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Edgar Lee Masters’ "Dora Williams"

Edgar Lee Masters' classic work, "Spoon River Anthology," offers a fascinating character study of the American mind in the mid-20th-century.

Edgar Lee Masters, Esq.

Edgar Lee Masters, Esq.

Introduction and Text of "Dora Williams"

In Edgar Lee Masters’ "Dora Williams" from his classic Spoon River Anthology, the speaker, unlike the other posthumous reporters who announce themselves from the graveyard in Spoon River, is offering her shout-out from Campo Santo in Genoa, Italy. The none-too-subtle allusion to Columbus offers an opening salvo of the trash-America-first bunch, who begin with the Columbian discovery of a New World.

Dora Williams

When Reuben Pantier ran away and threw me
I went to Springfield. There I met a lush,
Whose father just deceased left him a fortune.
He married me when drunk. My life was wretched.
A year passed and one day they found him dead.
That made me rich. I moved on to Chicago.
After a time met Tyler Rountree, villain.
I moved on to New York. A gray-haired magnate
Went mad about me—so another fortune.
He died one night right in my arms, you know.
(I saw his purple face for years thereafter.)
There was almost a scandal. I moved on,
This time to Paris. I was now a woman,
Insidious, subtle, versed in the world and rich.
My sweet apartment near the Champs Élysées
Became a center for all sorts of people,
Musicians, poets, dandies, artists, nobles,
Where we spoke French and German, Italian, English.
I wed Count Navigato, native of Genoa.
We went to Rome. He poisoned me, I think.
Now in the Campo Santo overlooking
The sea where young Columbus dreamed new worlds,
See what they chiseled: ”Contessa Navigato
Implora eterna quiete.”

Reading of "Dora Williams"

Commentary

"Dora Williams" offers her report from Camp Santo in Genoa, Italy, instead of from the Spoon River graveyard.

First Movement: Making Her Life Miserable

When Reuben Pantier ran away and threw me
I went to Springfield. There I met a lush,
Whose father just deceased left him a fortune.
He married me when drunk. My life was wretched.
A year passed and one day they found him dead.
That made me rich. I moved on to Chicago.
After a time met Tyler Rountree, villain.

Readers will remember meeting Dora as part of the fornicating couple, whom A. D. Blood castigated for using his grave as their "unholy pillow." The reader will not be surprised to learn the particulars of Dora’s ultimate history. Dora begins with a brief mention of "Reuben Pantier," who dumped her and "ran away." But after Reuben ran off, so did Dora; she "went to Springfield." There she met "a lush"; she reports that the lush’s father had died and left him a fortune. The lush ends up married to Dora (she blames it on his being drunk at the time) and makes her life miserable.

After a year of this wretched existence, "one day they found him dead." What’s Dora’s response? "That made me rich. I moved to Chicago." No word of concern for the man with whom she had lived, just the unadorned report that "they found him dead." And after relocating to Chicago, Dora meets another man, Tyler Rountree, whom she claims was a "villain." She gives us no further details about Tyler. Thus, she moves on.

Second Movement: Moving On

I moved on to New York. A gray-haired magnate
Went mad about me—so another fortune.
He died one night right in my arms, you know.
(I saw his purple face for years thereafter.)
There was almost a scandal. I moved on,

Dora then moves to New York, where the lucky gal again manages to marry a fortune, "a gray-haired magnate," who again dies. This time in her arms. And Dora claims that she "saw his purple face for years thereafter." She also admits, "[t]here was almost a scandal." But then she moves on.

Third Movement: Entertaining the Rabble

This time to Paris. I was now a woman,
Insidious, subtle, versed in the world and rich.
My sweet apartment near the Champs Élysées
Became a center for all sorts of people,
Musicians, poets, dandies, artists, nobles,
Where we spoke French and German, Italian, English.

Now, Dora finds herself in Paris, and she is "now a woman," and she describes herself as "[i]nsidious, subtle, versed in the world and rich." She lived in a "sweet apartment near the Champs Élysées." Dora's pad became a hang-out for such rabble as "Musicians, poets, dandies, artists, nobles." They spoke "French and German, Italian, English." Dora has the need to make herself look very sophisticated and cosmopolitan.

Fourth Movement: Marrying a Count

I wed Count Navigato, native of Genoa.
We went to Rome. He poisoned me, I think.
Now in the Campo Santo overlooking
The sea where young Columbus dreamed new worlds,
See what they chiseled: ”Contessa Navigato
Implora eterna quiete.”

While in Paris, Dora marries again, possibly a man with a fortunate, but maybe not. His name is "Count Navigato," and he is a "native of Genoa." They relocate to Rome, where the count poisons Dora; at least, she thinks he poisoned her. Dora is reporting from a cemetery called "Campo Santo," which is supposedly "overlooking / The sea where young Columbus dreamed new worlds."

On Dora's tombstone, the following is engraved: "Contessa Navigato / Implora eterna quiete," which roughly translates as "Countess Navigato – Rest in Peace." The irony is thick and Dora gets it: she lived anything but a peaceful life, having murdered at least two husbands and finally being murdered by her third. Dora understandably doubts that her rest will be peaceful.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on September 09, 2019:

Thank you for commenting, Isykariman.

The characters of Masters' Spoon River Anthology are a rich conglomeration of individuals who bring along an equally rich history. In addition to entertainment, this American classic offers many opportunities for learning in many fields, including politics, medicine, as well as historical events and personalities.

Isykariman Biridlwanillah from Indonesia, Jakarta, and Japan, Osaka on September 08, 2019:

Good references

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