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American Short Stories Lesson
 
The Patterns of Love
by William Maxwell

BEFORE READING

Background

Robert Maxwell (Keepers, Jr.) was born in the small town of Lincoln, Illinois, in 1908. His clear and gentle prose would often celebrate the simplicity of the rural American life he remembered. His works are often sensitive, thoughtful recollections of simpler times past that evoke a romantic feeling without an overstated sentimentality. This contrasted greatly with Maxwell's life in New York City, where he moved in 1936. Maxwell once said, "I write about the past . . . not because I think it is better than the present but because of things that happened that I do not want to be forgotten."

Maxwell worked at The New Yorker magazine from 1936 to 1976. For most of his time there, he served as fiction editor, working with celebrated contributors like J. D. Salinger, Maeve Brennan, John Updike, and Eudora Welty. His approach to editing may cast light on his own exacting but moderate style of prose: "the prose advances sentence by sentence in its effects, rather than by paragraphs in which any given sentence may not carry that much weight." Many critics have praised Maxwell's subtle style, as well as his "magical narrative and the attractions of his quirky mind."

About the Author
William Maxwell (1908-2000) was born in Lincoln, Illinois, a small town that, in his words, "was a very pretty town with . . . a great deal of individuality in the houses, and the people as well." He graduated from the University of Illinois (B.A., 1930), and Harvard University (M.A., 1931). Maxwell taught English at the University of Illinois from 1931-1933. In 1936 he joined the staff of The New Yorker magazine where he would remain until 1976. He married Emily Gilman Noyes in 1945, and had two children. He has won various awards, including the American Book Award (1982), the Mark Twain Award (1995), and the Gold Metal for Fiction (1995) from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Maxwell's novels include They Came Like Swallows (1937), his celebrated The Folded Leaf (1945), and The Chateau (1961). His short works include The Heavenly Tenants (1946), Stories (1956), The Old Man and the Railroad Crossing and Other Tales (1966), Ancestors: A Family History (1971), Over the River, and Other Stories (1977), Five Tales (1988), Billie Dyer and Other Stories (1992), All the Days and Nights: The Collected Stories of William Maxwell (1995), and Mrs. Donald's Dog Bun and His Home Away from Home (1995).

Vocabulary

victrola—type of record player.
drastic—serious or radical in nature, extreme.
musty—stale or moldy in odor.
verge—edge.
callowness—immaturity.

DURING READING

Use the STUDY GUIDE below as a way to work through the selection and improve your comprehension of the essay.

AFTER READING

Answer the Questions to Consider in the book as a way to deepen your interpretation of the selection.

1. What kind of life does Arnold lead? How is he different from the Talbots?

2. How many types of love can you define in the story?

3. What do the radishes at the end of the story represent? Why does Arnold reject them?

4. What are the "patterns of love"? Do you think Maxwell approves or disapproves of them? Explain your answer.

Bibliography

William Maxwell
(Selected Works)

Bright Center of Heaven (1934)
They Came Like Swallows (1937)
The Folded Leaf (1945)
The Heavenly Tenants (1946)
Time Will Darken It (1948)
Stories (1956)
The Chateau (1961)
The Old Man and the Railroad Crossing and Other Tales (1966)
Ancestors: A Family History (1971)
Over by the River, and Other Stories (1977)
So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980)
Five Tales (1988)
Billie Dyer and Other Stories (1992)
All the Days and Nights: The Collected Stories of William Maxwell (1995)
Mrs. Donald's Dog Bun and His Home Away from Home (1995)

American Short Stories
Sherwood Anderson. Winesburg, Ohio (1919).
Raymond Carver. Where I'm Calling From (1989).
William Faulkner. Go Down Moses (1942).
F. Scott Fitzgerald. Tales of the Jazz Age (1922).
Nathaniel Hawthorne. Mosses from an Old Manse (1946).
Ernest Hemingway. The First Forty-Nine Hours and Other Stories (1938).
Henry James. The Passionate Pilgrim and Other Stories (1875).
Gish Jen. Who's Irish? and Other Stories (1999).
Herman Melville. The Piazza Tales (1856).
Flannery O'Connor. Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965).
Tillie Olsen. Tell Me a Riddle (1961, enlarged 1964).
Dorothy Parker. Here Lies (1939).
Edgar Allan Poe. Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840).
Katherine Anne Porter. Collected Stories (1965).
Mark Twain. The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (1865).
Alice Walker. You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down (1981).
Thomas Wolfe. The Hills Beyond (1941).

 




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