All this hot weather makes my mind meander to books set in the South with extreme heat, long cool drinks, men in white suits wiping their brows with large linen handkerchiefs, delicate southern laidies swooning. I’m not talking Gone With The Wind; I was thinking more along the lines of Tennessee Williams – Southern Gothic.
Tennessee Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams in 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi. He immortalized The South in such works as The Glass Menagerie, A Street Car Named Desire, and my personal favourites, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and, Suddenly Last Summer.
Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is set on a large cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta in the summer – and it’s hot. The patriarch and tycoon, Big Daddy, so brilliantly portrayed by the late Burl Ives in the 1955 Broadway production, as well as the 1958 big-screen version, is huffing and puffing in the heat and at one point, Maggie, played by the great Elizabeth Taylor, holds her glass up to her brow to cool down. Ceiling fans slowly twirl over white wicker furniture, and shuttered windows are flung wide open, in anticipation of catching the smallest breeze. During the climax, the heavens open and torrential rains descend upon the plantation.
In Suddenly Last Summer, Catherine (again played by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1959 film version) has a breakdown after witnessing her cousin’s death in Spain. We see Sebastian in an immaculate white suit and Panama hat, running from the pack of boys who will soon devour him (quite literally), Catherine with a deep brown tan, in a swim suit under the white hot skies and bleached white sand.
The Southern Gothic genre often uses weather to guide the plot. Other Southern Gothic writers I admire are: Truman Capote, Harper Lee, Carson McCullers, and, of course, William Faulkner.