Conception

Not wanting to take up his incomplete first novel, Summer Crossing, Capote began writing The Grass Harp in June 1950 and completed it on May 27, 1951. The novel was inspired by memories of his Alabama childhood, specifically a tree house constructed in the 1930s in a large walnut tree in his cousin Jenny's backyard. This large tree house, accessible by an antique spiral staircase, featured cypress wood construction and a tin roof, and was furnished with a rattan sofa. Capote spent time in this tree house with his cousin Sook or other childhood friends such as Nelle Harper Lee.[3] The novel was additionally inspired by his cousin Sook's dropsy medicine, which she made yearly until the age of 62. She took the recipe for it to the grave, despite Jenny's wanting first to patent the recipe and then to sell it to a manufacturer.[4]

Capote completed The Grass Harp while he was vacationing in Taormina, Sicily. The last section was airmailed to the publishers Random House just days after he finished writing it, but it was not published for four months because the editors, specifically Bob Linscott, did not care for the ending of the novel.[5] Linscott thought that the ending was weak because, once the characters were up in the tree house, Capote "didn't know what to do with them." He asked Capote to rewrite the ending, and Capote made some changes in it, but he did not completely rewrite it.[6]

Truman Capote initially wanted to title the novel Music of the Sawgrass. It was Bob Linscott who gave it the title The Grass Harp. [7]

Plot summary

The story begins with Collin Fenwick losing his mother, and then his father, and moving into his aunts' (Dolly and Verena) house. Catherine, the servant, also lives in the house and gets along, for the most part, only with Dolly. Dolly is famous for her medicine, which she makes by going out into the woods with Catherine and Collin and randomly picking plants. They then got to an old treehouse, which is propped up in a

Characters

1961 Signet Books paperback reprint

Collin Fenwick: An orphaned boy who takes up residence in a China tree with Dolly. When the story opens he is 11 years old, but he is 16 years old for the majority of the narrative; he is small for his age. Collin serves as both the protagonist and narrator of the novel.

Dolly Talbo: Aunt of Collin; she takes up residence in the China tree. Her character is based on Truman's older cousin, Sook Faulk.[8]

Verena Talbo: Dolly's sister; she urges the Sheriff of the town to investigate the disappearance of her sister Dolly.

Morris Ritz: A man who woos Verena, and is popularly believed to open a factory with her but soon runs away with her money.

Catherine Creek: An African American servant who runs away with Dolly and Collin, and also takes up residence in the China tree.

Riley Henderson: A boy who becomes friends with Collin. He briefly takes up residence in the treehouse of the China tree.

Junius Candle: The town Sheriff; he is persistent in finding perpetrators and organizes a massive search party to find Collin and Dolly.

Judge Cool: He is considered the free thinker of the town and helps Dolly and Verena come to terms with one another. He is the "wise man" of society, and in general, solves conflicts posed in the novella.

Reception and critical analysis

The New York Herald Tribune lauded the novel as "Remarkable...infused with a tender laughter, charming human warmth, [and] a feeling for the positive quality of life." The Atlantic Monthly commented that "The Grass Harp charms you into sharing the author's feeling that there is a special poetry - a spontaneity and wonder and delight - in lives untarnished by conformity and common sense." Sales of The Grass Harp reached 13,500, more than double those of either A Tree of Night or Local Color, two of Capote's prior works.[9]

The Grass Harp was Truman Capote's favorite personal work, despite that it was critiqued as being overly sentimental.[10]

Adaptations

1952 Play Adaptation Cover

Play

The Grass Harp was favorably reviewed when it was published, and it attracted the interest of the Broadway producer Saint Subber, who traveled to Taormina to urge Capote to write a stage adaption of the work; his offer opened up new possibilities for income at a time when Capote was still struggling to make his way. Working with intense concentration, Capote managed to complete a draft of the play in a year's time. He was personally involved in the selection of a production team. Capote's stage adaptation of his novel, producer Saint Subber, directed by Robert Lewis, opened on March 27, 1952 at Broadway's Martin Beck Theatre, where it ran for 36 performances. The cast included Mildred Natwick as Dolly Talbo, Ruth Nelson as Verena Talbo, Jonathan Harris as Dr. Morris Ritz, Sterling Holloway as The Barber, Gertrude Flynn as The Baker's Wife, Val Dufour as The Sheriff, Jane Lawrence as The Choir Mistress, Lenka Peterson as Maude Riordan, and Alice Pearce as Miss Baby Love Dallas.[11] Music was by Virgil Thomson and scenery and costumes were by Cecil Beaton.[12]

Musical

After five previews (October 26, 1971), a Richardson Estate will not agree with financing additional expenses involved with "The Grass Harp". Barbara Cook and the cast appeared on a CBS television Sunday morning talk-interview show, presenting several of the musical numbers with Claibe Richardson at the grand piano, during the musical's preview week and opening night performances. The CBS television "Grass Harp" promo interview segment can be located on the internet site "YouTube". The initial 1967 trial of the musical was performed by Trinity Square Repertory Company at the Rhode Island School of Design auditorium, in Providence, Rhode Island. Directed and staged by Adrian Hall, the cast included Barbara Baxley as Dolly Heart Talbo, Carol Brice as the black maid Catherine Creek, Carol Bruce as Verena Talbo, Elaine Stritch as the evangelist Baby Love. After the Providence show trial, Larry Fineberg optioned the property for Broadway, casting Mama Cass as the evangelist Miss Baby Love; Fineberg was unable to raise capital funds, the producing reigns were optioned by Richard Barr. Regrettably, "The Grass Harp" was Barbara Cook's last appearance in a Broadway musical's cast as a performer!

Film

In 1995, Stirling Silliphant and Kirk Ellis adapted the novel for a feature film directed by Charles Matthau. The cast included Matthau's father Walter, Piper Laurie, Sissy Spacek, Edward Furlong, Nell Carter, Jack Lemmon, Mary Steenburgen, Sean Patrick Flanery, Joe Don Baker, Bonnie Bartlett and Charles Durning.

References

Notes
  1. ^ Clarke, Gerald. Capote: A Biography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), page 224.
  2. ^ Clarke, Gerald. Capote: A Biography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), page 219.
  3. ^ Rudisill, Marie & Simmons, James C. The Southern Haunting of Truman Capote (Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland House, 2000), pages 92-94.
  4. ^ Rudisill, Marie & Simmons, James C. The Southern Haunting of Truman Capote (Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland House, 2000), pages 91&93.
  5. ^ Clarke, Gerald. Capote: A Biography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), pages 220-224.
  6. ^ Rudisill, Marie & Simmons, James C. The Southern Haunting of Truman Capote (Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland House, 2000), page 86.
  7. ^ Rudisill, Marie & Simmons, James C. The Southern Haunting of Truman Capote (Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland House, 2000), page 86.
  8. ^ Rudisill, Marie & Simmons, James C. The Southern Haunting of Truman Capote (Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland House, 2000), page 85.
  9. ^ Clarke, Gerald. Capote: A Biography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), page 224.
  10. ^ Rudisill, Marie & Simmons, James C. The Southern Haunting of Truman Capote (Nashville, Tennessee: Cumberland House, 2000), page 86.
  11. ^ Clarke, Gerald. Capote: A Biography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988), pages 229-230.
  12. ^ Capote, Truman. The Grass Harp: A Play by Truman Capote (New York: Random House, 1952), introduction.
Bibliography
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  • Davis, Deborah (2006). Party of the Century: The Fabulous Story of Truman Capote and His Black and White Ball (1st ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.  
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External links

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