Superkort handlingsresumé af The making of Americans s. 1-150:
Forskellige emigrantfamilier introduceres. Der veksles mellem abstrakte, generelle beskrivelser af familier – kvinder og mænd og børn – og navngivne familier. De første 30 sider fortælles om Henry Dehning og hans datter Julia. De diskuterer over mange sider hvorvidt hun skal gifte sig med Alfred Hersland. ‘Young Hersland’, ‘Alfy’. Henry Dehning har sine betænkeligheder overfor frieren, men nyder sin datters viljestyrke og argumentationsevner, og længe før han overgiver sig ved både han, julia og læseren, at Julia og Alfred bliver gift. Julia og læseren når så også lige akkurat at opdage, at Henry Dehnings betænkeligheder er velbegrundede:
“A few weeks before the day they were to be married and to begin their new free life together, this vague distrust in Julia became a little sharper. Alfy was talking to her one night about the good life they were to have soon together, about their prospects and his hopes for the future. “I’ve some good schemes Julia in my head,” he said to her, “and I mean to do big things, and with a safe man like your father to back me through now I think I can.” Julia somehow was startled though this kind of saying in him was not new to her. “Why what do you mean Alfy?” “Why,” he went on, “I want to do some things that have big money and big risks in them and a man as well known as your father for wealth and reliability for a father-in-law will do all that I need. (…)” (s. 32)
Dernæst handler det om familien Hersland. Alfreds far, mor og søskende. Helt fra s. 33 og frem til s. 150. (Og det fortsætter på de 30 sider jeg skal snakke om på onsdag.)
Ægteparret David og Fanny Hersland bor i Gossols. De er rige, David har skabt sig en formue, han er en dygtig forretningsmand. Men de bor ikke i det område af Gossols hvor de andre rige bor, de bor i et stort hus på en stor grund, omgivet af fattige mennesker. De har tre børn: Martha, Alfred og David.
Frem og tilbage, med mange begyndelser og gentagelser hører vi om familien. Det er ikke en fremadskridende kronologisk fortælling, det er snarere som om et billede bliver vævet. Frem og tilbage går vævens nål, mens billedet langsomt træder frem.
David Herslands mor er en af emigrantkvinderne. Med i hele billedet er hele tiden emigrantfamilierne, de kvinder, mænd og børn, der er historien om amerikanernes udgangspunkt.
Fra side 36 til 42 fortælles historien om hvordan Martha får sin mand med til Amerika. Hun haler, driver, nærmest bærer sin mand hele vejen. Om ikke andet kan (bør, skal!) man læse de sider og forære sig selv en fantastisk, smuk, uforglemmelig fortælling.
Der er mange flere af den slags uforglemmelige enkelthistorier. Her vil jeg nøjes med at citere to afsnit om henholdsvis David og Fanny Hersland:
“In the street in his walking, and it was then his children were a little ashamed of him, he always had his hat back on his head so that it always looked as if it were falling, and he would march on, he was a big man and loved walking, with two or three of his children following behind him or with one beside him, and he always forgetting all about them, and everybody would stop short to look at him, accustomed as they were to see him, for he had a way of tossing his head to get freedom and a way of muttering to himself in his thinking and he had always a movement of throwing his body and his shoulders from side to side as he was arguing to himself about things he wanted to be changing, and always he had the important feeling to himself inside him.” (s. 49-50)
“Mrs. Hersland’s living in the ten acre place with a husband, three children, always with a governess, a seamstress and servants in the house with her, and with, for her, poor people around her, was the important part of living to her, the part of living where she was nearest in her to being important to herself inside her as an individual power not only as part of the rich being which was natural to her.
She never knew in her that it was different inside her than it would have been in her if she had lived in bridgepoint with her family around her and the natural way of being for her always in her. Slowly the different kind of feeling of herself inside her grew to be more and more in her. It was at its strongest in her in her relation to the governess Madeleine Wyman and her struggles with the family of the Wymans who wanted to interfere with her. It was strong in her when she went a little later to visit at Bridgepoint and had her family around her. She was then herself inside her and that made a kind of a princess of her and they, her family, never knew it about her, she never knew it in her, that it was different inside her because of her having been cut off from the way of living that was the natural way of living for her. This was the end of the strongest time of being important to herself inside her. Then began the the weakening of this in her, then began the weakening of the health in her, of herself inside her, of the whole of her.” (s. 134-135)
Jeg har valgt de to citater fordi de præsenterer personerne og deres hovedtemaer, og fordi de giver et indtryk af Gertrude Steins måde at fremskrive dem på. I de følgende dage vil jeg gå mere i dybden med forskellige aspekter af teksten. I morgen, mandag, vil jeg starte med et af de nok mest iøjnefaldende særtræk, nemlig den måde menneskerne i hendes tekster ved, føler og er‘inside themselves to themselves’, på virkelig mange forskellige måder.