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Edgar Lee Masters' "Flossie Cabanis"

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

Introduction and Text of "Flossie Cabanis"

Edgar Lee Masters’ "Flossie Cabanis" from the American classic, Spoon River Anthology, features a drama queen who wishes that "Duse could stand amid the pathos / Of these quiet fields / And read these words."

Flossie alludes to the Italian actress, Eleonora Duse, who was noted for making lavish, sweeping statements, such as "If I had my will, I would live in a ship on the sea and never come nearer to humanity than that!"

Flossie Cabanis

From Bindle’s opera house in the village
To Broadway is a great step.
But I tried to take it, my ambition fired
When sixteen years of age,
Seeing "East Lynne" played here in the village
By Ralph Barrett, the coming
Romantic actor, who enthralled my soul.
True, I trailed back home, a broken failure,
When Ralph disappeared in New York,
Leaving me alone in the city—
But life broke him also.
In all this place of silence
There are no kindred spirits.
How I wish Duse could stand amid the pathos
Of these quiet fields
And read these words.

Reading of "Flossie Cabanis"

Commentary

Flossie Cabanis bemoans two great failures in her life: fame as a Broadway star and a relationship with a rising "romantic actor."

First Movement: Broadway a Big Step

From Bindle’s opera house in the village
To Broadway is a great step.

Flossie reports that there is a great difference in stature between "Broadway" and "Bindle’s opera house," the local playhouse in Spoon River. She calls that difference a "great step."

Second Movement: Stage Stirred Her Soul

But I tried to take it, my ambition fired
When sixteen years of age,
Seeing "East Lynne" played here in the village
By Ralph Barrett, the coming
Romantic actor, who enthralled my soul.

The fact that the step was great, however, did not stop Flossie from making the effort by taking that step. Her ambition was "fired / When sixteen years of age."

At that young age, Flossie attended the play, "East Lynne," featuring Ralph Barrett, who was a rising star of stage. This "romantic actor" stirred this ambition in her soul.

Third Movement: New York Ordeal?

True, I trailed back home, a broken failure,
When Ralph disappeared in New York,
Leaving me alone in the city—

Completely skipping over her ordeal in New York, Flossie admits that she "trailed back home, a broken failure." Not only did she fail in pursuing her acting career, but she also failed to hold on to a relationship with Ralph. She reports that he "disappeared in New York."

Flossie was thus left "alone in the city." She has not given any indication about how long she had remained in New York. Her only focus is on her failures.

Fourth Movement: A Failing Pair

But life broke him also.
In all this place of silence
There are no kindred spirits.

Flossie then confides that not only was she a "broken failure," but so was Ralph. She does not elaborate, but she does offer a pregnant silence that allows her listener to imagine the pain and disappointment of both would-be stars.

Flossie then describes Spoon River as a "place of silence" where there exist for her "no kindred spirits." Her ambition could not be realized in such a place, for she found no one with whom she could confide or share.

Fifth Movement: A Sense of Drama

How I wish Duse could stand amid the pathos
Of these quiet fields
And read these words.

The one quality that Flossie continues to retain is her sense of drama. She expresses the desire to have the melodramatic Italian actress Eleonora Duse stand out in the fields surrounding Spoon River and deliver her lament. For Flossie those fields are filled with "pathos."

Minimalist Sketch

Flossie’s minimalist sketch leaves much to the imagination of her listener/reader. It is only through very broad hints that the reader can interpret Flossie’s true ambitions. It is possible that her only ambition was to become and remain the mate of Ralph Barrett as he pursued the heights of stardom on the stage.

Thus, it is quite likely that she had no real aspirations of following an acting career for herself. However, by introducing and alluding to the famous Italian actress, she seems to be presenting Duse as her rôle model; thus the reader infers that Flossie’s ambition was two-fold: she wanted both an acting career and a relationship with Barrett.

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

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