Today, I picked up, “The Literature of South Dakota” by John R. Milton. This book was a gift to me from my grandfather when I was in college. It fell open onto a short story, “ARCADIA IN AVERNUS” written by my great, great uncle, Will Otis Lillibridge 1878-1909. Actually a pretty racy story for the time. “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” is the subtitle. Here’s the summary.
Unhappy wife leaves marriage of convenience for another man, the couple running away to the Dakota prairie to set up housekeeping. All seems romantically well… until the ex shows up. Surprisingly modern (if a little theatrical) novella from the early 1900’s. From the posthumous collection of Lillibridge short stories, A Breath of Prairie, 1911. Arcadia In Avernus
There’s a term that’s haunting me. In the short story a woman has a dream that she’s in a desolate place and she hears out of the darkness the sounds of human suffering. The voices grow louder and she sees a man and woman walking toward her. They are bent beneath a tremendous burden and both have wounds where they’ve carried the load.
In her dream she asks the man, “What rough load is that you carry?” and he wearily answers, “The burden of conventionality“.
“We dare not drop it”, says the woman, hopelessly, “lest that light, which is the searchlight of public opinion return, showing us different from the others”.
He answers her gently, “But the burden isn’t useless, the condemnation of society is an hourly reality.”
We all must carry the burden of conventionality sometimes. However, we also can choose to write novels (or join the circus or whatever) because we just never know how much time we have.
Thank you Uncle Will, you’re unconventionalness is a source of inspiration indeed.