Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady: A Memoir

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9780312050634: Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady: A Memoir

Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady is Florence King's classic memoir of her upbringing in an eccentric Southern family, told with all the uproarious wit and gusto that has made her one of the most admired writers in the country. Florence may have been a disappointment to her Granny, whose dream of rearing a Perfect Southern Lady would never be quite fulfilled. But after all, as Florence reminds us, "no matter which sex I went to bed with, I never smoked on the street."

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About the Author:

Florence King is the author of Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady, With Charity Toward None, and other books. Though she still lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Washington-fed yuppies may yet drive her father into the hills.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CONFESSIONS OF A FAILED SOUTHERN LADY
››one‹‹MY ladylike adventures have taken me from Seattle to Paris, but last year I was carried back to Tidewater Virginia, which my ancestors helped to unsettle.A romantic version of my address can be found on the first page of Thackeray's Henry Esmond, which kicks off with a description of the Esmond family's royal grant "in Westmoreland County between the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers." It was the only book I ever read that Granny did not tell me to get my nose out of. Though she hated "bluestockings"--her name for female intellectuals, who could never be ladies--she actually read a few pages of it herself, muttering, "Esmond ... Esmond ... do I know any Esmonds?"Being an Englishman, my father was singularly unimpressed by Granny's ancestors, so I knew he was getting ready to enjoy himself. I met his dancing eyes and read the message in them: Don't tell her it's a novel. We let her go on until she was saying, "It was Samuel Esmond who married my great-great-grandfather's half-sister." Preening herself, she added, "Our royal grant was next to theirs."I had heard about our royal grant many times. Granny was always careful to keep it in the same place, but the grantor changed depending upon what monarchicalname happened to pop into her head while she was launched on her pipe dreams. Her boasts were believable as long as she stuck to kings and queens from the pre-1776 era, but when she claimed a royal grant from William IV, my father started laughing so hard he had to leave the table."William the Fourth reigned from 1830 to 1837, Granny," I said."Be that as it may," she replied serenely.Our ancestors did arrive very early in Virginia--1672--but they were not the kind of people Granny said they were, and they rose very little in the social scale in subsequent generations. I would not be at all surprised if I turned out to be a direct descendant of the Spotsylvania hatchetman who relieved Kunta Kinte of his foot.I began life by letting down the side. Being the first person in my family who was not born in Virginia made the radio quiz shows of the forties a painful experience for me. Crouching like Cinderella beside the huge Philco console, I listened to the wild applause that vibrated through its brocaded sound vents when a contestant named Texas as his home state. Texas always got the biggest hand, but any state seemed to arouse the audience; even Rhode Island got a big sympathy vote.I looked up at the two adults on the sofa. Granny was crocheting and Mama was reading the Times-Herald sports page and chainsmoking Luckies. They looked as if nothing was wrong, and of course, nothing was wrong for them. They had a home state; I did not."What would I say?" I asked."About what?" Mama muttered abstractedly."If I was on the show and they asked me my home state?""You're a Virginian," Granny said with a sublime smile. "Everyone is.""But I wasn't born there. Suppose they asked me where I was born?"Mama lit a new cigarette from the butt in her yellowed fingers."Well, tell 'em the truth, what's wrong with that?""Because they wouldn't clap. They only clap for states.""If the District isn't good enough for 'em, tell 'em to take their sixty-four dollars and shove it.""Oh, Louise!" Granny cried. "That's no expression to use in front of the child! How do you expect her to grow up to be a lady if you cuss like a trooper?""Oh, shit.""I don't have a home state," I mourned."Oh, for God's sake! Tell 'em you're from Maryland, then. Washington's really in Maryland anyhow. Washingtonians used to have to put both District and Maryland tags on their cars. Tell 'em that."Like charity, schizophrenia begins at home. Washington would really have been in Virginia, too, if Virginia had not been what Mama called "a bunch of goddamn Indian-givers." In 1789, the Old Dominion donated a section of Fairfax County to make up the South Bank of the District of Columbia; but angered when all the important government buildings were erected on the Maryland side, they took it back. The disputed portion was called Alexandria County until 1920, when it was renamed Arlington County. It was here that Mama was born in 1908.Arlington is now part of the polyglot Yankee suburb known tactfully as "Northern Virginia," but until the end of World War II there was no such place. It was simply part of Virginia, a rural area dotted with small villages whose names survive today as shopping malls or beltline exits: Rosslyn, Clarendon, Ballston, Cherrydale, Tyson'sCorner, and Bailey's Crossroads. The people who lived there were not commuters in the modern sense; they might, like my grandfather, have worked for the "guvment" because the government happened to be close by, but otherwise they looked on the Nation's Capital as a shopping town, the way people in northern Mississippi regard Memphis.Mama grew up in Ballston on a dirt road in a white frame house bordered by a field of wild strawberries and enhanced by a lacy gazebo in the backyard. She had an older brother, Botetourt (pronounced Bottatot), named for the Virginia Royal Governor from whom Granny claimed descent. Granny, of course, actually called him Botetourt; Mama called him Gottapot and everyone else called him Bud. After my grandfather died in 1921, the worthy Botetourt married and moved to Falls Church, leaving Granny and Mama to fight out alone what was by then a hopeless battle over Mama's image.She was not pretty but our Indian blood had come out in her and given her face a noble cast. She looked like a blond Duchess of Windsor; the same winglike cheekbones, big tense jaw, and thin clamped mouth. Her stark features and big-boned bonyness were made for devastating compensatory chic, but unlike the Duchess, Mama was not interested in creating illusions.She started smoking cornsilk at eight. At twelve she taught herself to drive by stealing Botetourt's car and driving all the way to Fairfax Courthouse before they caught her. At fifteen she quit school, applied for a work permit, and got a job as a telephone operator at the Clarendon exchange. With her first pay she bought an infielder's glove and joined the telephone company's softball team as shortstop. Granny tried to put a good face on matters by attending a few games so people would think she approved of girlish sport, but the day she noticed a lump in Mama's cheek and realized it wastobacco, she had to be helped from the bleachers and escorted home.Scarcely a day passed without an "Oh, Louise--Oh, shit" argument. The worst crisis erupted over the gazebo. Granny kept telling Mama to "use" it, so Mama hung a punching bag from the middle of the roof and got one of her good ole boy pals to give her boxing lessons. Needless to say, men felt comfortable around her and frequently took her to ball games and races, but no matter how many times Granny told her to keep her dates waiting, my competitive mother would dress early, lie in wait behind the curtains watching for her escort, and then throw open the door before the first ring and say, "I beat you!"Knowing that she could do nothing with Mama, Granny looked around the family for a malleable girl who would heed her advice, a surrogate daughter cast in the traditional mold, someone delicate and fragile in both body and spirit, a true exemplar of Southern womanhood. Someone, in other words, either sick or crazy.One of the joys of growing up Southern is listening to women argue about whether nervous breakdowns are more feminine than female trouble, or vice versa. They never put it quite that bluntly, but it is precisely what they are arguing about. These two afflictions are the sine qua non of female identity and the Southern woman is not happy unless her family history manifests one or the other. Her preference is dictated by her own personality and physical type. Well-upholstered energetic clubwomen usually opt for female trouble, while languid fine-drawn aristocrats choose nervous breakdowns.Granny's next-door neighbor in Ballston was Aunt Nana Fairbanks, who made a home for her niece, Evelyn Cunningham. Evelyn was the same age as Mama but famed for a very different sort of double play: on the day she was supposed to be taken to the state mental hospitalin Staunton, she had such bad cramps that she missed the ambulance.Here was an ornament to grace any family tree, so the two dowagers started fighting over her. Picture, if you will, Aunt Nana, née Cunningham, moving across her yard in her Mandarin glide to meet Granny, née Upton, who is moving across her yard in her Roman matron strut. They meet at a hole in the hedge like two opposing generals in a parley ground and discuss the prize booty both of them are determined to claim."Evelyn is having a nervous breakdown," Aunt Nana said proudly. "All of the Cunninghams are high-strung.""Evelyn doesn't take after the Cunninghams," Granny replied. "It's the Upton womb that's causing those spells of hers.""I was in the middle of my nervous breakdown when I married Mr. Fairbanks," Aunt Nana recalled with a fond smile. "I was so run down I only weighed ninety pounds. He had to carry me around in his arms that whole first year.""When I married Mr. Ruding, the doctor told him I might never be able to carry a child." Granny smiled. "I had a descending womb--it runs in the family--and it was just hanging by a thread. I couldn't sleep, I cried all the time--just like Evelyn.""I almost lost my mind," Aunt Nana reminisced. "Evelyn's mind is going, I can see all the signs.""You can just look at Evelyn and tell she's delicate down below," Granny sighed."It's the Cunningham taint.""It's the Upton womb."Granny got...

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Descripción St Martin s Press, United States, 2000. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady is Florence King s classic memoir of her upbringing in an eccentric Southern family, told with all the uproarious wit and gusto that has made her one of the most admired writers in the country. Florence may have been a disapointment to her Granny, whose dream of rearing a Perfect Southern Lady would never quite be fulfilled. But after all, as Florence reminds us, no matter which sex I went to bed with, I never smoke on the street. Nº de ref. de la librería BZE9780312050634

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Descripción St Martin s Press, United States, 2000. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****. Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady is Florence King s classic memoir of her upbringing in an eccentric Southern family, told with all the uproarious wit and gusto that has made her one of the most admired writers in the country. Florence may have been a disapointment to her Granny, whose dream of rearing a Perfect Southern Lady would never quite be fulfilled. But after all, as Florence reminds us, no matter which sex I went to bed with, I never smoke on the street. Nº de ref. de la librería APC9780312050634

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Descripción St Martin s Press, United States, 2000. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****. Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady is Florence King s classic memoir of her upbringing in an eccentric Southern family, told with all the uproarious wit and gusto that has made her one of the most admired writers in the country. Florence may have been a disapointment to her Granny, whose dream of rearing a Perfect Southern Lady would never quite be fulfilled. But after all, as Florence reminds us, no matter which sex I went to bed with, I never smoke on the street. Nº de ref. de la librería APC9780312050634

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