Seraph on the Suwanee: A Novel

Seraph on the Suwanee: A Novel

by Zora Neale Hurston

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Overview

Acclaimed for her pitch-perfect accounts of rural black life and culture, Zora Neale Hurston explores new territory with her novel Seraph on the Suwanee—a story of two people at once deeply in love and deeply at odds, set among the community of "Florida Crackers" at the turn of the twentieth century. Full of insights into the nature of love, attraction, faith, and loyalty, it follows young Arvay Henson, convinced she will never find true happiness, as she defends herself from unwanted suitors with hysterical fits and religious fervor. But into her life comes bright and enterprising Jim Meserve, who knows that Arvay is the woman for him, and nothing she can do will dissuade him.

Alive with the same passion and understanding of the human heart that made Their Eyes Were Watching God a classic, Hurston's Seraph on the Suwanee masterfully explores the evolution of a marriage and the conflicting desires of an unforgettable young woman in search of herself and her place in the world.

Acclaimed for her pitch-perfect accounts of rural black life and culture, Zora Neale Hurston explores new territory with her novel Seraph on the Suwanee—a story of two people at once deeply in love and deeply at odds, set among the community of "Florida Crackers" at the turn of the twentieth century. Full of insights into the nature of love, attraction, faith, and loyalty, it follows young Arvay Henson, convinced she will never find true happiness, as she defends herself from unwanted suitors with hysterical fits and religious fervor. But into her life comes bright and enterprising Jim Meserve, who knows that Arvay is the woman for him, and nothing she can do will dissuade him.

Alive with the same passion and understanding of the human heart that made Their Eyes Were Watching God a classic, Hurston's Seraph on the Suwanee masterfully explores the evolution of a marriage and the conflicting desires of an unforgettable young woman in search of herself and her place in the world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061651113
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 12/02/2008
Series: P.S. Series
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 485,028
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Zora Neale Hurston was a novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist. An author of four novels (Jonah’s Gourd Vine, 1934; Their Eyes Were Watching God, 1937; Moses, Man of the Mountain, 1939; and Seraph on the Suwanee, 1948); two books of folklore (Mules and Men, 1935, and Tell My Horse, 1938); an autobiography (Dust Tracks on a Road, 1942); and over fifty short stories, essays, and plays. She attended Howard University, Barnard College and Columbia University, and was a graduate of Barnard College in 1927. She was born on January 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, and grew up in Eatonville, Florida. She died in Fort Pierce, in 1960.  In 1973, Alice Walker had a headstone placed at her gravesite with this epitaph: “Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South.”

 

Date of Birth:

January 7, 1891

Date of Death:

January 28, 1960

Place of Birth:

Eatonville, Florida

Place of Death:

Fort Pierce, Florida

Education:

B.A., Barnard College, 1928 (the school's first black graduate). Went on to study anthropology at Columbia University.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Sawley, the town, is in west Florida, on the famous Suwanee River. It is flanked on the south by the curving course of the river which Stephen Foster made famous without ever having looked upon its waters, running swift and deep through the primitive forests, and reddened by the chemicals leeched out of drinking roots. On the north, the town is flanked by cultivated fields planted to corn, cane potatoes, tobacco and small patches of cotton.

However, few of these fields were intensively cultivated. For the most part they were scratchy plantings, the people being mostly occupied in the production of turpentine and lumber. The life of Sawley streamed out from the sawmill and the "teppentime 'still." Then too, there was ignorance and poverty, and the ever-present hookworm. The farms and the scanty flowers in front yards and in tin cans and buckets looked like the people. Trees and plants always look like the people they live with, somehow.

This was in the first decade of the new century, when the automobile was known as the horseless carriage, and had not exerted its tremendous influence on the roads of the nation. There was then no U.S. 90, the legendary Old Spanish Trail, stretching straight broad concrete from Jacksonville on the Atlantic to San Diego on the Pacific. There was the sandy pike, deeply rutted by wagon wheels over which the folks of Sawley hauled their tobacco to market at Live Oak, or fresh-killed hogmeat, corn and peanuts to Madison or Monticello on the west. Few ever dreamed of venturing any farther east nor west.

Few were concerned with the past. They had heard that the stubbornly resisting Indians had been therewhere they now lived, but they were dead and gone. Osceola, Miccanope, Billy Bow-Legs were nothing more than names that had even lost their bitter flavor. The conquering Spaniards had done their murdering, robbing, and raping and had long ago withdrawn from the Floridas. Few knew and nobody cared that the Hidalgos under De Sota had moved westward along this very route. The people thought no more of them than they did the magnolias and bay and other ornamental trees which grew so plentifully in the swamps along the river, nor the fame of the stream. They knew that there were plenty of black bass, locally known as trout, in the Suwanee, and bream and perch and cat-fish. There were soft-shell turtles that made a mighty nice dish when stewed down to a low gravy, or the "chicken meat" of those same turtles fried crisp and brown. Fresh water turtles were a mighty fine article of food anyway you looked at it. It was commonly said that a turtle had every kind of meat on him. The white "chicken meat," the dark "beef' and the in-between "pork." You could stew, boil and fry, and none of it cost you a cent. All you needed was a strip of white side-meat on the hook, and you had you some turtle meat.

But the people also knew that while the Suwanee furnished free meat, it furnished plenty of mosquitoes and malaria too. If you wanted to stay on your feet, you bought your quinine every Saturday along with your groceries. Work was hard, pleasures few, and malaria and hookworm plentiful. However, the live oaks set along the streets and in many yards grew splendidly and gave good shade. The Spanish moss hung down everywhere and seemed to interest travellers from the North, though these were few and far between. Nobody gave these Yankees any particular encouragement to settle around Sawley. The Reconstruction was little more than a generation behind. Men still living had moved into west Florida after Sherman had burned Atlanta and made his triumphant march to the sea. A dozen or more men who had worn the gray of the confederacy were local residents. Damn Yankees were suspect of foraging around still looking for loot; and if not that, gloating over the downfall of The Cause.

This was a Sunday and the sawmill and the 'still were silent. No Yankees passing through. The Negroes were about their own doings in their own part of town, and white Sawley was either in church or on the way. Less than a thousand persons inhabited the town, and more than half the white population belonged to Day Spring Baptist Church. The menfolks, as everywhere, were not too good on attendance, but they paid their dues more or less, and the women and children went.

On this particular Sunday, though, there was a large turnout. Not that there was any revival meeting going on, which always brought everybody out, nor were they hurrying to the .church because it was believed that the pastor, Reverend Carl Middleton, had anything new to say, or any new way of saying what he always said.

Sawley was boiling like a big red ants' nest that had been ploughed up. It was rumored that Arvay, the younger of the two Henson girls was a'courting at last. To be exact, Arvay was not a'courting so much as she was being courted, and what with Arvay's past record and everything, this was something that people had to see.

In the first place, Arvay was all of twenty-one, and according to local custom, should have been married at least five years ago. But at sixteen, shortly after the marriage of her older sister Larraine, commonly known as ... Raine," to the Reverend Carl Middleton, Arvay had turned from the world. Such religious fervor was not unknown Among white people, but it certainly was uncommon. During "protracted meeting," another name for the two weeks of revival that came around every summertime, most anybody was liable to get full of the spirit and shout, in church and sing and pray. Back-sliders and...

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Seraph on the Suwanee (P.S. Series) 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
cammykitty on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Everything published by Zora Neale Hurston is a classic in my opinion. This novel continues her favorite theme of women struggling with dominant men. However, this one differs greatly from her other works because she has chosen to write about poor white "Crackers" from Florida instead of African-Americans. This allows her to side-step the issue of race slightly so she can approach the psychological aspects of poverty. Poverty isn't her main issue though. It's about two humans who love each other finding out how to live together and communicate. You guessed it, it's about married love warts and all. The introduction in my Griot Edition had very interesting biographical information about Zora, including the reasons for her sudden change in publishing fortune. No, it wasn't because she dared to write about whites. However, the introduction used a feminist perspective that I believe would seem quite alien to Zora Neale Hurston. It says a lot about our modern values, but made judgments that don't suit the historical context of the novel, or my interpretation. I wish the editors had decided to let Zora tell me about her male character on her own. She didn't need help from them. Seraph did not have an eventful plot, but the characters were so well drawn that the book kept moving forward.She portrayed a beautiful dance between the powerful, all providing male and the homemaker submissive female that we commonly think of as ending in the 1950s. Except for the over-the-top references to the famous poem about Abraham Lincoln's death, "O Captain, My Captain" the couple seemed portrayed with a just, even hand. They were flawed people surely, but we aren't encouraged to judge them for their flaws. I don't feel that it is fair to go into more depth about the plot. I don't want to provide more spoilers than the introduction did. That said though, the last few pages felt very dated. If she had ended the book a touch earlier, I would rate it 5 stars. That ending though leached out the energy Arvay, the female protagonist, had recently discovered. She found a new purpose, but it was a very passive purpose. The modern feminist wishes that Arvay, and Hurston, would've been a bit bolder.
prettybrowneyes More than 1 year ago
I thought the novel was an okay read. I really expected something obvious to happen, but it didn't. Overall, the book is a very very good discussion-starter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awsome book, easy to read n great story!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was really disappointed with the book because I wanted to see Arvay say, "I'm tired of this, I'm done". Instead, she succumbed to the hold that Jim had over her and that's it. She didnt't grow at all, she allowed herself to be mentally and, let's face it, sexually abused by her husband. I was so irritated with her.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love this book. I read this book for the first time when I was 19. Immediately, I feel in love with it. The heroine is white but I felt she could have been any woman from any walk of life and any race. Her insecurities, her loves, her secret hatred, and her secret shame. We as women have all felt it. I would recommend this book to any young woman who's ever felt left out or alone. This book shows that everyone is special. You just have to look inside yourself to see it and appreciate you for who you are!
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Seraph on the Suwanee' provides interesting dialog details into the lives of the 'Florida crackers' (i.e. poor southern whites) in the early 20th century, but at times, it¿s difficult to follow where this story is going. The novel follows the marriage of Jim and Arvay Meserve. The novel paints Jim Meserve as an ambitious and resourceful, yet also chauvanistic and sometimes violent man. The central character is the wife, Arvay, who is timid, uneducated, and (overly) sensitive. Told from Arvay¿s point of view, the problem with the story is that it is essentially one-sided and is more like the story of her life from her point of view. Only toward the later 1/3 of the book is she given a challenge and a mild conflict emerges when she is challenged to prove herself worthy of her husband. Here is where I think the novel fails¿we never really see any growth, development, or maturity in Arvay throughout the novel. It is only in the last couple of chapters that she has a ¿self-awakening¿ experience caused by the death of her mother. This ¿self-discovery¿ and the following reconciliation with Jim is weak and disappointing in my opinion. I enjoyed the book, Hurston is simply a great story teller-- she paced it appropriately, injected lively dialog, believable characters and situations, and provided colorful imagery. However, I think I would have enjoyed this story if it were two-sided; I found myself wanting to know more about Jim, his background, his thoughts and motivation.