Sunday, April 28, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 5: Elizabeth M. Bisgood, Twelve Strangers in the Night (#83)

If yesterday's entry "how do black people talk?" didn't interest you, maybe you'll be more interested in today's "how did our great-grandparents fly?"

Elizabeth M. Bisgood, "Twelve Strangers in the Night" (1933) from Into the Blue:
Over at the Library of America Story of the Week page, each piece includes a header that introduces the author, some context, and some analysis when the piece is famous enough to need less author/context info.

So, who is Elizabeth Bisgood? Apparently she went to Smith College with the future Anne Morrow Lindbergh and the header for this piece has two paragraphs about the Lindberghs and one on Bisgood. So I still don't really know anything about Bisgood, other than that she wrote this article about what it was like to take a commercial flight in 1933.

For sure, that topic has great historical value and is an interesting counterweight to the old "air travel used to be glamorous" meme (as found in this excellent Cat and Girl comic). Bisgood notes that the plane is too loud to talk; there are only 12 seats (all the other passengers are men); the plane makes several stops to refuel and gets grounded by a storm (so the airline gets them train tickets to another city where they can get the next plane); and many other changes, including that ever-green marker of historical difference: people used to smoke on planes. There's also a big theme running through of how the shared danger unifies all the passengers--"We are one unit. The breath of one is the breath of all.
Our hearts pound at a single, heavy pace." But at the same point, Bisgood is clear to mark out the distinctions that exist outside of that momentary unity: she knows no one's name, the other passengers probably look at her and just see a woman who needs to powder her nose, the man next to her is going to be sick so she looks away, etc.

As a literary piece, Bisgood does some interesting things. For one thing, the whole piece is addressed to an absent "you" who is Bisgood's husband (or something), which makes the reading of this piece a little bit like looking at someone's private correspondence. Also, Bisgood occasionally slips in a bit of fantasia, as when she describes the plane flying through the clouds as a toy plane wrapped in cotton. Do these flights of fancy (oh, ouch) help make the strange scenario more understandable for readers who have never flown themselves? Is this an example of metaphorical language being used when literal description fails?

1 comment:

  1. Elizabeth Bisgood was a relative of mine by marriage. I have original copies of her published corpus, which comprises the following:

    As Elizabeth Bisgood:

    Short story: "Twelve Strangers in the Night", The Forum and Century, Vol. 90, No. 3, Sep. 1933, pp. 180-183.

    Short story: "Two Birthdays", The Forum and Century, Vol. 90, No. 4, Oct. 1933, pp. 229-236.

    As Elizabeth Bacon Rodewald:

    Genealogy: "Bacon’s Adventure", Bankers Press, New York (adapted by EBR), c. 1947

    Short story: "The Day I Met Caruso", Readers Digest, July 1955

    Short story: "The Story of a Winter’s Night", Ladies Home Journal, December 1955

    Novel: "At the Edge of the Shadow", J. B. Lippincott, Philadephia & New York, 1956

    "The Day I Met Caruso" was dramatized for TV by Hal Roach Studios as Episode 34 of the 35-episode Screen Director’s Playhouse on NBC (1955-56). It was directed by Frank Borzage and released September 5, 1956. It's available on DVD as a supplementary item in the three-DVD set "Coffret Frank Borzage" issued by Carlotta (France) in 2011.