Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Burley, you rascal.

Perhaps I am a prude.

Perhaps I grew up with a bunch of Puritanical folk.
(I did live in Wheaton, Illinois: All American City, home of Wheaton College)

But living with a woman and having a child out of wedlock was, um, frowned upon and quite unusual in my younger days.

Dan Quale publically frowned upon it in the 80's.

I am not trying to judge.

I just want to know why the folks in Hannah's world did not find it scandalous.

Did this aspect of Burley's life suprise you? shock you? puzzle you? bore you?

Inquiring minds want to know.



  1. I suspect that initially the community was shocked at Burley's behavior; but because over time he stood by (supported) his child and the mother, the illegitemacy lost its sting.

    Burley was truly a *character* I can see myself as one of those disapproving members who would have slowly been brought around.

    I mean who can resist a hymn played on a fiddle.

    This evening I heard Steve Martin, that outrageous comedian.... playing the bango and sounding level-headed.

    Wonderful topic, Donna!!

  2. I'm not so sure the folks in Hannah's world didn't find it scandalous. I don't think it was ever publicly acknowledged that Danny was Burley's son until Danny was grown. Like a lot of things in small towns, I think it was widely assumed, understood, even. Burley pretty much kept himself outside of accepted society of Port William, didn't he? (I really don't remember but it seems like he worked and hunted and I don't remember much else).

    My dad was born out of wedlock in rural Missouri in 1921! I didn't know it until 1984 and it was quite scandalous for all us kids, mostly to realize the man we thought of as Grandpa was not our blood relative. We didn't get the nerve to really ask Dad many questions about it until the last few years. Dad was raised by his mother's parents until he was five and his mother married and had another baby. Even after that, Dad went back and forth between his parent's and his grandparents. I think he was keenly aware of being illegitimate and it helped make him the quiet introvert he is.

    So yes, Burley's actions would have been scandalous. I think Wendell is showing his modern sensibilities when he has Hannah accept it without judgment or really even comment.

    More than slightly off-topic: Did you know Leonardo da Vinci was illegitimate? I showed a DVD on da Vinci in the history class I subbed for yesterday and learned that.

    Thanks for inquiring.

  3. that's BAN-JO :)

  4. I get the feeling that everyone loved Burley and so looked the other way. I did think it was odd that the mother lived so close and there wasn't much mention of her.

    We know how much Wendell LOVES the Branches, so it seems right that there wasn't much scandal surrounding the father of the line.

    This would have been considered scandalous in my hometown as well, Donna. Of course, Wendell could also be acknowledging that this does happen in every small town and life goes on.

    (Thanks for posting today...did you see my incoherent draft? Oh! The interruptions in my day. Must. Focus.)

  5. Burley is a rascal. It's a great word to describe him.

    I still remember the time I was talking with the parents of one of my roommates. Somehow someone asked them how long they had been was a good six months less than necessary to be married before getting pregnant. They said it quietly, with a smile...but it was obvious they were wondering what our response would be (-: It wasn't what they wanted, but how grateful they were for their daughter. We couldn't argue with that -- she was a dandy roommate.

    Burley's story is a great one. My favorite Wendell collection of stories is there is more about Burley. HIGHLY recommended.

    Not able to be the blog stalker these days ... life is nutty and we just got the computer cord replacement. PHEW.


  6. Ahhh, Di brought up the point I wondered about his life illuminated more in other books? Which brings me to my next point...does this mean we need to read ALL Wendell's books to get the full scope of the characters? It just seems like he doesn't say much about some people and that keeps coming up in the back of my mind.

    Tammy ~@~

  7. Listen to Di.

    Two of my favorite Wendell Berry stories involve Burley: Fidelity, which she mentioned, and another (my copy is loaned out, can't remember name) where Burley makes his will, legally acknowledging Danny Branch as his son.

    Wendell Berry consistently crafts his heroes with flaws. I think I like that, even though I tend to want my protagonists to be perfect.

    Does anyone wonder what WB is like face to face? I've heard two anecdotes of folks "dropping by" his place in Kentucky and receiving a warm welcome. One story was from a house guest who visited us last summer. Her brother went up to his door and knocked. Ended up talking for two hours. From WB's perspective, that could be ... um .... awkward.

    Having read 3/4 of his fiction, I also wonder which character is most like the author.

    Good thread, Donna!

  8. Good point Donna - As I mentioned, my family is from the nearby Ohio valley area. I'm pretty sure that my grandfather was divorced at some point and my mom had an older brother from his first marriage. But it is still a taboo subject that is NEVER talked about.

    As for Danny Branch, I spent way too much time shuffling back through the book trying to figure out who he was when he popped up in the middle as Burley's son. A chapter or two later it was explained. I was a annoyed.

  9. But that rascal Burley is so attractive and magnetic! If he were otherwise, he might not have been forgiven so easily.

  10. I see your Brad Pitt and I raise you one Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

    He's burlier. ;)

  11. bigtime jeffrey dean morgan. brad pitt is too pretty.

    and currently mustachioed.

  12. good heavens....brad's mustache right now is so ugly.

    However, I imagine the Brad from A River Runs Thru It.
    The character he played was a beloved, rascally, yet naughty younger brother.
    His concubine in the movie was a native american which was frowned upon. But he didn't care.
    Brad in that movie reminds me of Burley.

  13. I was thinking George Clooney - perpetually unshaven and slouching around the woods.

    I like the Burley character a lot. He has such a tender heart, even though I think in an earlier time he would have been a Daniel Boone-type, opening up the Kentucky wilderness instead of settling it.

    But I did wonder why he never married his lady love, if he did actually love her, and was not just looking for some fooling around from time to time. My conclusion was that he does not love her in a sacrificial way, but is a decent enough man to take responsibility (to a point) for the consequences of of his actions.