Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Li'l Henry James

I read in the New York Times the other day about some autobiographical writings by Henry James, in which James (I'll paraphrase and misremember freely now) recalled being a kid, tossing and turning in bed at night, wondering what secrets might be found in HOT CORN, a scandalous book his father wouldn't let him read. So I ordered a first edition of HOT CORN. There were print-on-demand versions available, but I've had very bad luck with those. I've read the first 49 pages of HOT CORN and maybe Henry James wasn't missing much. There's a good deal of padding. In fact, Chapter Two seems strangely similar to Chapter One. But what about the hot corn, you ask? There's plenty! "Katy, the Hot Corn girl... Hot corn! here's your nice hot corn - smoking hot... 'Hot corn, hot corn!' now pealing in the midnight air... what shall be my title? What better could I have than HOT CORN... the poor little girl that sits shivering by the path, crying hot corn... Take care, little hot corn girl, or you will be run over... She is nothing but a hot corn girl... And a pale-faced little girl sits upon the steps of the Bank of the Republic, adding to that constant cry, 'Hot corn! Hot corn!'... 'Hot corn, here's your nice hot corn!'... Do you think when I get a little bigger, the old woman is going to keep me in the street all day and half the night, peddling peanuts and selling hot corn?... Her children are in the street, filling the night air with an appealing cry, 'Hot corn, hot corn, who'll buy my nice hot corn?'... it is the hot corn girl... Julia is no older, and but little bigger, and she has often stopped in her walk to eat hot corn... they had begged, and stole, and peddled hot corn and pea-nuts together... Here's your nice Hot Corn, smoking hot, smoking hot, just from the pot!... This chapter was published under the simple title 'Hot Corn'... Here they live - barely live - in holes almost as hot as the hot corn... Hot corn! Hot corn! here's your nice hot corn... I discovered the owner of the hot corn cry... 'Some corn, sir,' lisped the little sufferer... 'give me some corn, you little wolf's whelp'... 'please buy some corn, sir'... Oh dear! now there goes a man, and I did not cry hot corn, what shall I do?... I dashed the corn in the gutter... I almost involuntarily cried, 'hot corn,' as I saw the hot spirit of that grain, under the guises of 'pure gin' - 'old rum' - 'pale brandy' - 'pure port'... crying 'Hot corn' to gain a penny for the purchase of a drink of the fiery dragon... from some side street, came up the cry of 'Hot corn! - hot corn!'... like a lost spirit on the midnight air - 'Hot corn, hot corn! - here's your nice hot corn - smoking hot - hot - hot - hot corn.'... send delicate little girls at midnight through the streets, crying 'Hot corn'... 'Hot corn,' then, be the watchword... the little girl whose wailing cry has been the inciting cause of this present dish of 'Hot Corn - smoking hot!'" That's just the first two chapters and I'm sure I've missed some of the hot corn. Retyping it I do fall under the spell... it's not subtle ("Hot corn, hot corn! - here's your nice hot corn - smoking hot - hot - hot - hot corn" stands out). One does begin to worry about the hot corn girls. I wonder whether HOT CORN influenced my friend Eugene's book JENNIE THE WATERCRESS GIRL, for which I'm searching around the house now (Eugene a "pure port" lover, coincidentally), though I'm sure Eugene was tapping into a whole subgenre with which I'm unfamiliar... there's Stephen Crane's MAGGIE (a favorite of Bill Taft's), which must be related, maybe even (wild speculation) inspired by the subtitle characters of HOT CORN ("Little Katy, Madalina the Rag-Picker's Daughter, Wild Maggie, &c")... and of course Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl" (which appears in my cigarette lighter book). Now I also have the urge to finally read Upton Sinclair's book-length anti-alcohol sermon THE CUP OF FURY, which Hogan testified made her crave a cold martini.