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Voices from the Quarters

The Fiction of Ernest J. Gaines

by Mary Ellen Doyle

Southern Literary Studies

272 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / no illustrations

Literature - African American

  Paperback / 9780807129104 / August 2003

“Who will write about the way my people talk, the way my people sing?” Mary Ellen Doyle gathers and makes audible the voices arising from all of Ernest J. Gaines’s fiction to date — the indelible characters who inhabit the author’s lifelong inspirational territory: the bayous, cane fields, and plantation homes of Louisiana’s Pointe Coupee Parish. Beginning with the author’s upbringing and influences on River Lake plantation — amid the pecan trees and live oaks, the big house and the tenant quarters — this penetrating study offers close readings of Gaines’s uncollected short fiction, the early collection Bloodline, and all of his novels, including The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and the acclaimed A Lesson Before Dying.

Highlighting Gaines’s skill at translating oral tales into meaningful fictional forms, Doyle advances an original theory of first-person narration (“camcorder”) and traces its use throughout his work. Gaines’s unwavering focus on the utterances of “his people” continually strengthens his artistic development — the voices of the early stories fusing with those of the later novels — until Gaines earns a unique magisterial “voice,” an implied author who is black but speaks to universals.

Using critical methods as eclectic as the book’s intended audience, and drawing from on-site research and interviews with Gaines’s relatives and friends, Doyle offers a variety of perspectives on Gaines’s fiction and its world that resonates so powerfully. Those who recognize Gaines as one of the finest southern writers of the last forty years will find here an accessible instrument to hear his voices more clearly than ever. 

Mary Ellen Doyle is a member of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, and her previous publications on Ernest Gaines include interviews, essays, and an annotated bibliography. She has taught African American literature since 1967 and currently divides her time between teaching at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky, writing, and religious ministry.

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