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Carver, Ada Jack

CARVER, Ada Jack

Born 7 April 1890, Natchitoches, Louisiana; died 1 December 1972, Minden, Louisiana

Daughter of Marshall H. and Ada W. Jack Carver; married John B. Snell, 1918

Born into an upper-middle-class Baptist family, Ada Jack Carver was raised in an atmosphere of distinction and cultivated ease with the myths that continue to inform the girlhoods of the region. The soil of her native Natchitoches, a river town in northwest Louisiana, was enriched by multicultural strata—Indian, French, Spanish, and Anglo-American, with the usual Southern admixture of African-American. Carver remembered the locus and people of her childhood as colorful and exciting, especially in comparison to Minden, where she lived after she married.

On the negative side, Carver's heritage endowed her with a sense of propriety that became more fanatical after her marriage, and which may have impaired her ability to deal with materials related to her own class, race, and sex. It was as an insider jealously guarding the gate that she wrote such stories as "The Joyous Coast" (Southern Women's Magazine, 1917), "Treeshy" (Harper's, 1926), and "Maudie" (Harper's, 1926). The last two are saved by the eccentricity of the protagonists, the bizarre circumstances of their lives, and Carver's skill in delineating the interaction of inner and outer landscapes. A sense of cultural and moral ambivalence emerges from the confrontation of distinct socioeconomic classes and life styles that allows the reader to place in proper focus the supercilious attitude of the main narrative voices.

A bright spot in the congenial but repressive milieu of Carver's youth was a French grandmother who elected Carver from the family group to share her stories and perceptions, thereby stimulating the child's intellect and literary imagination. Carver's best stories deal with grandmothers or older women, e.g., "The Raspberry Dress" (The Century Magazine, 1926) and "The Old One" (Harper's, 1926); or other cultures, e.g., "Redbone" (in A. Turner's Southern Stories, 1925), and the one-act play, The Cajun (1926). The last two both won prestigious prizes. With the exception of "Redbone" the interest in these works centers on the perceptions and experiences of women, and on the construction of a cultural context. For the women in the stories, socialization provides a closed system that prevents communication with others and inhibits participation in the life that is offered to them. In "The Raspberry Dress" the grandmother is able to break through the barriers of her fantasy world and, instead of going back as she had intended, moves forward into life with her granddaughter. The dress itself is a central metaphor that reveals first the disjuncture and then the consonance between inner and outer worlds. The prospect is a good deal more bleak in The Cajun. Carver projects a wasteland situation in the play where ordinary "innocent" human acts tend to mutilate rather than further life's purposes.

Carver began to publish in 1915, but her most intense creative activity occurred in the mid-1920s. There are numerous unresolved mysteries surrounding the relationship between her life and her work. She virtually stopped publishing after 1928, with the exception of a children's play, The Clock Strikes Tomorrow, written and produced in 1935, and a story, "For Suellen with Love," which appeared in a college review in 1949. All of Carver's personal papers are believed to have been destroyed at her death upon her request, so it's unknown what manuscripts remained. She did work for a period of time on a novel, but we will probably never know whether or at what point her creative energies were stifled, or why.

What critics are now calling the "politics of greatness" has denied Carver a place in the annals of literary history she deserves to occupy. Although only one of her stories remained in print, Carver's short fiction should be collected and studied in classes and by scholars interested in Southern or regional literature and women's writing. Her work reflects a sensibility that conjoins time and place in a unique and enlightening way.

Other Works:

The Cajun (1926). Bagatelle (1927). The Clock Strikes Tomorrow (1935). The Collected Works of Ada Jack Carver (1980).

Bibliography:

Bowman, M. I., "The Negro in the Works of Three Contemporary Louisiana Writers" (thesis, 1931). Dodson, A., "Ada Jack Carver" (thesis, 1930). Ford, O. L., Ada Jack Carver: A Critical Biography (dissertation, 1975). Houston, M. A., "The Shadow of Africa on the Cane: An Examination of Africanisms in the Fiction of Lyle Saxon and Ada Jack Carver" (thesis, 1986). Taylor, D. M. W., Louisiana's Literary Legacy: A Critical Appraisal of the Writings of Ada Jack Carver (dissertation, 1994).

—ALICE PARKER

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