MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

A Crazy Night from Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams in 1953;  photo by Walter Albertin

Tennessee Williams in 1953; photo by Walter Albertin

This is exciting: the discovery of an early short story by Tennessee Williams that is being published for the first time in the spring issue of The Strand Magazine.

“Crazy Night” is the story’s title. Apparently it dates from the 1930s and recounts an undergraduate romance between the narrator, a young freshman in love with a senior named Anna Jean. According to the AP report, which quotes Strand managing editor Andrew Gulli:

“Crazy Night” is set on an unnamed campus in the early ’30s, after the stock market crash of October 1929 and before the 1933 repeal of Prohibition, when “students graduating or flunking out of college had practically every reason for getting drunk and little or nothing that was fit to drink.” The title refers to a ritual at the end of spring term during which students are expected to binge on alcohol and sex, a bacchanal “feverishly gay” on the surface but “really the saddest night of the year.”

“There is a theme of disappointment, the old ‘mendacity theme’ from ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,'” Gulli says. “He could show how beneath the cloak of respectability his characters had horrible insecurities and dark secrets. Williams was a master of showing the desperation and need humans have for companionship and was equally skilled at showing how relationships go sour and lead to cynicism.”

Tennessee Williams, who holds a special place in my personal pantheon of revered authors, wrote short stories throughout his life. “It has been suggested that many of the stories are simply preliminary sketches for the plays,” writes his friend Gore Vidal in his introduction to the marvelous volume of Collected Stories published by New Directions in 1985. “The truth is more complicated,” Vidal observes:

In the beginning, there would be, let us say, a sexual desire for someone. Consummated or not, the desire (“Something that is made to occupy a larger space than that which is afforded by the individual being”) would produce reveries. In turn, the reveries would be written down as a story. But should the desire still remain unfulfilled, he would make a play of the story and then — and this is why he was so compulsive a working playwright — he would have the play produced so that he could, like God, rearrange his original experience into something that was no longer God’s and unpossessable but his… “For love I make characters in plays,” he wrote; and did.

Filed under: literature, playwrights

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