Places: A Long and Happy Life

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1962

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Domestic realism

Time of work: 1957

Places DiscussedMount Moriah Church

Mount Long and Happy Life, AMoriah Church. African American church in a rural North Carolina community at which the novel opens with the funeral of Mildred Sutton, a childhood friend of the novel’s white protagonist, Rosacoke Mustian.

Alston’s woods

Alston’s woods. Wooded area owned by the community’s oldest member, Mr. Isaac Alston, once a relatively powerful resident of the area, now nearly helpless after a stroke, that is the scene of Rosacoke and Wesley’s first encounter. The woods contain a pecan grove. The autumn leaves are gone from its trees, but nuts are still hanging on the branches. Sitting high in a tree, the handsome self-contained young Wesley shakes down handfuls of nuts to Rosacoke and also imprints her forever. Within the woods in a broomstraw field, beyond Alton’s hidden spring, Rosacoke gives herself to Wesley. He is gentle, but does not seem to value the magnitude of her gift nor understand the depth of her sorrow at feeling so lonely afterward.

Mason’s Lake

Mason’s Lake. Private pleasure lake, with a bathhouse, a tin slide, and a diving platform, but only a few trees, most of them having been bulldozed when the owner created the swimming facility. At the Delight Baptist Church picnic Rosacoke watches her brother Milo and Wesley at play in the leech-infested water as she sits with her widowed mother, her younger sister, and her brother’s pregnant wife, Sissie. Also on the shore is Marise Gupton, prematurely aged from constant childbearing.

Mustian house

Mustian house. Simple home in which Rosacoke, Milo, Rato (now in the army), and Baby Sister have grown up. The house has a black tin roof that absorbs the sun, making Rosacoke’s bedroom directly under the eaves hot and oppressive and leaving a yellow rust stain on her ceiling. There is a wood stove in the kitchen and not much privacy for Milo and his wife as Sissie’s home delivery date approaches, and later, her long painful labor that will result in a stillborn boy.

Delight Baptist Church

Delight Baptist Church. Community church to which Rosacoke’s family belongs. While Rosacoke is secretly pregnant and more lonely than ever, she is pushed into playing the part of Mary in the traditional Christmas Eve pageant. Wesley plays one of the Three Wise Men.

BibliographyHoffman, Frederick J. The Art of Southern Fiction. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967. Hoffman was the first noteworthy critic to announce that Reynolds Price’s work was an important event in Southern fiction. Hoffman defends Price’s work against charges that the author is imitating William Faulkner.Holman, David Marion. “Reynolds Price.” Fifty Southern Writers After 1900. Edited by Joseph M. Flora and Robert Bain. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1987. Holman provides the best overall discussion of A Long and Happy Life within the context of the novelist’s career and of Southern fiction. With a select bibliography and survey of major criticism.Rooke, Constance. Reynolds Price. Boston: Twayne, 1983. One chapter of this text is given to Price’s first novel, A Long and Happy Life. Rooke does a thorough investigation and criticism of the novel. The novel’s connections to Price’s later works are delineated.Shepherd, Allen. “Love (and Marriage) in A Long and Happy Life.” Twentieth Century Literature 17 (January, 1971): 20-35. Addresses the clichés of the situation (for example, of a “barefoot and pregnant” Southern belle) in order to point out its possible humor.Vauthier, Simone. “The ‘Circle in the Forest’: Fictional Space in Reynolds Price’s A Long and Happy Life.” Mississippi Quarterly 28 (Spring, 1975): 123-146. Discussion of the connection between environment and psychological and emotional backgrounds.
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