T. S. Stribling - An Apology to Florence


T. S. Stribling

It is with no small satisfaction that I accept this opportunity in Wings to explain to the subscribers of the Literary Guild the exact connection between my new novel, Unfinished Cathedral, and the well known Scottsboro case in Alabama.

The Alabama trial has attracted wide attention. It has not only drawn endless columns of publicity in the newspapers, but in the New York theaters one play has concerned itself exclusively with this trial and now my new novel touches on the topic. It is the object of this paper to explain several points that may come up in the readers' minds as to the connection between the current Literary Guild selection and the notorious Alabama cause.

First and foremost my use of the Scottsboro material is incidental and by no means literal. I changed the locale of the trial placing it in Florence, Alabama, instead of Scottsboro because the scene of my trilogy, The Forge, The Store, and Unfinished Cathedral, was laid in Florence. I could by no means change my scene merely because the actual trial happened in Scottsboro instead of Florence because of the immense waste of print in establishing and solidifying a new mise en scene in the imaginations of my readers.

Moreover, I do not complete the trial in the new novel or make anything at all of its dramatic potentialities because the theme of the trial was not at all the theme of Unfinished Cathedral. The only connection the trial had with my book was the fact that such a trial could be held in the South, and when the reader grasps this fact and its social significance that ended the usefulness of the case on the stage I had set.

The points which preoccupied me with this trial were the different attitudes toward it taken by the different social classes of the South. Also I was interested in the great stir it made in the North among labor organizations, communist organizations, Negro Protective associations and civic liberty associations, and also of course, the intervention of Northern opinion in Southern affairs, and the Southern repercussion to such intervention. In fact the Scottsboro trial wept to be written, and I have almost a Sir Galahad feeling of charging forward to relieve the angel or imp of irony in distress, for the services of an interpreter.

And I would like just here to make a very small payment on a very large moral debt which I owe to Florence, Alabama. As every one sees I have lugged the Scottsboro trial into the courthouse at Florence when it did not happen there at all. But I have done far worse than that. My trilogy has been a survey; more or less, of the foibles and amusing social kinks of the whole South from Civil War times to the present. I have focussed everything I found on Florence because that was the scene of my prolonged story. I am in the position of a very sad literary dog indeed which drags every bone to his kennel, and I know this has made it quite uncomfortable for the perfectly nice and charming people who live in the house.

Naturally I need not say here that nowhere in the South exists such a concentration of moral and financial quirks, twists and biases as I have depicted in Florence. In exculpation I will say that nowhere in the world in any family or group of people do there exist two hours of such strain, suspense, dramatic ascent, hesitation and final catastrophe as may be found in any two hour show in the theaters. Compression is one of the necessities of art, which ought to mitigate, even if it does not, the feeling of the community compressed.

As a matter of literal fact, Florence, Alabama, is one of the pleasantest places I have ever known, filled with the most mellow and delightful folk. The only reason I chose Florence for the scene of my trilogy was because it had an interesting and romantic past and it possesses more than its share of actual physical loveliness and softness and floweryness which gave me precisely the sort of aesthetic relief which my ruthless narrative required.

So, as has happened to many another maiden, Florence has been mistreated because of her beauty.

Now, as a last word of concrete apology, I will say that, notwithstanding all my novels, in Florence, Alabama, the lives and property of its colored citizens are quite as safe and surrounded with just as much legal protection as are, say, the lives and properties of the millionaires in the North and the West.

In fact, I think statistics will bear me out in saying that black life all over the South enjoys a much higher degree of safety than is displayed in the Northern kidnapping norm. And Negro tenants are not so endangered from their white landlords in the South as white bank depositors are in jeopardy from bank presidents in the North.

And yet notwithstanding this state of fact, the writer does not know of a single Southern Association organized for the express purpose of sending legal help for the defence of Northern bank depositors or to rescue helpless Yankee millionaires.

With this brief word of explanation and apology, I submit the last volume of my trilogy to the consideration of, I trust, an indulgent public.

(Reprinted from Wings, June 1934.)