Guest Post: Th. reads from Dorian by Nephi Anderson

Th. writes of this recording, “This is a selection from chapter three of Nephi Anderson’s Dorian (1921), perhaps my favorite Mormon novel. This chapter will be featured in an upcoming series of posts I’m doing on Anderson for Motley Vision. Dorian may be read online. The birds are from Soundsnap.”

For Th.’s–Eric Jepson’s–bio, go here.

Listen to Th. reading this exerpt from Dorian, by Nephi Anderson.

About six o’clock in the afternoon, Mildred Brown went down through the fields to the lower pasture.   She wore a gingham apron which covered her from neck to high-topped boots. She carried in one hand an easel and stool and in the other hand a box of colors. Mildred came each day to a particular spot in this lower pasture and set up her easel and stool in the shade of a black willow bush to paint a particular scene. She did her work as nearly as possible at the same time each afternoon to get the same effect of light and shade and the same stretch of reflected sunlight on the open water spaces in the marshland.

And the scene before her was worthy of a master hand, which, of course, Mildred Brown was not as yet. From her position in the shade of the willow, she looked out over the flat marshlands toward the west. Nearby, at the edge of the firmer pasture lands, the rushes grew luxuriously, now crowned with large, glossy-brown “cat-tails.” The flats to the left were spotted by beds of white and black saleratus and bunches of course salt grass. Openings of sluggish water lay hot in the sun, winding in and out among reeds, and at this hour every clear afternoon, shining with the same undimmed reflection of the burning sun. The air was laden with salty odors of the marshes. A light afternoon haze hung over the distance. Frogs were lazily croaking, and the killdeer’s shrill cry came plaintively to the ear. A number of cows stood knee-deep in mud and water, round as barrels, and breathing hard, with tails unceasingly switching away the flies.

Dorian was in the field turning the water on his lucerne patch when he saw Mildred coming as usual down the path.   … he joined her ….  They then walked on together, the big farm boy in overalls and the tall graceful girl in the enveloping gingham …

… The two stopped in the shade of the willow.   He set up the easel and opened the stool, while she got out her colors and brushes.

“Thank you,” she said to him … she seated herself, placed the canvas on the easel, and began mixing the colors.

…”I thought you finished that picture yesterday,” he said.

“I was not satisfied with it, and so I thought I would put in another hour on it. The setting sun promises to be unusually fine today, and I want to put a little more of its beauty into my picture, if I can.”

The young man seated himself on the grass well toward the rear where he could see her at work. He thought it wonderful to be able thus to make a beautiful picture out of such a commonplace thing as a saleratus swamp …

… The painter squeezed a daub of brilliant red on to her palette. She gazed for a moment at the western sky, then turning to Dorian, she asked:

“Do you think I dare put a little more red in my picture?”

“Dare?” he repeated.

The young man followed the pointing finger of the girl into the flaming depths of the sky, then came and leaned carefully over the painting.

“Tell me which is redder, the real or the picture?” she asked.

Dorian looked critically back and forth. “The sky is redder,” he decided.

“And yet if I make my picture as red as the sky naturally is, many people would say that it is too red to be true. I’ll risk it anyway.” Then she carefully laid on a little more color.

“Nature itself, our teacher told us, is always more intense than any representation of nature.”

… Mildred arose, stepped back to get the distance for examination. ” … those cat-tails in the corner need touching up a bit…   But say, Dorian” … [h]ave I too much purple in that bunch of salt-grass on the left? What do you think?”

“I don’t see any purple at all in the real grass,” he said.

“There is purple there, however; but of course, you, not being an artist, cannot see it.” She laughed a little for fear he might think her pronouncement harsh.

“What–what is an artist?”

“An artist is one who has learned to see more than other people can in the common things around them.”

The definition was not quite clear to him. He had proved that he could see farther and clearer than she could when looking at trees or chipmunks. He looked critically again at the picture.

“I mean, of course,” she added, as she noted his puzzled look, “that an artist is one who sees in nature the beauty in form, in light and shade, and in color.”

“You haven’t put that tree in the right place,” he objected, “and you have left out that house altogether.”

“This is not a photograph,” she answered. “I put in my picture only that which I want there. The tree isn’t in the right place, so I moved it. The house has no business in the picture because I want it to represent a scene of wild, open lonesomeness. I want to make the people who look at it feel so lonesome that they want to cry!”

She was an odd girl!

“Oh, don’t you understand. I want them only to feel like it. When you saw that charcoal drawing I made the other day, you laughed.”

“Well, it was funny.”

“That’s just it. An artist wants to be able to make people feel like laughing or crying, for then he knows he has reached their soul.”

“I’ve got to look after the water for a few minutes, then I’ll come back and help you carry your things,” he said. “You’re about through, aren’t you?”

“Thank you; I’ll be ready now in a few minutes. Go see to your water. I’ll wait for you. How beautiful the west is now!”

They stood silently for a few moments side by side, looking at the glory of the setting sun through banks of clouds and then down behind the purple mountain. Then Dorian, with shovel on shoulder, hastened to his irrigating. The blossoming field of lucerne was usually a common enough sight, but now it was a stretch of sweet-scented waves of green and purple.


2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Th. reads from Dorian by Nephi Anderson”

  1. Thanks for this, Th. Each time I go through the language of this passage–which has been several times now–I’m struck by how detailed a picture my mind forms from Anderson’s easy and uncomplicated prose.

    So you’re reading along, and suddenly, there’s a slash of red streaking across the canvas of the story. That’s a wonderful moment.

    The purple moments, too–I was surprised by how deeply these artistic touches affected me.


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